Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Festival slims down

Voyageur gala heads back to local roots, tackles hefty deficit

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FESTIVAL du Voyageur has reduced the number of concerts and out-of-town performers it will present this year after running a $146,000 deficit in 2003.

But organizers of the annual winter festival -- which celebrates its 35th birthday this Friday -- say the programming changes are designed to bring the event back to its Manitoba roots.

"We asked ourselves, what has brought us here to the 35th (year)? Well, it's our own," said Rene Dufault, Festival du Voyageur's first-year general manager, who replaced longtime festival boss Norm Gousseau last April.

As Dufault took over the reins, the non-profit organization reported a $146,000 deficit on an overall budget of $2.8 million at the end of the 2002-03 fiscal year. Contributing to the deficit was a $68,000 loss on the 2003 concert series.

"In the past few years, we found we had too many concerts," said Josee Lemoine, president of the festival's board of directors.

"We focused on bringing back hit groups instead."

There are two events in this year's concert series at festival-owned Le Rendez-Vous, down from four in 2002 and a high of six in 2000. The concerts are a Feb. 20 homecoming featuring ex-Manitoban francophone acts Hart Rouge and Folle Avoine and a Feb. 21 date starring Louisiana Cajun performer Hadley Castille.

Only 61 of 66 other performing acts listed in this year's festival guide are from outside the province.

This emphasis on homegrown talent at the festival's smaller venues had nothing to do with last year's deficit, Lemoine said.

"It was a conscious decision, loss or no loss."

"We've been watching the budget, but this is our 35th year and we didn't want to take away from it."

"Seeing as the festival started here, it's not about artists from elsewhere," added program director Natalie Bernardin, who nonetheless acknowledged last year's deficit placed the festival "in a precarious budget situation."

"We're trying to be more creative with the dollars we have," she said.

Over the summer, the festival stopped renting out Le Rendez-Vous to concert promoters and put the St. Boniface building up for sale.

Still, with $935,000 in annual funding from three levels of government, nearly $700,000 in capital funds and profit-generating new rental venue in Fort Gibraltar, Festival du Voyageur faces no immediate financial threat.

"They want to go back to the grassroots this year and turn the red into black," observed Pascal Dube, editor of La Liberte, Winnipeg's French-language weekly newspaper.

"The musical focus this year is to have local artists at the forefront. This isn't such a bad thing: Folle Avoine and Hart Rouge haven't been here for years and Hadley Castille is a genuine talent."

This year's Festival du Voyageur runs from Feb. 13 to 22.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 10, 2004 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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