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Arts workers in northeastern Ontario remain major casualties of COVID-19’s economic blows
by alnationtalk onJanuary 21, 202139 Views
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new meaning to the term starving artist.
According to Statistics Canada, one in four arts workers lost their job this past year due to the pandemic. Of the total Canadian jobs lost in 2020, 11 per cent were arts, entertainment and recreation jobs.
The statistics come from the Labour Force Survey, Statistics Canada’s monthly survey of employees. The aim is to record data on employment for full-time, part-time, occasional employees, as well as self-employed workers.
Rebecca Bose has been a photographer in the Sudbury area for about 10 years, serving large events like weddings.
Prior to the pandemic she says her calendar was booked solid, but now, she says the economic climate has forced her to burn through about half her savings in order to weather the storm.
‘Literally no income’
“Since the pandemic, I’ve had to reschedule for a year’s worth of weddings and I’m even rescheduling some for the second time, into 2022 at this point. So I’ve had literally no income really,” Bose said.
“If this carries on through the summer then I will definitely have to go out and find myself a job at a coffee shop or something because it’s not sustainable.”
Bose said the pandemic has also motivated her to obtain a studio space and expand her business’s offerings to include things like head shots.
When I get these contracts to work in the schools, what I make in one week is twice as much as what I get in a month from old age security.— Michael Cywink
Michael Cywink is a mural artist from the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island. Before COVID-19 the bulk of his income typically came from sharing Indigenous history and culture through his mural work, in schools.
Cywink said now he relies heavily on what little he receives from old age security, “For me it’s a shutdown.”
“When I get these contracts to work in the schools, what I make in one week is twice as much as what I get in a month from old age security.”
‘Losing out on sharing with the youth’
New protocols relating to COVID-19, he said, have cost him at least five jobs he was preparing to take on in schools around the province. But he said losing out on income isn’t the only casualty of the past year.
“I’m losing out on sharing with the youth … and the teachers because a lot of them don’t know the history from our perspective and the youth — they want to know,” he said.
Alessandro Costantini is an actor and the artistic and managing director with Yes Theatre in Sudbury. He says the organization typically employs about 57 people, however, the pandemic has for the most part halted the theatre’s programming, leaving many of the company’s arts workers struggling.
You spend your whole life thinking that arts and culture … are the most essential thing to being alive, right? And then suddenly you’re told, ‘Sorry you’re technically the most unessential thing.– Source
He said it’s been difficult as someone who manages arts workers while also feeling the financial and emotional strains of the pandemic as an artist himself.
The pandemic, he said, caused him to lose out on a contract for a national tour of the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen. Not only was it a big financial loss, it was a huge blow professionally.
“It’s incredibly disheartening,” he said.
“You spend your whole life thinking that arts and culture … are the most essential thing to being alive, right? And then suddenly you’re told, ‘Sorry you’re technically the most unessential thing.”
‘What it could look like’
While the devastating effects of the pandemic continue to be felt in the arts community, some artists and organizations like YES Theatre, have said it’s led them to pivot their business models and plan ahead.
Costantini said he hopes the pandemic has at least shown the public the value in congregating in places like the theatre. He said the change in perspective could help to reinvigorate the theatre experience once the pandemic has eased-off.
Right now, Costantini said he’s working on a five-year financial plan for the theatre company, which so far, hasn’t been an easy task.
“We’re just trying to put as many variables in there as possible and have as many scenarios and try and cover as many bases so that we’re sort of building a thousand different versions of what it could look like.”