Junction fest squelched over unpaid bills

The Junction Arts Fest has been cancelled this year because the group in charge of organizing the affair failed to pay Toronto Police for providing security at last year’s festival.

The Junction Forum for Art and Culture was barred from applying for a permit to shut down a portion of Dundas Street West, because organizers failed to pay the $15,000 they owed to the city by June.

The Forum, which was formed in 2004, took over the Arts Fest from the BIA in order to obtain government funding.

However, the BIA has stayed involved, donating $65,000 to the festival last year and loaning the organizers $55,000 which has yet to be paid back.

Junction BIA president Jim Roche says relations between the two organizations are strained and he is disappointed that the Junction Forum for Art and Culture didn’t share information about its financial difficulties. But, he said plans are underway to bring the festival back next year, under BIA sponsorship.

“That was a key period of time when these things could have been resolved,” Roche said.

Junction Forum for Art and Culture president Jim Hilts developed health issues after last year’s festival and fell out of communication.

After members of the BIA elected a new board in February, the first thing they did, Roche says, was write to the Junction Forum for Art and Culture to understand the issues and work out a plan.

“This year at February, we were just beginning to communicate with the Junction Forum for Art and Culture so we were already late,” Roche said.

“All of that for a new board that had never done this together before, it’s a long process.”

In May, the BIA attended a meeting at city council along with the Junction Forum for Art and Culture. At the meeting, Roche says, the Forum didn’t announce its money problems.

He said that at the time, the BIA had its own plans for a festival, but decided to throw its support behind the Junction Forum for Art and Culture in good faith.

“The BIA’s plan would be smaller in scope, but it would have involved all of Dundas Street and the side streets,” said Roche, who thinks he would have gotten permission to go ahead with festival.

While the 20-year-old festival has been hugely successful in bringing attention to the area, it’s been too focused on promoting the area as a shopping destination, says Hilts, adding the festival does not fulfill the original intention of promoting area artists.

“(Festival goers) want to look at art, not spend most of their time shopping during the festival,” Hilts said.

He said he hopes this year’s cancellation will lead to a groundswell of action from the community members who, he says, want the festival to continue under community management and not corporate sponsors.

To fill the void left by the festival’s cancellation, the owner of Aquila at Keele and Dundas streets will be hosting an art party at his restaurant on Sept. 10. As well, other business owners have organized a street sale for Sept. 17, but neither compares to the scale of the Arts Festival.

Hilts says he didn’t disclose his debts because he was unaware that his organization had grandfathered the right to host the event.

A permit takes six weeks to process, but organizations are expected to have solid plans to get TTC approval for rerouting streetcars and they need to show that police and fire service won’t be impeded. Organizers also have to show where stages, portable toilets and food vendors will be located.

“All of that takes a lot of time,” Roche said, pledging to have plans in place next year.

Malcolm Vaughan, owner of recently opened Sanction skateboard shop at Pacific Avenue and Dundas Street West, said news of the cancellation was upsetting, as he wanted to capitalize on the exposure the festival offers.

“It’s like, great, the year we move in, it doesn’t happen,” he said. Vaughan moved his operation from Thornhill to the neighbourhood because of its reputation for being tight-knit, pedestrian friendly and also for having an effective, mobilized BIA.