Sound of Music looking for a bit of a boost; will take the funds over time if that works for the city. Some respect would be nice as well.

By Pepper Parr

February 17, 2014


Marianne Meed Ward set the scene when she explained as Chair of the Community and Corporate Services Standing Committee that they were there to “listen today”.

This was the day council members were going to hear delegations.  There were 12 of them and at ten minutes each we knew we were going to be there for a while.  Several were exceptionally good – all added to the process in a measurable, meaningful way and at the same time gave us an insight as to how your council works on your behalf.

Culture, economic development, caring for the community and transit got coverage.  In this series we will run three articles and focus on what happened and what it all means for the economic and social health of the city.

Sound of Music finally shared their audited financial statements,Culture was clearly the biggest concern: with delegations from the Art Centre, who had a very spiffy presentation, Sound of Music, who finally shared their audited financial statements, Heritage Burlington who came up with a new logo that cost less than $2000, which made Councillor Dennison smile.  And then the decision as to whether or not to hire a full-time Cultural Manager to implement the Cultural Action Plan council had already approved.

We will focus on culture in this piece and follow-up with two additional pieces on Economic Development and services to the community.

Great crowds, great weather, great music – Burlington’s Sound of Music Festival – a standard since before 1996

The Sound of Music wants $44,000 from the city in addition to the $54,101,00 that is already in their base budget.  Council appears ready to go along with getting those additional dollars. Dave Miller, Sound of Music Executive Director said in his delegation that he wouldn’t come back looking for money for five years if the city agreed to put the additional funds into the base budget.  That`s the kind of deal this council just might take him up on.  Miller has been at this Council almost since they were sworn in.  He has been relentless.

While the event is probably the largest that takes place on the waterfront, Dave Miller didn’t get much in the way of respect from this city council.  In this his third year before council seeking financial support the SOM hasn’t managed to convey the size of the economic impact the event has on the city.  Council can’t see beyond the more than half a million dollars they have on their balance sheet.  Miller hasn’t succeeded in convincing this council that the funds are vital – all it takes is one year of bad weather and the SOM would take a huge hit.

They come in droves for the biggest free music festival in the province.

Miller pushed all the usual keys: the excellent ratings from visitors, the quality of the performances, the demographics, the accessibility of the event, the awards they continually get; the constant improvements they make to the environment with their clean up practices and that the SOM is a fun safe event.  He trots out cute pictures of kids and talks up what the event does to Burlington’s profile and the support the event provides for emerging bands.  He was talking to people who are deaf to the upside of what the SOM does for the city.  Council sees all that money on the balance sheet and drools.

Miller adds that the SOM is the driving force for more than $6 million in economic activity with 45,000 of the attendance defined as new visitors to the event; 40%  are from outside Burlington and according to Miller 80% of the people attending have been to the event before.  Something in those numbers doesn’t quite add up – but that’s not the point.    Try  taking it away: What would happen if the SOM folk decided that they have been at it for many years and need to take a break for a year and re-think what they are doing and how they do it?  This council would howl.

The SOM doesn’t have a champion, a true spear carrier on council.What Miller hasn’t managed to do is make the city his partner.  The SOM doesn’t have a champion, a true spear carrier on council.  An organization with 800 volunteers, a very strong balance sheet and a solid record of achievement deserves the nomination they got from the Chamber of Commerce as a best business operation.

The SOM financial statements point to;

$35,900 + that they pay the police security

$13,946 + they pay the city for permits

$22,381 they pay the Parks and Road Maintenance for material, equipment and repairs to the park grounds.

The SOM pays the Performing Arts Centre $8,300 + for the use of their space.

The event results in $8,000 in parking revenue plus a significant boost in parking tickets.

SOM says they add $15,000 to transit revenue.

The Sound of Music has a strong story on the performance side as well.  In 1997 there were 47 performances – in 2013 there were 100.  Attendance in 1997 was 90,000 that number rose to 215,000 in 2013

The city`s financial contribution rose as well; from$25,000 in 1997 to $54,000+ in 2013.  In terms of what portion of SOM revenue came from the city – that number slid from 13% in 1997 to 4% in 2013.

Miller has been at this since 1996 when he joined as a volunteer and earned the position of Executive Director some time after that.  Miller gets paid but doesn’t have a pension.  SOM has more than 800 volunteers, many that use their vacations to “do the festival”.

Miller keeps wanting to grow the event – which led to Councillor Lancaster asking last year when was “enough enough?”  There has been some reluctance to see the event grow to anything bigger than it is which suggests Miller and his organization have some relationship building to do.

Miller needs the funding from the city to qualify for funding from other levels of government.  Governments ted to want everyone to be in the tub at the same time,  sharing the same bar of soap.

The Sound of Music Festival parade gets the annual event off to a strong start.

Sound of Music for 2014 will begin June 7 with the parade that will have a slightly different route and then moves into their usual four-day event that brings great music to the city and hundreds of thousands of people to the waterfront – and loads of revenue for almost everyone in the city.

And yet the Sound of Music can`t get a miserable 4% of their budget from the city.  Not coming up with the cash is sort of like throwing the baby out with the bath water – isn’t it?

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4 comments to Sound of Music looking for a bit of a boost; will take the funds over time if that works for the city. Some respect would be nice as well.

  • Samantha

    200,000 people love this event, the city makes millions and it showcases Burlington. The overall return on the city’s pitiful contribution is exceptional.

    Sorry Roger I think you are confusing the SOM with Ribfest.

  • Penny Hersh

    Perhaps it is time to charge people to come to the Sound of Music. This might give a much better idea of just how popular this event is. For those of us living in the area it is a nightmare. Loud, blaring music from noon to 11 PM. Let’s not forget the drunks and vandalism.

    Why not spread the festival around – why have 4 stages at Spencer Smith Park each one trying to outdo the other in noise. If it is so well loved by the residents there are venues like Central Park and I am certain others that could be utilized.

    • Roger

      The economic impact for SOM is greatly overstated and less and less people from Burlington who fund the effort are being pushed out – vendors last year got put in a corner that did not get sales – if this was more city wide but it is not and the impact the overall city business outside the downtown is minimal