In the summer of 1994, four new festivals began with the objective of showcasing different cultures, arts, and entertainment to the local community. Distinct, yet sharing a common objective, these organizations, namely, Ottawa Bluesfest, CKCU Ottawa Folk Festival, Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, and Fete Caribe, saw a unique opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences and lend support to each other’s development and growth.
In the fall of 1994, a meeting was called by the president of Ottawa Tourism Commission Authority (OTCA) in response to many public inquiries relating to these new festivals. The goal was to create a communication flow between the festivals and OTCA. During this meeting, there was a consensus that most of the festivals had many common interests and that there was a need to form some ongoing group that could not only coordinate tourism information, but also share ideas to improve their individual events.
After many meetings and brainstorming sessions, the Ottawa Festival Network (OFN) was formed with an initial board which included Mark Monahan (Ottawa Bluesfest), Michel Gauthier (Canadian Tulip Festival), Gene Swimmer (Ottawa Folk Festival) and Christine Broughton (OTCA). It was from this initial group that the network flourished, and was eventually successful in working with several organizations to introduce programs and services to members of the industry.
- In April 1996, OFN became an incorporated entity with a group of diverse not-for-profit member festivals representing different cultures, arts, and entertainment.
- In 1996, the first inception of the Job Creation Partnership was introduced in collaboration with Human Resource Development Canada.
- In April 2006, Ottawa Festival Network celebrated its tenth anniversary by unveiling its new official name, Ottawa Festivals d’Ottawa, and celebrated at the inaugural Launch of the Festival Season.
- The first Ottawa Festivals calendar brochure was produced and distributed to promote the 2006 festival season.
- The City of Ottawa City Council in 2007 approved a budget that included an infusion into the festival, special event, and fair industry of $250,000 in the form of an investment fund. The Ottawa Festivals Sustainability and Emergency Fund (SEF) is a component of an overall strategy to bring greater stability to the festival, special event, and fair industry. It provides a needed tool to assist participating members with their ongoing cyclical cash-flow needs and will also provide a source of emergency funding when unforeseen events create significant financial loss.
- In 2008, a dynamic online calendar was introduced as a key component of the new Ottawa Festivals d’Ottawa website and traffic increased approximately 750% by the 2009 festival season. A social media campaign was also introduced using Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.
- In 2009, OFN created a Group Benefits package, which is still going strong today. It offers health, dental and life insurance support to 30 participants, from OFN membership and staff to cultural workers from OFN’s allied organizations.
- A new online volunteer engagement tool, OttawaVolunteerLounge.ca was introduced in 2012. To celebrate the Year of the Volunteer and Ottawa Festivals Launch of the Festival Season, the volunteer tool was unveiled and the inaugural BFL Canada Volunteer of the Year Award (now named the “OFN Volunteer of the Year Award presented by the Scotia McLeod Group”) was presented.
- OFN moved in 2014 from its downtown Byward Market location to “Festival House” in the Westboro neighbourhood, home of RBC Bluesfest, City Folk and Festival of Small Halls. This OFN office expansion also serves as a hub space for members and the cultural community, and offers desk, office and meeting room space rentals, and creates a more inclusive and dynamic environment for OFN to fulfill its mandate.
- In 2015, OFN hosted “Pitchfest + Expo”, a one-day major conference and 60-booth tradeshow event. Over 400 participants gathered at the Lansdowne’s Aberdeen Pavilion to engage in a networking and professional development day designed to stimulate dialogue, ideas and partnerships between the industry and businesses leading up to 2017.
- In 2015, OFN became a founding member of the Ottawa Cultural Alliance (OCA), an umbrella-organization based group that each serve to voice the needs, concerns and opportunities of their members; and when aligned, come together with a view to serve the City’s cultural community as a whole. Other Alliance members include: AOE Arts Council, Council of Heritage Organizations in Ottawa, Heritage Ottawa, Ottawa Arts Council, and Ottawa Museum Network. The OCA works collaboratively to strategically address shared opportunities and challenges to further advance the sector’s success. Members of the Alliance have collaborated for many years to advance cultural priorities in the City of Ottawa. In the spring of 2015, as we advocated for completion of the City of Ottawa’s Renewed Action Plan for Arts, Culture and Heritage in Ottawa (2013-18) (the “Action Plan”), the groups agreed to acknowledge this activity by giving our collaboration a formal name.
- OFN celebrated its twentieth year of operation in 2016, and was invited to host its celebratory anniversary event at Shopify. At that event, OFN revealed its new three-year a member-driven strategic plan, which sharpened the organization’s focus on a renewed mandate, and clarified its vision and values. OFN also launched a revitalized brand and logo to more aptly showcase the vibrancy and impact of the industry. It was also in this year that its Momentum613 event was first introduced to stimulate “big idea” thinking, and community, partner and stakeholder engagement to empower OFN to better deliver on its leadership role, and its brand promise as “Canada’s Festival Capital”.
- In 2017, OFN benefitted from a one-time Ottawa 2017 Inc. $250K investment to support the development of a multi-faceted marketing and outreach campaign. This Board-driven project was designed to shine a light on the industry in a heightened event year with an expected 1.75 million more tourists to the region in the sesquicentennial year.
- As part of the OCA, in 2017 and into 2018, OFN is playing a leadership role in the delivery of the Arms-Length Cultural Development Feasibility Study, a community-driven initiative (and a key Action Plan item), which will map the way forward for Ottawa’s cultural community development and funding framework.