Blues for country music festival

THE City of Whittlesea will cease their yearly $70,000 contribution to Whittlesea Country Music Festival after voting to introduce a competitive community events program to support outdoor community cultural events.

Council’s current provision of grants to community event organisers does not comply with council’s grants policy, which requires that grants are transparent, equitable, inclusive and efficient.

Councillors voted in favour of the program that will open up the playing field to other event organisers.

A budget of $30,000 will be allocated to small neighbourhood gatherings and $56,000 to events that attract between 1500 to 4000 people.

Applications for funding will be assessed through an open, competitive annual funding round.

Cr Sam Alessi said that introducing the program was a transparent process.

“Everybody should have an equal chance – people shouldn’t get funds because they’re friends of friends,” he said.

Cr Ricky Kirkham pushed for the $70,000 contribution to continue saying he couldn’t believe his colleagues wanted to cease their support.

Cr Norm Kelly said the festival placed Whittlesea on the map.

“The numbers [attendance] are as strong as they’ve ever been – it’s a shame that other councillors are using the excuse of a budget constraint,” he said.

Cr Tom Joseph supported the program advocating for a chance for other groups to apply for the grant.

“Just because a community group has always received money every year doesn’t mean it has to continue this way,” he said.

Whittlesea Country Music Festival vice-president David Watson said although the volunteer committee was extremely disappointed with the decision, there was still hope of co-operating with council in the future.

“We’ve had further meetings with council – we’ve been running through suggestions,” Mr Watson said.

“We’d be happy if they could fund us for a further two years until we’re self-sufficient.

“We had no notice – a week after a really successful festival, we found out about the cut.”

Mr Watson added he would like to see more support at the northern end of the council.

“All their money is spent in Thomastown and Lalor, this is the only big event council fund up here,” he said.

“We’ve had a 19 year journey with the festival – hopefully we can work something out moving forward – Plan B is to run a public campaign.”

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