A brand new charity partnership, basketball tournament, celebrity panel and beach party added to Drake’s OVO Fest are among the reasons his annual sold-out Toronto music festival received a $300,000 grant from the Ontario government designed to attract tourism.
“According to OVO Fest, this year’s enhanced programs will lead to long-term improvements and an expected increase of over 15,000 in attendance,” Michael Chan, Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Chan, told Billboard. “OVO Fest anticipates that the event will grow in attendance from 16,000 in 2013 to 32,000 in 2014, to 60,000 by 2015.
“Part of OVO Fest’s enhancement proposal includes a basketball tournament -- which organizers anticipate will draw 5000 people -- a two-day beach party and the OVO Celebrity Panel Summit, to be held at locations other than the concert venue. The OVO Celebrity Panel Summit is partnering with The Remix Project — a Toronto based charity that provides creative educational programs, facilitators and facilities to youth from underserved communities.”
The grant announcement by the Ontario government caused a flurry of criticism in the media and online, when the hip hop concert created by the Canadian rap star was on the list of more than 200 recipients across the province approved for Celebrate Ontario funding. No further information was given and media did not ask.
“Drake’s OVO Fest scores $300,000 from Ontario taxpayers” screamed the headline on Global News’ web site, setting off similar stories on other sites, and in television and radio broadcasts -- not to mention on social media by Canadian taxpayers themselves. The story was also picked up in the U.S.
Many of the online comments and media reports suggested Drake doesn’t need the money and should pay the $300k himself.
The anger was exacerbated when the Beaches International Jazz Festival in Toronto was denied funding from Celebrate Ontario. The free annual summer festival, which draws a half-million people over 10 days and is in its 26th year, had applied for $75,000. A statement by Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue said, "This festival generates $65 million into the Toronto economy."
The ticketed OVO Fest -- a Live Nation event that in the past has included surprise guests Kanye West, Stevie Wonder, Jay Z, Eminem, Snoop Lion and Nicki Minaj -- sells out the capacity-controlled Molson Canadian Amphitheatre every year. In 2012, Billboard’s Boxscore reports it grossed $1,012,380 million with an attendance of 15,162 at $35 to $150 a head.
Last year’s OVO Fest was originally set for two days for the first time, but the second day was cancelled due to Frank Ocean’s vocal chord injury.
The fifth annual OVO Fest will be held Aug. 3 to 4. Outkast is headlining the first day; Drake the second. A two-day ticket runs $124.80 to $347.50 while single tickets start at $66.50. The press release makes no mention of charity or ancillary events.
The annual Celebrate Ontario program is designed to help “new and existing Ontario festivals and events enhance their programs, activities and services to grow Ontario’s tourism market,” it states on the government web site. Successful applicants for the 2014 round of funding include everything from music, film and comedy to ribfests, tulips and dragon boats.
Other music festivals which got the grant include Canadian Music Week – Fanfest ($100,000), NXNE at Yonge-Dundas Square ($300,000), Edgefest 2014 ($100,000), Digital Dreams Festival ($300,000), RBC Bluesfest 20th Annversary ($300,000), Mariposa Folk Festival ($38, 250), Stratford Summer Music ($89, 250), Boots and Heart Music Festival ($300,000), Wakestock Sports & Music Festival ($73, 950) Buskerfest ($53, 125).
“We do have a strict criteria to assess for individual, incoming proposals,” says Minister Chan, “based on organizational capacity, based on the information of the project, based on sustainability for now and into the future; based on attracting tourists and, also, based on the program -- ability to attract accommodated support or accommodated partnerships. So there is a variety of elements or factors to assess all these incoming proposals.”
Artistic director Bill King told Billboard that the Beaches International Jazz Festival -- which books about 60 acts a year -- had wanted to add an extra week to introduce a new blues festival and have additional stages.
“As I said on Facebook, [Drake] just dropped 50 grand on strippers and threw the money around the room,” said King, referring to a gossip report in early March. “That 50 grand would’ve paid for our Youth Stage, our Latin Stage and our Big Band stage. If he’s throwing around his money, that’s how loose and carefree he is with his money. Why doesn’t he lay out the 300 grand for his own show and then that money’s free for us and other people?”
Minister Chan said he doesn’t personally do the grant application assessments and can’t comment on why the Beaches International Jazz Festival was not approved, while many other jazz festivals throughout the province were. “The rule here is decision making is not based on past funding history and the whole program Celebrate Ontario is quite competitive,” he explains.
“But one quick thing about the [Beaches] Jazz Festival, I looked at their history, they not only applied to Celebrate Ontario in my Ministry, they actually applied to a number of other programs that my Ministry offers. In the last few years, they were able to get over $700,000 from my Ministry from different programs. Sometimes you get one, sometimes you don’t get them.”
A further email from the Ministry to Billboard said since 2003, the Ontario government has invested over $700,000 in the Beaches International Jazz Festival, including $450,000 through the Celebrate Ontario program from 2008 to 2013; grants from the Ontario Trillium Fund (in 2005 and 2008) totalling over $335,000; and over $11,000 from the Ontario Arts Council since 2005.
“My Ministry has contacted them so that we can help them,” said Minister Chan. “After the consultation, after the coaching, they might get it next year.”
In light of the media attention in Toronto, the Ministry just announced that the Beaches Jazz Festival -- which applied to the Ontario Music Fund -- was awarded a conditional grant of $75,000.
“This support will help the festival consolidate their performance stages and showcase a greater diversity of musicians and performers,” said the statement from Minister Chan. “This is good news for the Beaches Jazz Festival, it will help attract tourists and support Ontario's Live Music Strategy. There will be a formal announcement of all the successful applicants for the Ontario Music Fund. Ministry staff continue to work with the festival organizers on ways to ensure the event’s continued success.”