At the beginning of March 2021, the Canadian Government announced that it would be investing $181.5 million in resources for artists and freelancers, supporting Canadian arts and culture.  The funds are meant to help those who rely on the arts for their livelihood. Canadian Heritage is to distribute $65 million, while the Canada Council for the Arts will invest the remainder.

The government’s statement reinforces that “arts and culture play a vital role in the civic and economic life of Canadians,” and that the loss of funding requires emergency support from the government.

While this comes as good news to the struggling artists and venues across the country, frustration with how artists have been treated during the pandemic remains high.  In many provinces, arts are still considered a luxury rather than an essential service in the reopening framework.

While funding is critical to long-term survival, the implications of these venues not being allowed to open will be detrimental to the art and culture of cities across Canada.  Even with funding, and proper distribution of those funds, these venues may very well remain closed for good.

What is Essential?

Artists and venues across the country are exasperated that they have been left out of reopening plans.  In British Columbia, venues such as concert halls and theatres have been forced to remain closed, long after they were proven to be safe environments.  Adding to the confusion, restaurants, bars, and retail have been allowed to operate.

Arts leaders across Canada say that the restrictions on live art performances are not science-based, and are unfairly targeting the industry.

(Pictured above) Lower Ossington Theatre @ Wagjag

In Toronto, the Lower Ossington Theatre has permanently closed, citing the pandemic as the cause.  Toronto remains in the grey zone, where arts facilities remain closed.  Self-described as “a hub for hundreds of up-and-coming actors” the theatre hosted thousands of performances over a decade. 

Funding is Critical, but Not Enough

(Pictured above) Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries @ CBC

Ontario announced an additional $25 million to support 140 arts organizations and communities.  Much of the funding will go towards the National Ballet of Canada, Stratford Festival, and Canadian Opera Company.

While the funding is helpful for organizations to keep a skeleton crew, and plan for socially distanced outdoor events during the summer, the funding is a mere drop in the bucket.  The Stratford Festival announced that they would still lose money this year, despite $1.8 million coming from the Province.  Previous estimates state that the festival normally generates $139.8 million per year, and produces 3,000 full-time jobs.

Organizations that run on a much lower scale, and may not have the reserves that these national groups have, are facing grave realities.

What is the cost of not helping our artists?

Funding the arts is critically important, now more than ever.  These local, independent, small organizations are the lifeblood of community creativity.  With lost momentum and few revenue opportunities for struggling productions, the arts in Canada may never return to their pre-pandemic heights.