Organizers of the U.S.A. pavilion say they are "extremely disappointed" to be excluded from the Jan. 31 - Feb. 2 Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival, despite a successful run at last year’s event.
The American pavilion committee released a statement Thursday, expressing concern and confusion over the festival committee’s decision to decline their application.
"Our exclusion is a loss to the diversity of the Lt. Governor’s Winter Festival, to the large community of American citizens in our region, and to those who want the festival to be the very best it can be," states Wanda-Leigh Rains, U.S.A. pavilion ambassador and Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society board member.
"The Office of the US Consul-General worked closely with us last year and had planned on having officials present to open the American pavilion this year."
The American pavilion was a popular venue at the 2012 festival, which celebrated blues, bluegrass and country music. Cuisine from the Mississippi River region was represented with southern barbecue, Louisiana gumbo and Memphis coleslaw, to name a few. Close to 5,000 visitors attended.
Esther Bryan, the city’s community development manager and past-chair of the festival, said the American pavilion’s application was declined in the fall after a vote by the festival committee of the whole.
Pavilions that have been running in the festival for three or more consecutive years each get two voting rights, which included Irish, First Nations, Métis, Ukrainian, French Canadian, English and Salvadoran. The French Canadian pavilion later pulled out of the festival.
Other pavilions had to submit an application, which was then reviewed by the committee and included a session of presentations.
"Immediately after a presentation, there is a question- and-answer period," Bryan said. "Then they get to vote and it’s done by sealed ballot."
The American pavilion’s application, which was submitted by the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society, was declined.
"No reason was provided for the rejection and festival officials provided no appeal process," states the American pavilion press release.
Bryan said the committee isn’t required to give any reasons behind the decision. However, one of the main themes that came up was the fact that the other groups run independent pavilions and each have separate societies. It was suggested that an American society should be established.
"All of the others have societies — German society, Irish, Scottish — they all have their own and it’s kept separate and distinct," Bryan said.
There was some concern that funds raised at the American pavilion would go back to the BFMAS to help offset their summer folk festival.
"I think where some of the conflict concern came up … was they were self-perpetuating their own, so that if they had set it up as an independent, they could’ve in essence given back to (BFMAS)," Bryan said earlier this week.
"This is about the people and your ethnicity, your cultural background ... This is not intended to be a fundraiser for another group."
When asked why it’s necessary to have a separate society for the pavilions, Bryan said it’s a "transparency issue."
"Keeping it separate allows for a transparency and a belief that everything is above board," Bryan said. "Perception is everything and they want there to be a perception that the festival is being held to its cultural roots, that is to keep the culture of whatever specific ethnic group that you have."
Bryan said they would like to include an American pavilion in the future and has offered to work with an organizer to get it up and running for 2014.
"We were acceptable last year, when we ran a very successful pavilion, but we are not acceptable this year and will not be acceptable next year?" states Rains in the release. "Other pavilions are sponsored by organizations such as a dance group, and some have commercial contracts directly associated with their pavilions, so the fact that we are 100 per cent volunteer and sponsored by a incorporated non-profit cultural organization with a legal mandate to sponsor ethnic groups leaves us at an absolute loss. In fact, 100 per cent of our earnings directly go back into year-round cultural programming in our community."
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said she hopes to see the American pavilion at future festivals.
"I know from the tweets from the (Blue) Bombers, that they had some of the best ribs that they’ve tasted in a while," Decter Hirst said. "It had very strong attendance."
Decter Hirst said there may be an opportunity for the Winter Festival committee to "revisit some of their terms of references, as it is a very popular pavilion that seemed to be well-managed and meeting the objectives."
Mo Karrouze, president of the local English society, said he also hopes to see the U.S.A. back in the festival, put together by Americans and run by "a proper non-profit organization."
"I think that there were people there that really did a good job, but there is a protocol and you can’t get around it," he said. "We’ve all been though it … and we all protect it very vehemently."