Dawson City Music Festival aims for sustainability

The Dawson City Music Festival (DCMF) will be holding its annual general meeting on Thursday, January 18, at Yukon College. The meeting was to have been before Christmas, but analysis of the topics raised at a well-attended membership meeting in mid-October caused the board to decide to refine its thoughts a bit more before presenting a new working plan to the members.

The need for a revised plan as the festival moves into its 40th year is the result of declining ticket sales and increased costs. Ironically, the first problem came about after the festival had already decided to reduce its size during its last strategic planning exercise.

The plan worked in terms of reducing some of the festival’s more annoying impacts on the community at large. The festival venues were always well managed; the problems appeared elsewhere.As the festival grew bigger, it became clear that some of the people coming to Dawson that weekend were not interested in the music, but were coming to have a wild weekend. This led to a lot of congestion in the streets, and a fair amount of public misbehavior that was not appreciated by local residents, hoteliers, campground owners, and those who came to enjoy the festival itself.When combined with increased competition from other events, the planned reduction turned out to cut deeper than anticipated.“In the fall we held a ‘voice of the membership’ meeting,” said executive director Andrea Vincent.

“The goal of the meeting was to check in with our membership, let them know where we are, where we have been, and where we need to go. Presenting music in a remote community has its unique challenges, and as the festival climate shifts across the country, further challenges surface.

“In order to ensure DCMF continues for many years to come, we need to ebb and flow, and we need to think hard about sustainability.”

The executive presented the two dozen in attendance with the facts that revenues are down, funding sources are harder to come by, and the surplus which enabled DCMF to ignore these realities for some years was now used up.

“After thorough research,” Vincent said, “ it became evident that restructuring the festival would play a key role in a sustainability plan. Before making any decisions on how we might reshape the festival model, we wanted to hear from our supporters.

“What do they love? What could be better? What can we let go of? What can shift? Many ideas were put forward.

“The meeting was incredibly inspiring and uplifting. It was great to engage with our membership in such a way and we hope to continue this annually. It’s a chance for members to really shape and guide the organization.”

There was some good news. After two years without it, Parks Canada will be able to make the Palace Grand Theatre available for DCMF again this year. Vincent said that will likely mean the return of the Thursday evening kick-off concert. Details should be announced in mid-February.

The Friday Gazebo concert, which DCMF picked up after the budget reductions at CBC in Whitehorse caused that sponsor to pull its funding, may have to be cut.

The healthy slate of musical offerings currently being hosted during the winter at the KIAC Hall by the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, has meant that DCMF no longer feels the need to put on its own program, which is a cost saving for the organization.

The number of free events may have to be reduced, while there was much discussion about returning to the practice of selling day passes as opposed to the prevailing weekend pass only option.

The Songwriter in Residence program, sharing space with the KIAC Artist in Residence program, is continuing this year, with Skye Wallace spending the month of January at Macaulay House.

There will be more information and debate at the AGM, but the DCMF board is committed to coming up with ways to celebrate the festival’s 40th anniversary as well as planning for its future.

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