Playing for free
To the Editor:
In the article in the January 25 Undercurrent titled, “Zombies to be the year’s Bowfest theme”, there were a few statements that caused me concern. If the stated goal of Bowfest is about engaging the community and ensuring that this event is sustainable, as Bowfest chair Yvonne McSkimming said, then I believe that a number of new decisions the board has made are in fact counterproductive to these goals.
The first thing that caught my attention was the new direction to grow the festival in order to provide more monies to charities. While this in and of itself is an admirable goal, it seems that if this is indeed the new board’s mandate, it should be careful about what costs are cut in an effort to limit expenses. Bowfest is already well attended by Bowen residents, which suggests that ultimately the only way to grow the festival to the levels mentioned in the article would be to attract more people from off-island. Without professional quality entertainment it is difficult to envision how this could be achieved.
Bowfest chair Yvonne McSkimming states, “Last year, the bill for paying Bowfest’s musical acts came to over $5,000.” I am not in possession of the financials for Bowfest 2012, but in an email to a number of on-island musicians dated Jan. 21, 2013, the chair says, “We spend approximately $3600 on performer fees last year and feel this money should be included in the greater pool of monies raised to support our non-profits in a more substantial manner.”
From the Bowfest financials for 2011, the line item “music” of $5,579 includes “sound equipment, stages, honoraria, expenses etc.” From this I am extrapolating that approximately $2,000 of this line item is NOT for performer fees, but rather sound equipment, stages, and miscellaneous expenses. It might be important for the community to know that each of the performers was typically given an honorarium of between $60 and $150. This is less than half of the typical performance fee and certainly not the union bare minimum for “casual performances under two hours” which also includes 10 per cent pension and 12 per cent HST, according to Doreen Lee of the Vancouver Musician’s Union.
The article says, “One of the ways to cut costs is to see if the performers would donate their time,” [McSkimming] says, adding that this suggestion has not found a warm welcome in the performing arts and music community because artists get asked all the time to donate their services for free.” I believe it is important to remember that members of the union are actually prohibited from working for free. However, musicians have indeed been donating their time in the case of the token remuneration, and in most cases gone out of pocket in order to provide the number one attraction for the event. Without professional entertainment, Bowfest would be limited to kids games (which each year costs substantially more than the music) and food - hardly a reason for folks to stay until after sundown spending money in the beer garden and on food.
I would refer to a discussion on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/#!/robert.bailey1/posts/10151241183301003?comment_id=24944115) in which many professional musicians weigh in with their thoughts. A number of salient points are raised, including the fact that musicians seem to be unfairly targeted in contrast to the vendors whose collective fees according to 2011 financials contributed $943, with $759 in 2010 and $350 in 2009.
In my opinion, requiring that the main financial draw of the event (the one which keeps people in the beer garden and purchasing food after dark) be a donation on the part of professional musicians is an unsustainable way to “achieve a bigger impact and greater financial success” for our beloved community festival.