VANCOUVER, CANADA (CelebrityAccess) – Vancouver’s TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival can’t catch a break. On Tuesday, Toronto-Dominion (TD) Bank informed the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society they’re pulling their support after this year’s festival. TD’s contribution is the festival’s largest source of sponsorship money. This year’s festival is scheduled to run June 24 – July 3.
The TD Bank announcement comes at the same time disputes between the board and members of the society over governance and leadership structure have escalated to a public form. An open letter, released via Facebook, calls for the current board to resign and boasts over three hundred signatures, including musicians Dan Mangan and Jesse Zubot. The letter states:
“We are concerned that the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society is suffering a crisis of governance that threatens its existence. This organization means a great deal to us and to the cultural life of our city.”
The organization was running with a single executive-director role, but after determining too much turnover and carrying a deficit, they modified the structure to three managing directors (Finance and Administration, Marketing and Development and Artistic Programming), erasing the deficit. Rainbow Robert, a 23-year veteran with the society, festival programming curator, and Artistic Programming Director, departed the organization on February 4.
In 2020, the board performed a review of senior staff, and decided the three-managing director leadership structure wasn’t working any longer, according to current board Vice President, Franco Ferrari (a member of the board since 1994). The board put the three managing directors on 14 months’ working notice with their positions eliminating in December 2021. As reported by The Globe and Mail, Ferrari said, “From the board’s perspective, it was a prudent approach that didn’t put the society at extreme risk. It still provided some level of certainty to the individuals involved, and under the circumstances, the best we felt we could do.” Board member Zahid Makhdoom, who resigned amid the drama last year, was extremely critical of the change. He said in an interview that he objected to the employment action happening “in the middle of the plague we are all facing. And these people have been working diligently … under difficult conditions.”
The dispute came to a head at the Coastal Jazz annual meeting in November. The event is usually a benign affair but, in this case, attendance was larger than usual. Jazz musician Torsten Mueller wrote in the open letter, “When challenging questions were posed by members regarding the reasoning behind these decisions, they were met with derision and profanity from the board.” CJBS member Sonja Muller told CBC,
“The level of division and hostility toward the members was just mind boggling. The profanity [from the board], that’s something I’ve ever experienced.”
Members voted at the meeting to remove several people from the board executive, inclusive of the president and Mr. Ferrari. After the meeting’s conclusion, Mr. Ferrari said the society’s lawyer determined the vote contravened the organization’s bylaws and that the board was never out, they remained according to the bylaws. On the society’s official website, a letter addressed to the current members states, “The election conducted at the 2021 AGM was not conducted according to the Society’s Bylaws. There is no provision for “voting out” Board members.”
The board has answered in the hiring of Nina Horvath, formerly of the Vancouver Bach Choir to take over the executive director position, replacing the three-person structure. In response to the open letter, the board responded in kind, “Emotions were running high, resulting in words and actions that we profoundly regret,” the board’s letter stated. It said it was actively recruiting new board members. “Carrying on the legacy and intent of our founders, the board would like to assure staff, society members, and the community at large that we will engage in a thoughtful, transparent, and equitable process to determine the future artistic leadership of the organization.”
However, Robert Kerr, the festival’s founding executive director took issue with the board’s letter and wrote to Ferrari and company. “I am deeply offended by your statement that you are ‘carrying on the legacy and intent of our founders.’ None of you are founding members and not one of you speak for me.” Kerr is the current programming supervisor for cultural events within the City of Toronto and attended the November meeting. He concluded, “If you have a shred of respect for the values and intent of those of us who founded, established and nurtured the organization to international acclaim, you should all resign immediately.”
The board doesn’t seem too much care as the letter states it “is committed to fulfilling our duties to ensure the sustainability and oversight of the society and will continue to govern the society.”