A full week at a private villa in Playa del Coco, Costa Rica might be just what the doctor ordered to blow off the pandemic blues. The oasis offers two bedrooms, three bathrooms, a beautiful private outdoor pool, and ocean and mountain views from every room. And it’s on the docket as one of more than 30 items in next month’s Music Niagara Festival Big Online Auction.
Like all non-profit organizations, Music Niagara has had to adapt to a new way of raising funds with COVID-19 in the picture.
“In March 2020, we needed to pivot our fundraising activities,” said volunteer Michelle Scott, chair of fundraising for the organization, in an email to The Local. “The board felt strongly that we could not go out to the public with our traditional fundraising requests. Obviously COVID-19 restrictions curtailed music events and fundraising activities significantly. It required us to do some creative thinking, which took time. Every idea was a moving target because of all of the uncertainty.”
Last year’s Big Night Gala, usually the first event on its fundraising slate, was cancelled, forcing Music Niagara to refund ticket holders. While the organization regrouped, efforts were focused on revamping the summer series of concerts, resulting in the very successful 2020 At Home Series.
Scott said the last Big Night Gala, held at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Centre in June, 2019, was attended by nearly 200 people.
“The tradition started many years ago,” she said. “A three-course dinner, silent and live auction, dancing and guest appearances from our Performance Academy students. It has become a ‘must attend’ fundraising evening for many residents in Niagara. And it typically raises around $50,000.”
With the pandemic still limiting in-person attendance, Music Niagara has been forced to scale back its fundraising goals. Scott said in total, through three events, they hope to raise $40,000 this summer.
Things started out on a very positive note with the announcement of Music Niagara’s annual golf tournament, The Duet Open, scheduled for Aug. 4 at the NOTL Golf Club. When registration opened in late March, it took less than two days for all 54 spots to be claimed.
That surprised Music Niagara’s general manager Karen Lade. “But again, people are dying to get out,” Lade says. “We’re all hoping that by August, we will still be able to make that golf tournament happen.”
Lade adds that they are planning a Great Debate and Dinner event for July 13. The fundraising committee is still finalizing details for that evening, which they currently anticipate will most likely be a take-home format.
Knowing that this year’s Big Night again can’t happen, a number of volunteers mobilized to focus on the auction side of the annual gala, usually the most lucrative part of the evening.
Scheduled for June 5 through 20, it will be conducted through the Music Niagara website.
“We might not announce all the items until June 5,” says Lade, “because we want it to be a surprise. What people have to do is, when it opens on that day at 9 a.m., they can just start bidding. You have to sign up via email through our website after May 17. The auction will close on June 20.”
Among the other items up for bidding are a rare bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild, vintage 1996, a sunset cruise for six on Lake Ontario, and a 30-minute exotic car test drive with GTA Exotics.
“All of our items are generously donated by local businesses and volunteers,” Scott said. “Our Big Night volunteer committee of more than 15 dedicated volunteers have all been active in all aspects of our fundraising this year.”
As for the upcoming season’s concerts, Lade says the organization is still working on final details for about 13 shows this summer.
“Atis (Bankas, founder and artistic director) is still confirming a few of the musicians,” Lade says. “We were focusing on only Canadian musicians again, but what we’re realizing is we can only focus on Ontario musicians right now. We had some from Nova Scotia who are now saying they don’t feel comfortable coming. It’s changed quite a bit as the months have gone on. We thought we’d be in a better situation by now.”
Lade looks forward to unveiling some surprises for October, and the announcement of a new partnership with a local business as well.
Details on the auction, the Great Debate, and the full concert season will be on the Music Niagara website, at musicniagara.org, in mid-May.