Shakespeare Festival Huge Success

August 31, 2007 - News Release

The Shakespeare Made in Canada festival was a tremendous success, doubling attendance to the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre (MSAC) and bringing thousands of new visitors into Guelph, according to recently released figures.

"Hotels, restaurants, businesses, and arts and cultural organizations all reported increased revenues," said festival organizer Sue Bennett, the University of Guelph's director of University and community relations.

Even The Bard's beer, a limited-edition ale that Sleeman Breweries brewed especially to support the Shakespeare festival, sold out quickly at local pubs and taverns. The Guelph brewery donated the proceeds to the festival.

Sue Trerise, the City of Guelph's manager of economic development and tourism services, said thousands of tourists were drawn here during the five-month-long festival, attending various Shakespeare-related events. Tourists also visited local businesses, restaurants, galleries and other attractions, she said.

In addition to the economic benefits, the festival boosted cultural and community identity for the city and University, Bennett said. "It also served as a springboard for launching new partnerships and projects among all the groups involved in the development and management of the festival."

Bennett recently completed a report evaluating the impact of the festival, which was sponsored by the University, the Guelph Arts Council, the City of Guelph, MSAC and the Stratford Festival.

During the festival, nearly 9,000 people visited MSAC, compared with 4,000 the previous year, she said. In addition, the number of tours, receptions, events, lectures and other events at the art centre tripled during the festival's run.

Close to 3,000 schoolchildren from across Ontario also visited MSAC, an increase of more than 500 per cent.

"We had to extend our hours to seven days a week to meet the demand," said Aidan Ware, public programming assistant for MSAC. The centre devoted more than 80 per cent of its show space to the Shakespeare exhibit, the largest show the centre has ever mounted.

Besides an elaborate exhibit at MSAC, the festival included other visual art and museum exhibits, theatrical and musical performances, film and video offerings, a speakers' series and children's educational programs.

At the centre of the festival and the MSAC exhibit was the Sanders portrait — believed by many to be the only image of Shakespeare painted while he was alive.

"Undoubtedly, the mystery, allure and history of the portrait are what drew so many people to the festival," said Bennett.

The Sanders portrait is thought to depict the Bard at age 39. It has been in the family of Ottawa resident Lloyd Sullivan, a friend of U of G, for 400 years. Forensic tests conducted over a six-year period have already confirmed that the painting dates from around 1600 and has not been altered since.

"People were drawn to the portrait, simply fascinated by it," said Bennett. "The fact that so many Canadians are interested in the portrait illustrates the importance of preserving this national treasure and adds credence to its authenticity."

Sally Wismer, executive director of the Guelph Arts Council, said from the arts community's perspective, the Shakespeare festival offered "one of those rare opportunities for artists and arts groups to come together to work on a community-wide themed project. Throughout, it became obvious just what a wide range of talent there is in the Guelph community, and just how much the arts contribute to the health and well-being of this city. The Guelph Arts Council is honoured to have been able to play a key role in helping to involve and communicate with the arts community during the Shakespeare celebration."

More than $250,000 was raised locally and provincially to support the "Shakespeare — Made in Canada" festival, with sponsors including the City of Guelph, the Musagetes Foundation, the Bickell Foundation, the Ontario government, Royal Bank, Sleeman's and more than 70 local businesses and individuals.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982.

University of Guelph
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Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1