State of the arts

Why did it take a global pandemic for us to start seriously talking about cultural funding?

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Neptune’s artistic director Jeremy Webb says: ““The arts scene isn't going away. The arts scene is self-isolating like everyone else.” - SUBMITTED
  • SUBMITTED
  • Neptune’s artistic director Jeremy Webb says: ““The arts scene isn't going away. The arts scene is self-isolating like everyone else.”

Why do you live in Halifax? Maybe you moved here for a job or for school, but what made you stay? Maybe you grew up here, but what keeps you here?

A thriving arts scene makes Halifax bright for us all. And right now, as social distancing becomes a new normal—making theatres shut their doors and musicians cancel their tours—we (and our government) need to help keep our collective kaleidoscope shining.

If you like living in Halifax, keep this town interesting by supporting its arts and culture however you can, from paying for a local album on Bandcamp to, as Neptune's artistic director Jeremy Webb puts it, "Booking a ticket far in enough in advance so that, fingers crossed, this thing has blown over. These things help the arts community have something to aim towards to survive with." (Also? Vote for candidates who include arts funding in their platforms and stream local musicians.)

"Every arts organization is living hand-to-mouth, whether they have a seven million dollar operating budget or a seventy thousand dollar operating budget. We're all struggling to find supporters each year, and that's not even connected to COVID-19," adds Webb, acknowledging that from longer workdays to, yes, Netflix, there's an ever-growing list of reasons why getting audience members is a challenge. (It's also why governmental and individual support shouldn't have needed a global pandemic to seem relevant).

But, for many in the arts, live performance remains a revenue vestige in the streaming age.

Earlier this week, the Canada Council Of The Arts released a statement saying COVID-19 has caused enough cancellations and closures in the arts and performance community—perhaps the most visible members of the oft-discussed perilous gig economy—that it's formulating a plan to support creatives.

The release calls the current state of revenue lost for artists a "crisis." The necessary shuttering of venues and events "will weaken a great many organizations and compromise thousands of artists and cultural workers who find themselves without work and in many cases without income," the release says.

For musician Jay Crocker (the flighty hands and whirring brain behind the instrumental compositions of sound experiment JOYFULTALK), a 10-date tour hyping the release of his new album has been cancelled due to COVID-19. "I just want everyone to stay at home and chill, but most people can't," says Crocker, who jokes that by living in rural Crousetown, Nova Scotia, he's been practising social distancing for years.

"I'm just surprised people are even talking about the gig economy. I was under the impression no one even gave a shit, to be perfectly honest," he says. "I like that it's coming to light that there is a facet of society that it's not because we're stupid or lazy or made bad decisions," Crocker says on behalf of artsy types everywhere. "It's this thing that we have to do and we love to do it, which is how we make our small amounts money and are happy to do it."

"I've been living close to the wire in the arts community for like, 20 years. So it's hard for me to think about how it could be better because it's just getting worse," he adds. "I think the government has to step in and give everyone the peace of mind they won't go bankrupt or be unable to pay their bills...I think it's up to the government, the people in power, to get us through this thing."

As Webb puts it: "The arts scene isn't going away. The arts scene is self-isolating like everyone else for safety, for security and for health. An artist doesn't stop being an artist just because they're standing alone in a room and not onstage for 4,000 people."

So, let's show up for each other even while we stay home—and let's push for a government that values art, in sickness and in health.

Come back here or check with NS public health for the latest reliable updates. In the meantime, wash your hands, cover your cough, wipe commonly used surfaces and stay home if you feel sick.

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