When the COVID-19 pandemic hit this year, the shuttering of museums, galleries and performing arts centres hurt more than just artists. It affected all those who work in and enjoy this vibrant sector.
“It’s not just about being able to create art, although I certainly believe that’s a crucial component to communities,” says Shawn Newman, a research and impact manager at Toronto Arts Council and Toronto Arts Foundation. “When the arts are your job, it’s not just about the lack of art that’s being created and for people to experience. These are also people’s livelihoods.”
According to the Canadian Association for the Performing Arts, the number of arts, entertainment and recreation-related jobs in Canada fell 31.4 per cent between June 2019 and June 2020. Performing arts companies and promoters lost a combined 22,000 jobs in that same period.
In 2017, the arts in Ontario accounted for more than 286,000 jobs. From February to June of this year alone, the arts and entertainment industry’s contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) plummeted 59 per cent, says Frédéric Julien, director of research and development at the Canadian Association for the Performing Arts.
“All of the tourism-related industries were affected by COVID-19, and that includes restaurants and bars,” Julien says. “Among all of these, the performing arts have been last in the reopening plan.”
The good news is that this innovative and creative industry is adapting and starting to flourish again.
In spite of physical distancing regulations, the communal experience between performers and artists is becoming available as people slowly make their way back to shows and venues.
“We know there is already rehiring happening,” Julien says. “Some organizers are starting to resume a level of programming.”
The Burlington Performing Arts Centre is now allowing up to 50 people in attendance for live productions. Theatre-goers were disappointed when the company was forced to cancel six productions in March, but the centre has resumed live performances, marketing manager Cam Stevens says.
“The demand for live entertainment is still alive and well, as our recent fall season live performance on sale has proven,” Stevens says. “In two days, we sold 500 tickets, one-third of our fall inventory.”
This month it is hosting a fund-raising concert in support of the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. Legacy – A Tribute to Gord Downie will include headliner Tom Wilson, Twin Flames, Phil Davis' Drum Circle and Hoop Dancer, Kevin Fox and more.
At Opera Atelier, Handel’s The Resurrection shuttered mid-production in March, a first for the company. But, as soon as rehearsals stopped, performers started thinking of ways to entertain from home, says co-artistic director Marshall Pynkoski.
“We thought we could either be crushed by this, or find a way to take this pent-up energy and channel it towards something else.”
Opera Atelier is now producing a show that fans can view from their living rooms. Something Rich & Strange, an exploration of dreams, visions and the supernatural, starring soprano Measha Brueggergosman and tenor Colin Ainsworth, debuts on Oct. 28, with tickets for the online experience available on Opera Atelier’s website.
Live theatre isn’t the only discipline making adjustments. Galleries have begun virtual exhibits and initiatives to get art lovers involved in the community. The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Vaughan is running an online auction, called 100 for 100, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Group of Seven.
“We realize that [some] people aren’t ready for in-person events,” says Lisa Pottie, director of development and donor relations at McMichael. “We wanted to create an opportunity to support local business while also supporting the gallery.”
Items were donated from businesses within 100 miles of the McMichael. Pottie says although the use of the imperial system isn’t very Canadian, it casts a wider net than 100 kilometres and allows for more businesses to be included.
A number of galleries, including McMichael, are accepting donations online from those who want to support the arts but are unable to make the trip into the physical location. Aga Khan Museum in North York, which displays Islamic and Iranian art and Muslim cultural items, is relying on donor support to continue operations while still inviting visitors for in-person experiences, following all safety protocols.
“Both visitors and staff were happy to be back in our building to have an opportunity to reconnect with others in a safe environment and enjoy the benefits of reinvigorating the mind through art,” says Rachel Pryce, studio manager at Aga Khan.
The ceramics showcase inside Toronto’s Gardiner Museum is allowing visitors to both see master works of pottery and create pieces of their own through interactive, in-person classes.
Since reopening in July, the Gardiner has offered visitors free weekends to explore, which senior manager Rachel Weiner says has been tremendously successful.
“It’s something we felt really strongly about to give back to the community and to offer people, especially at a time when they’re struggling financially and emotionally, a place to reconnect and feel safe and inspired by our collection.”
Julien says that, while it’s too early to determine the economic impact of the situation, patrons are encouraged to support virtual or limited in-person experiences to ensure that the shows do, indeed, go on.
The amount that arts and culture contribute to Ontario’s economy annually, representing about 3.3 per cent of the province’s GDP.
The percentage of Ontarians who agree that arts and culture activities are important to a community’s economic well-being.
The percentage who believe that the arts help enrich the quality of our lives. At least once a year, 86 per cent attend a live arts event.
SOURCE: ONTARIO ARTS COUNCIL
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