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Amplify Festival loses city funding

Council cuts funding to annual youth arts festival 
Movementality - B852557work_corr WEB
The hip hop dance crew, Movementality, brought the house down breaking, popping and locking at the 2018 Amplify Festival. MARC J CHALIFOUX/Photo

Young artistic minds in St. Albert will no longer have an annual fall festival to showcase their skills after St. Albert city council pulled funding for the Amplify Festival. 

Given the financial and safety impacts of COVID-19, the city’s community living standing committee recommended to cut festival funding and find a new home for the Amplify Creative Youth Development Program within the city’s community services department. Council approved the recommendation on Oct. 19 on its consent agenda, meaning there was no discussion.

Last year, funds for the festival were committed through to 2022, with amounts gradually decreasing each year in the hope of phasing out Amplify’s reliance on the city. Cutting city funding this year means St. Albert will save $75,000 over the next two years.

Without city funding, Amplify can no longer afford to host the annual festival, said Paul Pearson, senior manager of culture in the department of community services. One of the festival’s main goals was to help develop new artists from small scale workshops and events to a colourful, musical weekend performance. 

“It is a blow. These artists have worked hard throughout the years, both during the events throughout the year, but also helping put on that festival, which was a capstone event for them,” Pearson said. 

“There is a bit of sadness there, and a sense of loss. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also not terribly surprising given COVID and everything that has been happening.”

The Amplify Festival had its inaugural event in 2014, creating a space in St. Albert for young musicians, visual artists, writers and dancers to share their art over a weekend in October. 

Health and safety restrictions meant the festival had to pivot online for its seventh year, with live-streamed performances and workshops for people to watch at home. Now, the virtual two-day event will be the festival’s last.  

Pearson said the youth program will still be able to put on some of its smaller events and activities, like the Amplify Anthology, Illuminate art walk and open mics by relying on modest grant funding, fundraising and cost-recovery models.

“There's still lots of potential performance opportunities for youth, but we're just at the beginning of trying to figure out what that may look like,” he said.

Julia Sorensen, St. Albert’s poet laureate who has been involved with Amplify from its inception, said she wasn't surprised, but felt disappointed by council's decision.

Amplify has not only helped her professionalize her work, but it gave her and other young artists a safe space to experiment, make mistakes and learn from them, she said. 

"It actually is integral to have arts funding and arts programming because it's what creates your community," Sorensen said. "Growing up with all of these programs that were given to me and provided to me ... I didn't realize how important they were until they were threatened."  

Art funding is a long-term investment into the vibrancy and health of the community, she explained. While the effects of art funding cutbacks may not be felt immediately, they will have ripple effects on generations of young creative minds. 

"It's always a little bit frustrating to me when governments say, 'We're struggling – let's cut this art funding because it's superfluous.' But it's truly not – art is part of what makes human beings exceptional," she said. "And if you no longer have an exceptional community, you're going to suffer for it."

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