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City events funding uncertain until next financial year

Adelaide City Council will try to find $500,000 for its economic development agency’s commercial events budget under a review, while festival and event organisers worry about what they stand to lose.

Jun 12, 2024, updated Jun 12, 2024
Councillor Mary Couros lost her bid to guarantee AEDA’s $500,000 events  fund, which supports events like the Ebenezer Night Markets. This picture: Johnny Von Einem/CityMag

Councillor Mary Couros lost her bid to guarantee AEDA’s $500,000 events fund, which supports events like the Ebenezer Night Markets. This picture: Johnny Von Einem/CityMag

The council will prioritise finding $500,000 to fund commercial events as part of its first quarter budget review next financial year, but the events spend is not guaranteed.

In last night’s council meeting, Councillor Mary Couros argued for the $500,000 worth of funding to be reinstated to support small festivals that bring visitors into the city and have a flow-on effect for bricks-and-mortar businesses.

She said Laneway festival, Rundle Mall’s Gathered Markets, the Ebenezer Night Markets, Cheesefest, the Asia Street Food Festival and Mary’s in the Park are just some of the events the city could lose if funding isn’t reinstated.

After a change in wording, the council committed to reviewing and prioritising commercial events funding in the first quarter of the next financial year.

This comes after the council had already walked back the original $770,000 of proposed cuts to AEDA in May, shuffling the funds to allow AEDA to retain its strategic partnerships, events and festival sponsorship programs.

The cuts to AEDA’s commercial event funding are intended to free up money in the budget to pay for park lands buildings upgrades and a 5.9 per cent rate rise instead of the 6.9 per cent first recommended.

A council spokesperson has confirmed a 5.9 per cent rate rise can be achieved and will be recommended to the City Finance and Governance committee next week.

Couros disagreed with the change in wording and said event organisers and small business community deserved a guarantee.

“Wouldn’t it be better to say to these people putting on these festivals that ‘you are definitely going to have this funded and we’re definitely going to be having this within the City of Adelaide’, not ‘if, maybe we can find it’,” Couros said.

Councillors who opted for prioritising rather than guaranteeing this funding were concerned about what else would have to be cut to make events happen.

“Nobody wants these cuts but we all have to compromise to keep the rates low,” Councillor Carmel Noon said.

Councillor Phillip Martin said Couros’ motion was trying to “get blood out of the stone”.

“I’ve lived through this before, I know what happens when you start to get blood out of the stone, the services are starting to be cut, the streets aren’t as clean,” Martin said.

Councillor Henry Davis said the council “should be panicking” about the city’s vacancy rate and that AEDA’s commercial events funding was crucial to maintain the habit of celebrating in the city.

“You’ve cut the most important thing,” Davis said.

“We can do with slightly grubbier footpaths, we can do with some more chewing gum on the streets, but what we can’t do without is having events that actually bring people into the city.”

Festival and events organisers have written to councillors and responded to the council’s budget consultation expressing their disappointment in the decision to cut from commercial events.

The Ebenezer Night Market received $5000 from AEDA’s commercial events fund in summer 2023-24, they used it to expand the market into Union Street, host more stalls and activate the area.

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Event manager Matt Miles is advocating for the event fund to be retained and said the markets increase trade for surrounding businesses and attract over 10,000 people in one evening.

Commercial events funding is allocated through a competitive open grant process. A City of Adelaide spokesperson said if funds are allocated to commercial events in the 2024/25 budget review process, the Ebenezer Night Markets would be eligible to apply.

Councillor Arman Abrahimzadeh said he agreed with Couros that event organisers should be given certainty, especially given the business closures of the past six months.

“The city is already going to sleep, with uncertainty like this we won’t just be putting the city to sleep, we’ll put it into a coma,” Abrahimzadeh said.

What about the larger festivals?

Adelaide Fringe CEO Heather Croall wrote to the council strongly objecting to the event cuts as part of their budget consultation.

“This year costs to build Fringe hubs and activations increased by 30% compared to last year. There is no way that Box Office can cover this astronomical increase in costs,” her letter read.

Croall wrote that there’s “no possibility to increase ticket prices and put the pressure on the customers” while they face increases in freight, venues, fencing, production, staging and more.

“For the amount City Council commits in Fringe, the return is astronomical – both in the direct income lines via parkland fees and other fees into the council coffers, but also indirectly to many businesses in the CBD with the spend on dining and accommodation by Fringe goers and Fringe participants.”

According to WOMAD, 25,020 of the attendees to the 2023 festival were visitors to South Australia, spending an average of $2,729 per respondent. This picture: Samuel Graves

WOMADelaide Director Dani Ricciardi also wrote to the council expressing concern about the cuts.

According to his letter, WOMAD receives $75,000 per festival from the council, which “has not been increased since 2019 despite the significant increase in costs, scale and positive visitor impact for the city”.

WOMAD is currently in its second year of a three-year agreement with the City of Adelaide and AEDA.

A council spokesperson told InDaily existing funding agreements for WOMAD and Adelaide Fringe will be honoured.

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