Artfest Kingston organizers respond to criticism over Epoch Times partnership

Attendees at Artfest Kingston 2019 in City Park. Photo via Artfest Ontario.

Editorial note: Artfest Kingston is an event organized by Artfest Ontario and is not affiliated with the Kingston Women’s Art Festival, which is a separate event.

After concerns were raised regarding the presence of the controversial Epoch Times at this year’s Artfest Kingston, organizers have responded to the criticism and clarified the event’s relationship with the publication. 

Artfest Kingston is an annual event in City Park, organized by Artfest Ontario, that provides Kingston-area artists with a venue to promote and sell their work. This year’s festival also featured food trucks, as well as live music, theatre, and dance performances. While Artfest is often a popular event among local artists and artisans, this year’s festival was the subject of controversy after several attendees raised concerns over the presence of Epoch Times as an official media partner, with a place in the program and a booth on-site throughout the weekend. 

The Epoch Times is a free newspaper affiliated with the Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong; the publication is often available at supermarkets and other retail locations, with articles also available online. The newspaper has been criticized for allegedly spreading anti-China propaganda and COVID-19 conspiracy theories, with a 2020 New York Times article calling the publication a “leading purveyor of right-wing misinformation.” The publication itself, while asserting “we are neutral and independent,” also states that its founders’ personal beliefs are based on Falun Gong, which they refer to as a “peaceful spiritual practice.”

Given the Epoch Times’ alleged history of propaganda and misinformation, many festival attendees were surprised to see the publication listed as an official media partner at this year’s Artfest, with Kingston resident Cate Patterson even going so far as to boycott the event. “When I found out, I was shocked and disgusted,” said Patterson.  

After seeing The Epoch Times listed as one of Artfest’s media partners, Kingstonian Cate Patterson took to Twitter to voice her displeasure.

“I knew of their reputation as a far-right, anti-LGBTQ+, pro-Trump news outlet who are prone to promoting conspiracy theories. It’s shocking that an arts festival that promotes inclusion — in fact, their theme this year is ‘Connections’ — is affiliated with [Epoch Times].”

According to Patterson, residents attempted to contact Artfest organizers regarding their concerns, but those complaints were ignored. “I, and many others, posted on social media, and emailed Artfest and the local organizer directly. We heard nothing. And the comments we posted have disappeared,” she said. 

Patterson said she hopes the event will conduct a review of its partners and prevent organizations like the Epoch Times from participating in future festivals. “Artfest Ontario should issue an apology and commit to vetting sponsors for racist, homophobic, transphobic views and the peddling of conspiracy theories. You can’t call it a community event if large sections of the community are made to feel unwelcome by the sponsors and uncomfortable with a booth.” 

“If anybody on the board had thought to google The Epoch Times and look up at the headlines they regularly publish, I would hope they would have sounded the alarm. This community deserves answers,” added Patterson.

When reached for comment, Artfest Ontario President Lory MacDonald dismissed many of the concerns, pointing to the event’s “non-political” stance.

“We don’t discriminate, and we don’t suppress any kind of freedom of expression at all. No matter what the medium is, whether it’s painting… dance, theatre, writing, poetry, music, or opinion,” she said. 

Asked about the criticism that The Epoch Times spreads misinformation, MacDonald said, “it has nothing to do with our event.”

“People have opinions. There’s misinformation everywhere… I read things in every publication that I think is misinformation. I don’t think that Epoch Times [are] the only ones who might do that… I think they feel they do the due diligence,” she continued. 

In terms of the relationship between Artfest and the publication, MacDonald said the Epoch Times is one of several media partners. “There’s no monetary exchange… they don’t get any money. The exchange is that they helped me promote the show because they have a huge following, like, a huge audience. And so they let people know about the event… They do promote art and culture in a big way.”

While Kingstonist spoke to two attendees about their concerns regarding the presence of the Epoch Times at Artfest, MacDonald minimized the overall number of people who spoke out. “From my perspective, it was a small group of people that are targeting The Epoch Times to try and… stop them from being in events.” 

Like Cate Patterson, Cathy Nicholson is another area resident who chose to boycott this year’s event due to the presence of Epoch Times, saying, “I have gone to this show every [year] since its inception, but cannot support it this year.”

Referencing Kevin Roose’s New York Times expose, Nicholson said “The Epoch Times is a ‘partisan powerhouse’… So very sad that Artfest chose them as one of their [partners].”

When asked about the boycotts and their impact on the event, MacDonald said, “that’s not what Artfest is about.”

“I’m really sad that it affected the event. You know, in the end, it doesn’t hurt The Epoch Times; it hurts the artists when people do things like that, when they lash out and say they’re not coming to the event,” she said.

While some attendees had hoped for an apology and a commitment to ban The Epoch Times from future festivals, MacDonald instead reiterated Artfest’s commitment to “freedom of expression,” as she stood by the event’s relationship with the newspaper — one that has actually existed for at least a decade, according to social media posts made by Artfest in 2012.

Screen captured image of a Facebook post regarding Epoch Times media partnership with Artfest, which was posted by Artfest in May 2012.

“In Canada… we have the right to have our opinions… We have no affiliation with [Epoch Times], what their opinions are, what they write about…. they promote art and culture. When you’re doing free events like this, you need as much exposure as you can get. That’s what our goal is… They’ve always done a great job, they bring people to the event,” MacDonald concluded.

“The people that come, they aren’t thinking about opinions. They’re thinking about going to an art festival, having a great time, and buying from the artists.” 

6 thoughts on “Artfest Kingston organizers respond to criticism over Epoch Times partnership

  • Lory MacDonald’s comments are incredibly disappointing. You can’t say you are non-political and then claim every other publication is as full of misinformation as The Epoch Times. That’s not being neutral, it’s being blind.

  • Artfest Ontario President Lory MacDonald is quoted as saying that people who came to Artfest Kingston “aren’t thinking about opinions”. This sweeping generalization, unsupported by any evidence and demonstrably untrue, is, in my opinion, an underestimation of the intelligence of her festival attendees.
    Although she expresses support for freedom of expression and “the right to have our opinions”, those who boycotted Artfest Kingston are somehow not expressing an opinion but are instead lashing out.
    It would appear that Artfest Ontario takes the position that any publicity is good publicity regardless of the reputation of the sponsor offering the publicity.

  • I am glad I didn’t go to Artfest this year! Epoch Times, what a poor choice, the stated justification is a cop out, meritless. No excuse

  • And one more, no freedom is limitless, it comes with responsibility

  • We intended to go to Artfest Kiingston and when we heard about the association with Epoch Times, we changed our minds and stayed home. We find Artfest’s justification that Epoch Times has a broad reach for publicizing the event unsatisfactory. Would other organizations that promote inhumane messages be welcome if they have a broad reach for publicity? If so, we would not want to attend. Artfest is naive if they truly think that attendees or potential attendees don’t care about such issues. We also think Artfest is underestimating how many people care about these things and will avoid events that associate themselves with such organizations. The presence of any organization at a public event implies endorsement. We hope Artfest will think twice about who they endorse in the future.

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