CO*LAB seeks funds to cover pandemic shortfall

· The Pulse

After cancelling the 2023 edition of its flagship event due to financial woes, CO*LAB is looking to catch up on debt in order to move forward.

"We need to make it known that we're struggling, and cancelling GLOW (Festival) was part of that," Lorin Klask, artistic director for CO*LAB, told Taproot.

GLOW Festival is the annual flagship event from CO*LAB — a.k.a. Community {Arts} Laboratory — and its operating body, the Quarters Arts Society (QAS). The event typically includes lantern-making workshops, a parade, and live entertainment. The ninth annual GLOW Festival was slated for March 23, but was called off on March 15 and replaced with a smaller art-making event on March 25.

Opening CO*LAB amid the global COVID-19 pandemic resulted in debt hovering around $40,000 to $45,000, which makes the organization ineligible for certain grants, Klask said.

"Our debts need to be addressed, and we're trying to do that on many fronts," she said.

That's why CO*LAB launched a GoFundMe with a goal of $50,000 back in October 2022. At press time, it has raised only $2,170, though a separate fundraiser last fall generated around $1,400 not reflected in the GoFundMe total.

"We were hoping that if (the total amount couldn't be raised), that it would just bring us a couple of thousands of operating funding every month," Klask said.

CO*LAB has also entered a repayment plan with the City of Edmonton, from whom it leases the space at 9641 102A Avenue NW. Klask said larger-than-expected utility bills and operating fees resulted in a bill for more than $9,000 this past January.

QAS began working to become the operator of the CO*LAB space back in 2017, building a business plan that relied on revenue from event rentals as its primary earner rather than in-house programming.

The white-and-yellow facade of CO*LAB from across the street, under a sky of pink-flecked clouds

CO*LAB is currently campaigning for donations to cover more than $40,000 in debt via GoFundMe. (Facebook)

But that business model was made for a pre-COVID world and didn't translate to a reality that included lockdowns and self-isolation. "How we are supposed to operate just wasn't possible," said Klask.

The fact that CO*LAB was a new entity in 2020 worked to its disadvantage, too, making it difficult to access relief funds. "You have to have actuals," Klask said. "Because we didn't have that two years of (financial figures), we couldn't show that we were losing money because of COVID."

With adaptation integral to its survival, the CO*LAB team "learned how to operate at half-capacity," leveraging its outdoor courtyard space and an EPCOR grant to offer livestreaming to continue to offer programming in the absence of in-real-life events. The space also found a certain groove for rentals, showing that theatre could be a viable money-maker.

"I'm super proud of how we've managed to survive and the work that we do and all the successes we've had, because there have been so many," Klask said.

In addition to its fundraising efforts, Klask hopes CO*LAB's future includes greater assistance from government granting bodies to fund operations.

"You only get a certain percentage of your operating budget from all three levels of government," she said. "All levels of government are fine to give you money to build things. But you can't get money for people, and it's really, really frustrating because that's the most important thing."

A volunteer with experience in communications has been tasked with leading an awareness campaign for the GoFundMe. And plans are underway for another fundraising event in collaboration with fellow tenant Tee Pee Treats Indigenous Cuisine, tentatively scheduled for the end of May. It will be a five-course dinner targeting foodies rather than the usual, emerging-artist crowd that makes up much of the CO*LAB community.

CO*LAB is not the only arts organization fundraising to keep afloat. A campaign by Harcourt House Artist Run Centre to raise enough money to purchase its home from the provincial government was extended to Nov. 30 of this year. Its GoFundMe currently sits at $55,653.