The Peterborough Folk Festival logo.
The Peterborough Folk Festival logo.

On February 28, Peterborough local, and musician Nicholas Ferrio submitted a letter to the Peterborough Folk Festival’s (PFF) Board of Director’s Chair, Malcolm Byrd, announcing his resignation from his position as Artistic and Executive Director.

During Ferrio’s time with the PFF, he increased the initiatives funding by 25% by finding $16,100 in previously unexplored municipal and provincial resources, and by applying various fundraising strategies.

The Festival takes place every August at Nichols Oval Park, and features prominent local and nation-wide musicians. It’s run mostly by volunteers, who are then led by a governing board of directors.

I spoke with Ferrio about his experience working with the PFF, and gained insight into what led to his decision to resign from his position.

His resignation letter read, “On February 22, 2015, the board presented me with a contract for the position of Executive Director for $3,000… and a contract for the Artistic Director position for $1,000. Both of these contracts offers came with the expectation that I would complete the same amount of work I did in previous years for far less compensation.”

Conveying his emotions towards his departure from the PFF, Ferrio told me, “I came to Peterborough in 2006, and found the festival, which I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of it for a long time. It’s been emotionally exhausting to have this forced away; I didn’t have an option but to move on. Part of the reason I resigned was due to the board’s lack of communication. They didn’t respond to numerous requests that had an effect on the festival, and grants that could have helped the festivals budget were ignored.”

Poor communication is a major concern Ferrio has with the board, who he believes has missed key funding opportunities by ignoring requests and grants that the festival is eligible for.

“The board acknowledged that I did a lot of work, they just didn’t seem to value the effort. They wanted me to do work with no contract. There were grants I had to write that I won’t be paid for. All the work I did will go forward as unpaid work. I believe their strategy was to not respond to me, so that I would quit.”

I asked Ferrio about the allegations of receiving abusive emails which was outlined in his resignation letter.

He explained, “A coordinator was sending ‘reply all’ email’s that were super aggressive. I felt unsafe and threatened. I brought this to the board’s attention, and they told me to draft a code of conduct document. I researched code of conduct mandates that other Canadian art organizations use, and sent it to them. They never addressed the issue. They were apathetic; it was so intense to experience this, because when I’ve had issues working anywhere else, it’s handled directly, and the board to just forget about it is disrespectful.”

Ferrio believes that the PFF’s board of directors is philosophically against paying someone to do the work required, stating, “It goes against all trends in the Canadian Arts community, I just don’t understand.”

I approached Malcolm Byrd, the Chair of the PFF, with some candid inquiries concerning the matter, and he replied, “For specific responses to your questions, we feel that our response is covered in the press release.”

While the press release does not address the claims Ferrio makes against the PFF Board, Byrd is eager to establish that the Board is moving forward with this year’s event and is seeking volunteer coordinators.

In the vein of poor communication, Ferrio relayed that any claims of physical accountability, responsible governance, violations of by-laws and Chair duties were evaded successfully by the board.

“Since I’ve resigned, I’ve had interviews with other festivals, who offer proper payment, health coverage, and dental; they treat you like a person with a job. The PFF is a lot of work, I would spend 35 hours a week working, and when it got closer to the festival, I was working full time. I make music for a living, and I get paid $3,000 a weekend at some events. Most artists get paid more than I did as Artistic and Executive Director, it just really doesn’t add up to me,” Ferrio said.

He continued, “I love this festival. I think it’s an incredible institution that deserves to be held to higher standards. I hope a bunch of amazing, and successful people get involved. I couldn’t continue to work with those people in good faith because I don’t think that they were working in good faith for the festival.”

In response to Ferrio’s resignation, the board wrote, “We extend our sincere thanks to Nick for all of his hard work over the last year and a half … Mr. Ferrio’s announcement was unexpected, but it has not prevented or deterred the board of organizations membership from continuing to plan and organize the 26th annual festival.”