Back when all this began, Neptune Theatre’s artistic director Jeremy Webb put it perfectly when he told The Coast: “The arts scene isn't going away. The arts scene is self-isolating like everyone else.”
But, as live music venues become booked up into the end of 2021 (Hello Delaware frontperson Dana Beeler told The Coast that touring will be tough for mid-sized bands like hers as everyone rushes to return to live performing); as some venues shutter for good after closing for COVID-19 (rest in power, Menz & Mollyz); the unfurling trail of impact on the arts sector is only beginning to be realized.
In short, the bruise is blooming and it hurts. Who’s going to bring the ice?
The federal government announced on May 8 there will be $198 million divvied out amongst art and culture programs—like the Canadian Music Fund and Canadian Book Fund—the Canadian Press reported earlier this month.
But smaller and more alternative organizations (not to mention individual artists) are still trying to figure out what a full lifeline will look like.
(It’s worth noting that you have to register to become a member of the Canadian Council for the Arts and your profile is vetted before you can apply for funding. It's also worth noting that many of the smaller organizations who'll get crumbs of that $198 million may not have the infrastructure to distribute funds. Oh, and also: many self-employed artists will have no relief once the CERB disappears, but also can't qualify for grants as the pandemic leaves them less able to create or show new works.)
If you’re operating outside of the mainstream, how far will you have to swim for this funding?
Provincially, Leo Glavine (the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage), said at a press briefing on May 21 that Nova Scotia is in the final phases of planning financial aid for artists: “We have now forwarded the needs that we see that are gaps that the federal program will not support and are not able to support under their criteria. And we'll definitely have, again, I guess you'd say, millions to support the sector,” Glavine told reporters in a lukewarm reply to a question asking if the province is willing to fill in the cracks left by national funding.
I guess you’d say since plans from the province have already addressed small businesses like restaurants but not spaces like music halls or galleries, a clear set of priorities has been day-lighted.
He added his department has been “hearing from individuals and organizations daily,” saying “we're checking in every week, through the Arts Council, and we hope to be able to deliver—we will deliver—to individual artists who are having now, whether it's trouble with the rent and those daily needs, so that they have, so we're getting down to the individual artists. And it's so critical in our province that young emerging artists are supported.” (Again, it’s worth noting that some emerging and diverse artists won’t have applied for previous funding from Arts Nova Scotia, so it’s difficult to tell who’s being missed in this discussion. How will the young, emerging artists be found to get said support?)
And what about Halifax? The regional council's budget discussions are continuing tomorrow, May 29th. One of the things being debated, as the city deals with an altered revenue due to COVID-19 (and therefore an altered budget)? Grant funding for the arts.
While no one ever wants to be the one pinched when the belt tightens, the arts sector—which Glavine says is “now reaching close to a billion dollars in value” provincially, and which the Atlantic Presenters Association marks at $928,625,000 in a recent plea for a plan to the province—should not have to hold its breath. (After all, most arts organizations already run on the slimmest of shoestrings.)
Why couldn’t Nova Scotia’s department of heritage, or the city of Halifax, head up a scheduled livestream effort the way the National Arts Council has, connecting performers to audiences while we shelter in place?
Why can’t resources be made available to help festivals, showcases and exhibits move online, like Mayworks and EVERYSEEKER have—particularly as a Nova Scotian-based company is becoming a national leader in socially distant shows?
“We are seeing some movement into the online digital world,” Glavine said on May 21. “Just today, Celtic Colours, which is a huge part of the creative economy of Cape Breton, is going to go online this year. I think we'll see more adaptations and more adjustments as we as we go forward.”
But online events still need cash to pay the creatives involved in making them happen and to pay the administrative costs associated with planning. Expecting artists to work for exposure during a worldwide pandemic is decidedly not the move we should be making: Art is what will get us through this, so artists getting paid feels like the bare minimum.
Why do artists have to expect to live on scraps when theirs is the work that makes life richer for all of us? How will all levels of government show up for the sector that they all acknowledge as a money-maker and community-builder?
What will it take to make art a priority?