The 10th anniversary year of Brandon’s highly popular Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival has been touched by controversy after the festival’s committee voted to exclude proponents of the U.S.A. pavilion from this year’s rendition.
That the U.S.A. pavilion committee’s application was declined last fall, after it enjoyed a successful year in the 2012 festival, has raised a few eyebrows. This was a year in which organizers had called for all groups that had ever been part of the festival since it began in 2004 to join once more as part of the 10-year celebration.
What bothers us more, however, is the flawed process by which the festival committee reached that decision, a process that could affect the future inclusion of other groups that may one day want to join.
Among the reasons given by the festival committee for the U.S.A. pavilion’s exclusion were the following:
• There was concern that funds raised at the American pavilion would go back to its parent organization, the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society.
• Other associations in the festival run independent pavilions and have separate societies, so it was suggested by the festival’s past chair, Esther Bryan, that an American society should be established before they come back into the festival fold. And yet, the U.S. pavilion was welcome in 2012.
As the Sun reported yesterday, to help pavilions get off the ground, the city provides “seed money” — a $2,000 grant for first-time pavilions, $1,500 for the second year and $1,000 for each following year. Groups are required to submit accounting of how the subsidy was spent by March 15 of each year.
Yet there is no public accounting of how much money each pavilion raises through food, beverage and souvenir sales, and there is no mechanism to compel various societies and associations to show how that money is spent.
On its website, the festival states that each pavilion is responsible for clearing off its outstanding debt by June 30 of each year in order to be allowed to participate in the next year’s festival. However, as Bryan told the Sun this week, financial statements are not required of individual pavilions, and so the city and the festival organizers rely on an honour system of sorts.
“If somebody has an outstanding debt, they will contact us and say ‘these guys haven’t paid,’ so we’re reactive, we’re not proactive,” Bryan said. “It’s up to each pavilion and it’s a small community.”
If organizers don’t care how any of the other associations spend their funds once the Winter Festival weekend is over, why would they or the heads of other pavilions complain how the American pavilion — and by extension the BFMAS — spend their fundraised dollars? And even then, what is wrong with organizations spending funds on themselves? As well as the Troyanda School of Ukrainian Dance, the Ukrainian pavilion uses its cash to fund hall operations, as an example.
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.
Having a separate society from a pavilion allows for transparency, Bryan said, “and a belief that everything is above board.” But for her to suggest that the BFMAS was not being transparent by hosting the U.S.A. pavilion is silly, given that so much of the process of choosing who gets in and who gets cut is done behind closed doors, and under a secret ballot. And in that vote, pavilions that have been running in the festival for three or more consecutive years each get two voting rights.
To our knowledge, the BFMAS was the only incorporated body in last year’s festival. Due to its charitable status, it must provide the federal government a yearly public accounting of all funds that it takes in and spends. Even the Winter Festival itself doesn’t have to do that, as it has never been incorporated.
While we are not implying any particular wrongdoing made by the festival organizers or pavilion leaders, we’re concerned that what looks like an inconsistent set of criteria could allow politics or personality conflicts to influence decisions within the membership and administration of the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival.
These kind of questions will persist unless the City of Brandon and festival organizers come up with a festival constitution that clearly outlines what kind of cultural groups are eligible for inclusion.
After 10 years in operation, it’s time to clear things up.