South Shore Breaker
Campaigns seek support for arts sector
'It's one of the hardest hit sectors'
With COVID restrictions — which have kept many of us from our favourite activities for the better part of the last two years — being lifted throughout the province this month, patrons of the arts have the chance to flock to their nearest galleries, theatres or music halls to take in what Nova Scotia artists have to offer.
Though it's something of a miracle that they're still there to enjoy, given how the arts sector was forced to weather the pandemic.
“Everything kind of came to a screeching halt,” says
Judy Snow, acting manager of Th'yarc playhouse in Yarmouth. “We worked feverishly — the best we could — to reschedule dates, but with the unknown, that was very difficult to do. We were pretty much held together by local productions, by our volunteers.
“We are fortunate that we're still here.”
“It's certainly been a challenge, to say the least,” says Allegra Swanson, executive director of Music Nova Scotia, on keeping the various live performance venues operational — or at least afloat — during the pandemic. It's been changing month by month, week by week.”
Likewise, other sectors in the arts were hard hit during the lockdowns, since much of the industry conducted business face-to-face.
“We were closed for months,” says Elaine Rhynold,
one of the owners of the Down To Earth Gallery in Antigonish. She describes one of the shows the gallery managed to hold during the pandemic, where visitors had to be scheduled. “We booked everybody in at different times. On our front door was a list of people's names, according to what time they had booked in.”
Also compounding things were the upfront costs of creating something, with the expectation to recoup costs by selling it later.
“You create, and then you show,” says Dr. Cat Mackeigan, executive director of Theatre Nova Scotia. “Cash flow suddenly became a huge issue for these organizations.”
Even now, as things are beginning to reopen, the spectre of COVID looms large, according to Snow.
“In the Tri-counties, there is a lot of fear of coming out to the theatre and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with someone you don't know,” she explains. “I have people calling me, asking if we're still going to be distancing in the theatre. To get people to come out and see the shows, I think, is going to be a challenge in some areas.”
While all sectors were sailing on troubled waters during the pandemic, Mackeigan asserts that the arts sector was the one that braved the harshest waves.
“It's one of the hardest hit sectors,” they say. “When we're talking about the larger sector, we're talking about museums. We're looking at the art galleries and the studios that had to shut down. We're looking at writers and the literary arts. We're looking at the craft sectors and crafting fairs that couldn't come together to sell their wares.”
Now that the pandemic is winding down, Swanson and Mackeigan are heading joint campaigns to strike while the iron's hot and urge the Nova Scotia community to contact their MLAS about the importance of investing in the arts sector ahead of the formation of the 2022-23 budget.
“We were going to need to see a plan for this recovery funding,” says Swanson, who's spearheading the Nova Scotia Live Performance Recovery Coalition (NSLPRC). “For us, that's immediate funding for the hardest hit sector, which is something the live performance sector should be recognized [as] in Nova Scotia. We really do require that critical emergency investment to bridge the gaps to the recovery phase of the pandemic crisis.”
But it's not just a recovery fund they're after; Swanson asserts that there also needs to be an increase in the general budget from the Operational
Support for Cultural Organizations Program to bring it up to date with the current market rate.
“There hasn't been an increase in that program in over 20 years,” says Swanson, with Mackeigan — who's working on the Home Is Where The Art Is campaign — adding, “How we've been existing the last decade — especially over the last two years — because we haven't had funding, is what I call ‘invisible work.' People are working off their kitchen tables until one in the morning, they're working hours they're not being paid for, because there simply isn't the money, but the job still has to get done.”
And lastly, because of the growth being seen provincewide in recent years, both campaigns argue that a radical investment in new projects and events will help retain and attract new professionals, and with them, new revenue to the region.
“If we don't focus on rebuilding the workforce and putting money into Nova Scotia-owned businesses and supporting the creation of new festivals in this province, we're not going to see the appropriate rise of the sector,” says Swanson, who points to a report the NSLPRC penned, titled Roadmap for Recovery, which outlines their specific recommendations.
“We don't want to go back to the status quo,” says Mackeigan. “We have this opportunity now to do it better. We know there's a significant economic impact around our activities. What we now need to see is that significant public support for those activities to go forward. We really need our business owners, our neighbours, our friends, our board members to take the initiative to contact their MLAS.”
To that end, both campaigns have websites — nsarts.ca and nslive.ca — where those interested can access ready-made copy to send to their local representatives. The Nova Scotia film sector recently received a promise of a $23-million investment over the next five years; the larger arts and performance sectors hope to be granted something similar.