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Ontario’s Supercrawl to absorb shortfalls in funding amid increasing demand for government grants

A photo from James Street in Hamilton during the 2022 Supercrawl event. Global News

A successful southern Ontario art crawl, which draws as many as 250,000 people in a weekend, will have to run its 2023 event with less financial help from two levels of government.

Supercrawl, which turns Hamilton’s downtown into a music and arts festival every September, is set to run with about half the grant money it has historically qualified for via programs aimed at connecting people with local experiences and increasing tourism spending.

Organizer Tim Potocic says he’ll get just $65,000 from Experience Ontario, a recently rejigged version of a program from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport that has historically offered the Hamilton event grants closer to $300,000 in recent years.

“Our economic impact is very, very high and we’ve worked hard to build an event in the downtown area that provides … a big boost to all the businesses downtown and vendors that are participating in the event,” Potocic said.

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A spokesperson for the minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport and Hamilton-area MPP Neil Lumsden told Global News the Experience Ontario program received 680 applications across Ontario in 2023, equating to $52.5 million in requests.

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Uppekha Allani said the program only runs with a total annual budget of $19.5 million.

“All of the Experience Ontario 2023 applications were evaluated in a fair and consistent manner,” he said.

“We measured every request based on the strength of the proposal against established program criteria.”

Potocic said that wasn’t the only funding challenge in 2023, with a federal version of the grant similarly offering around 70 per cent less than in previous years.

“I can understand a 10 per cent cut…. They have to understand that we’re budgeting based on the fact that we’ve received these funds from the province and the federal government for over 10 years,” Potocic said.

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“So all of a sudden now, the cuts are 50 to 70 per cent…. It’s pretty unacceptable.”

Caroline Czajkowski, a spokesperson for Heritage Canada, says its Building Communities through Arts and Heritage program is also seeing increased requests for pieces of the $13-million annual fund.

The ministry says it had been giving out additional money to local events via a two-year Reopening Fund, reigniting some festivals affected by the pandemic.

That cash is now no longer available, with the limited-time initiative expiring this past March.

With more requests, Heritage Canada says it will add another $7 million annually over the next two years, bumping the fund to $20 million annually.

Potocic says he also wasn’t thrilled with changes in the application dates, which he says didn’t start until April and pushed notifications of funding to mid-summer.

“They’re too late and it’s impossible to plan,” he said.

“We take our previous year’s budget and we always budget on the lower level … just to be safe. But now we can’t budget low enough.”

The provincial government did admit the application window for Experience was delayed and promised to fix it.

Allani acknowledged delays in announcements this past year, but insists the program will offer next year’s applications at an earlier date going forward “to improve and speed up funding notifications.”

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The federal government didn’t acknowledge any delays in its statement to Global News when asked.

The shortfall is not expected to change any aspect of the 15th annual Supercrawl set for the weekend of Sept. 8 to 10.

A tribute to the 50th anniversary of hip-hop as well as headliners Broken Social Scene, The Flatliners and Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace with Chantal Kreviaziuk will all perform as announced.

However, Potocic says cash for staffing the event will have to come out of his end.

“So it’ll just be dollars coming out of my pocket for covering all the wages for everybody who’s been putting the festival together for the year and onsite,” he said.

“But these are just things that you have to deal with.”

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