The arts in a time of crisis

City Council approved $6,273,590 in grants to 208 cultural organizations at a meeting held back on March 31st. Now that several weeks have gone by, it might be worth asking, how are we doing now as a City with respect to the arts?

The 2020 Cultural Grants staff report was dated February 25, 2020, hence it was created well before the full impact of the pandemic could felt. The grants are part of the City’s annual funding of $13 million to arts and cultural non-profit groups. Staff stated that 1100 jobs are dependent on these grants and another 1300 jobs are indirectly dependent on this support. The assumptions and grant funding are part of the 10-year ‘CulturelShift‘ Strategy, adopted at Council on September 10, 2019.

During the discussion of the grant report, Council heard from speaker Heather Redfern, Executive Director of The Cultch (Vancouver East Cultural Centre). A number of points were raised by Ms. Redfern in her presentation (the full archived video stream is available here, starting at 10:47:42):

  • the arts have become more dependent on earned and donated revenues, as grants have stagnated
  • for organizations like The Cultch, earned and donated revenues make up over 80% of total revenues
  • at this time of year (March), earned and donated revenues make up 100% of revenues, since by the end of the season, as the grants are long gone
  • on March 15th, The Cultch lost 100% of earned revenues and a significant amount of fundraising revenues (about half a million dollars to the end of May, which is their year-end); many other arts organizations are in similar situations
  • artists are facing 90% unemployment (in the arts sector in Vancouver)
  • the federal wage subsidy will not be an option for some artists who are already in a precarious financial situation (and it will only mitigate financial impacts for others)
  • the viability of many arts organizations and the artists to stay in this City and have a livelihood are in real jeopardy
  • funds are needed to have cash flow so arts organizations can survive in the short-term, and also plan for programming when they are able to open up again
  • The Cultch employs about 21 full-time staff and between 50 and 60 casual workers throughout the season
  • many of the part-employees are also artists who have this part-time job to support their work (as artists)
  • fees pay for programming to support another 20 to 25 groups and artists as creators
  • donations as well as attendance is expected to be significantly down for the next year
  • some organizations rent city-owned facilities and the buildings need to be maintained; there are many other ongoing expenses
  • summer festivals will lose everything if they can’t go ahead, they need funds to survive and to plan for next year
  • additional funding from all three levels of government was identified to get through the next year
  • the arts will have a major role to play in bringing people back together when this crisis is over

The Cultch maintains three theatres and a gallery.  The announcement by The Cultch of the temporary closure of its facilities is on the organization’s website.

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