Celtic Festival organizers trying to do more with less

Photo: Courtesy of the Morrin Centre

The Quebec City Celtic Festival last year attracted close to 6,000 visitors.

Organizers of the 2009 Quebec City Celtic Festival promise a bigger and better event this year, despite having to live up to the excitement of last year's 400th-anniversary celebration.

"Our main challenge is that it's not the 400th anniversary of Quebec anymore, which means that we don't have the same federal, provincial and municipal grants we had last year," said Erin Zoellner, cultural events coordinator for the Morrin Centre, which organizes the annual celebration of all things Celtic.

This year's budget of about $30,000, covered by a combination of government grants, sponsorships and private donations, is about half of what the festival had available to spend last year, when it attracted close to 6,000 visitors to the weekend event.

As a result, the Morrin Centre was able to hire only two full-time summer students this year, compared to last year's five or six. Luckily, according to Zoellner, the students are doing a bang-up job and many of the 30 or so volunteers of years past are expected to return to work on this fourth edition of the festival.

Slated during the Labour Day weekend, September 4-6, the 2009 festival will incorporate and build on past successes while introducing a new element or two.

"We're running a lot of things that have been tested," said Zoellner. "We know what worked and what didn't and we took what worked and made it better."

The ever-popular whiskey tastings and calligraphy workshops, for instance, have been expanded to accommodate more visitors this year, while the Highland Games have been dropped from the program.

"We had a problem with the Games last year because of the location not being very good; the competitions were too far from where people could see them," Zoellner explained. "We decided it would be best not to have them this year because of the logistics involved."

Festival planning and the Morrin Centre itself have been subject to a number of logistical changes. Zoellner joined the staff in January, Simon Jacobs became the centre's new executive director last month and the building has been undergoing extensive renovations.

The silver lining, says Zoellner, is that the building is now more accessible, thanks to the installation of an elevator and wheelchair ramp, and the Celtic Festival has benefited from a fresh perspective.

"We have a lot of new blood and a lot of new ideas," she said. "When you work on a festival for the first time, you see things with new eyes."

Of course, there's a lot to be said for continuity, which is what makes those past volunteers so valuable.

"We've had a lot of people calling us to say they're interested in coming back to help again this year," she said. "That's a really good sign because it means the festival is healthy."

Among them is Julie Lamontagne, a former communications worker at the Morrin Centre who has become a long-standing member of the organizing committee.

"We want the festival to evolve," said Lamontagne, who has already taken a lead role in attracting internationally recognized Irish singer and musician Méav to next year's festival - another good sign, according to Zoellner.

"Bringing Méav in is a huge project for 2010," Zoellner said, adding, "We're going to be stepping outside the scope of what we've done in the past."

Details of this year's program will be posted soon on the festival's website, www.celticfestival.morrin.org, but visitors can definitely look forward to more of what they love best: music, dance, stories, the gathering of the clans, a festive opening parade and, of course, whiskey tasting.

"There will be all sorts of activities for different interests and different age groups," said Zoellner. "Plus, the Monday after the festival is a vacation day, so people will be able to sleep it off."