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Bermuda Festival at financial breaking point

Bermuda’s long-running Festival of the Performing Arts could come to an end this year.

Ticket sales have been down since the arrival of the pandemic in 2020 and the donors the charity has typically relied on have redirected their cash to crucial social programmes.

The organisation is now at “a critical point” in its 48-year history, Cindy Campbell, the executive director, said.

“The image in the public is that the festival is a very wealthy charity because the shows we bring in are always of excellent quality, and the reality is not that. We survive by donations and ticket sales. We haven’t had ticket sales now for two years.

“And while we were really pleased we were able to creatively continue to bring artistic shows to Bermuda over the two pandemic years, that time also decimated the small reserves that we hold. The reality is many of our loyal donors understandably redirected their charitable donations towards food insecurity and other critical social needs. We understand that, but their actions mean that we need to replace that support in order to survive.”

Today begins the start of a fundraising drive to ensure that the festival continues beyond the 2022-23 season.

Sponsorship opportunities have been widened and “small-dollar donations” can now be made on www.bermudafestival.org.

“Many charities are really struggling right now. And, in Bermuda, the landscape’s changed a little bit in terms of corporations — they are all cutting back as well. The amount of their charitable funds seems to be reduced so they’re having to make hard decisions on who they support.

“We’re at a critical point in our history. If the festival is going to survive we really need the Bermuda public to show their support in monetary ways. And so we’re basically appealing to anybody who thinks that the festival is an institution that should continue for another 48 years, or 50 or more, to become a donor.”

Before the pandemic shows were spread over six weeks, starting in January. The arrival of Covid-19 forced the last-minute cancellation of the final show in 2020; the festival incurred costs. In 2021 the entire showcase aired online.

Live performances resumed this year, but with only six shows. In March, when the first act went on stage, Bermuda was still under large-group restrictions, which limited the audience to half its potential.

“We made the decision to bring groups in because we felt it was critical that performing arts stay in Bermuda,” Ms Campbell said. “Three groups were from Bermuda just in case travel restrictions hit us again and people couldn’t travel. We wanted to make sure that we had shows. But we lost money on it. We just couldn’t sell enough tickets to cover the costs because of some of the restrictions.”

The festival typically runs on a budget of $1 million. For the coming season it has been reduced to $750,000. Operating expenses have been slashed by 50 per cent. Staff have been let go, and the remaining two work from home. Events are now scheduled throughout the year so that people do not feel financially pressured.

“There’s nothing normal about how we produced the festival in the last few years,” Ms Campbell said. “But in a normal year we not only incur the costs of the artists, but we contribute approximately $900,000 into the Bermuda economy. And that’s through venue and theatre rental, equipment rental, hotels and food costs for our artists, the actual cost of putting on the show, renting lights, etc, and then paying local technicians and accountants and security and transportation.

“We actually put back a lot of money into the economy by producing shows for Bermuda, but it’s expensive.”

Without donors ticket prices would be “well in excess of $120”. Donations also allow the festival to offer outreach programmes; 25 per cent of all public and private school students attended at least one in 2020.

“With very limited exception, every artist that comes into Bermuda produces a bespoke outreach programme for our students. The impact of that is, over the last ten years over 11,000 students have been touched by one of our outreach programmes,” Ms Campbell said.

Added to that, the charity is the only organisation on the island that offers a variety of performing arts shows.

“People may bring in one or two [types of performers] but there’s nobody bringing in this kind of broad variety. That’s the goal for us — to try to produce shows that you can’t normally see in Bermuda.

“We are fine for this year. We can produce this year’s [showcase], but if we lose money this year, if we don’t get donors and if we don’t get enough ticket sales, this may be the last year. There are times to pull the fire alarm and there are times not to … this is critical. This is a critical point in our survival. We need Bermuda to show that they want performing arts by not only buying tickets, but also to become donors.”

Ms Campbell joined the festival team in 2020 after a 20-year career in the insurance industry. As an undergraduate she studied theatre and then joined an opera company straight out of university.

“It’s my first love. I love performing arts. My husband’s a professional opera singer. So this is something that’s near and dear to my heart and I wanted to end my career kind of where I began.”

Aside from the entertainment value, performing arts play a critical role in nurturing students, Ms Campbell said.

“They’re better math students, their English and writing skills get better. We’re hoping our outreach entices a student to want to become more involved in a performing art. That’s the goal — to give them something to inspire them and for them to aspire to.

“We always try to bring in really top-notch quality shows and we’re going to continue to do that. We also do try to support Bermudian artists as well but it’s artists who bring us unique shows because we can’t include in the festival a show that the person can see if they go down to the Hamilton Princess on a Sunday or Saturday night.”

Read the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts’ financial appeal in full, under Related Media. To donate send an e-mail to donate@bermudafestival.org or visit bermudafestival.org/support-the-festival/donate/

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