Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Sutcliffe promises ‘major events’ with Holland, while Tulip Festival withers

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While the mayor hails an agreement between tourism officials in Ottawa and The Hague, the Tulip Festival is struggling to survive.

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My favourite piece of public art in Ottawa is probably The Man With Two Hats, the sculpture in Commissioner’s Park at Dow’s Lake. Depicting a man holding two hats aloft, I was initially drawn to the whimsy of it; it reminded me of something out of a children’s fairy tale.

The meaning of the piece, however, is hardly so fanciful. It is a replica of Dutch artist Henk Visch’s “de Man met twee hoeden,” located in the city of Apeldoorn in the Netherlands. Commemorating the role that Canadian soldiers played in the liberation of Holland during the Second World War, the Dow’s Lake version was unveiled in 2002 by Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, whose wartime birth in Ottawa, where the Dutch royal family was in exile, was instrumental in forging the steadfast bond between the two nations that exists to this day.

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Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe acknowledged that unique relationship on Tuesday when he announced on X that Ottawa Tourism had signed an agreement with tourism officials from The Hague “to continue working together to bring major events to both our cities.

“This collaboration is already producing results,” the mayor added. “And there is more collaboration to come through @Invest_Ottawa and its Dutch counterpart.”

Sounds like good news. I love events. They provide residents with plenty of opportunities to get out, stretch our legs, meet people and have fun. They also draw countless visitors to Ottawa each year, bringing the city a cascade of economic benefits. And the cross-pollination of cultures is never a bad thing. Who doesn’t enjoy a Heineken with their BeaverTail, am I right?

But it seems more than a little passing strange that while Sutcliffe on the one hand lauds this agreement, the city on the other is eliminating its funding for the Canadian Tulip Festival, which, with an apologetic nod to Bluesfest, has historically been Ottawa’s preeminent festival, and the greatest recurring celebration of Canada and the Netherlands’ close ties.

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As a recent story by my colleague Peter Hum noted, the city is turning off the tap as far as the 71-year-old Tulip Festival’s funding goes. The $100,000 that Ottawa has customarily given annually to the festival has been halved to $50,000 for this year’s May 10-20 event. Next year, according to festival executive director Jo Riding, that figure will drop to nothing.

This is disastrous for organizations like the Tulip Festival.

All kinds of organizations are increasingly vying for slices of smaller and smaller municipal, provincial and federal pies, and government officials have to make difficult decisions regarding where funding is spent.

But given its place in Ottawa’s history, it would be a shame to cut the Tulip Festival, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and, notably, doesn’t charge admission.

The absence of financial support from the city, Riding noted, will only make it more difficult to find other sponsors. Municipal funding, she explained to me, is “the backbone” of other funding.

“You need a letter from the city before you can get provincial or federal funding.”

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So it’s not hard to see which way that cascade eventually falls.

If Sutcliffe really wants to encourage events between Ottawa and The Hague, I’d suggest supporting the one outstanding one you already have. And, hopefully, the man with two hats won’t be undone by a mayor talking through his.

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