Imagine COVID 19 Without Internet, Film, Music or Art

Part 1 of 3: The impact on the arts community straining under this pandemic.  What will the future look like for those in the creative employment fields?

This pandemic has hit many industries hard but none so hard as the industry we need the most. The artists, writers, film makers, theatre groups, and musicians have lost all their shows and income in one fell swoop. Imagine trying to survive 2 weeks of self-isolation without a book to read, a picture to paint, photographs to look at, music to listen to or movies to watch. The very thing that is maintaining our sanity right now is the area most under attack. While we get our feel-good fills of musicians playing on their balconies and actors reading Shakespeare, we must also realize that none of them are getting paid and they have mortgages too.

To find out what long term impact COVID 19 has had on the arts, we asked some artists and creators to tell us how this has affected them and their organizations.

When asked “How has this affected your life and your arts organization”, many were quick to acknowledge the devastating effects this has had on their finances and ability to move forward. When you consider your favorite movie or music or book, you don’t always see all the people behind the scenes that were necessary for that entertainment to become a reality. The production staff and side workers are one part of it but if you take it back even further, the music teachers and theatre schools, private lessons and entertainment opportunities that were afforded people at a young age were the foundations of the arts offerings you are enjoying during your social isolation. It begs the question, what will the long term effect be as the development of the arts is halted.

Natalie Pardalis and Students Surrey photographer – Nadine Inkster

Natalia Pardalis, singer, pianist, educator – owner of Pardalis Studio and founder of Maria’s Records

“The music industry is hurting right now. Our jobs depend on human interaction without social distancing. It has been amazing though watching so many musicians display such leadership skills with online performances, workshops, providing information etc.”

“Personally, I have found it very difficult as my local gigs and upcoming tour was cancelled. But more importantly, it was hard watching my music students (especially the younger ones) try to understand what is happening. We have moved lessons online to carry on which has helped greatly. I think the hardest part was watching my students’ disappointment. They were all preparing for festivals and all the festivals were either cancelled or postponed. So, a group of teachers and I have joined forces to create an online music festival to help make up for it. Music and all arts is even more important at this time.”

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade and a promoter of Surrey as a Music city says

The Surrey Board of Trade has heard clearly from our arts and culture community members that cancellation of events, no incoming revenue, and many arts organizations not eligible for announced provincial funding will compromise their survival as an arts entity in the long term. It depends on how long COVID-19 orders are in place indicating no public gatherings or events for the safety of all British Columbians and Canadians. Some funding is available now through the federal government. But we live in an area with the highest cost of living – government subsidies simply won’t be enough for many of Surrey’s amazing arts & culture entities.

Mark Manning is an actor with MVM Agency. This crisis has put everything on the line for him.

A job I booked for a TV show is up in the air now. The production shut down and I have no idea when they will return or if I will still have a job with them when they get back. Seeing as acting is a job of opportunities, in the beginning you don’t get many. This gig would have been the last credit I needed to get full union status, it would change my life forever.

Local Singer, Songwriter, Cathrine Levan has just released her newest CD in the middle of this pandemic.

Cat Levan – New CD

I think the biggest challenge to the arts is performance arts, whose very existence depends on performing. Yes, we can do online events, but they are not paid gigs. And the complete collapse of performance events is going to bankrupt many arts organizations.”

Sami Ghawi, MBA is the Director of FUSIONpresents and the mastermind behind the Surrey Board of Trade Music City Centre.  He is the driving force behind making Surrey a Music City Destination.  He relies on live performances for income.

Sami Ghawi and his favourite fan

FUSIONpresents and its partner venues agreed to cancel all live entertainment days prior to the government’s mandate to shut down all bars and clubs as we felt it was the responsible thing to do for our community.  Live music brings so much life to social events, and artists and bands thrive on the energy of large audiences.  Therefore, as much as live music entertainment is a large portion of our business, cancelling it all was the right thing to do for the safety and consideration of everyone.  We are an organization that strives to help, and at this time, the first step in helping was not enabling the spread of this virus by bringing people together.

International DANCE sensation and local girl, Natasha Gorrie feels like her entire life has been canceled.

This effects my life financially to sustain myself. A lot of my dance gigs are for the mass numbers of people. I am a choreographer contractor work for NHL Canucks talent, BC Lions and as well as I throw events for the dance community. Every single event I run or choreograph for have been cancelled till the summer. And then when the summer comes all of the dance teaching work is done for the season. So really proper dance work won’t be coming back till the month of September 2020”

As the Executive Director of Semiahmoo Arts Society and the Community Arts Council of the Semiahmoo Peninsula, Ulee Maschaykh is knows the field well.

Like most businesses (for profit and non-profit) around the world we at Semiahmoo Arts have experienced losses: financial loss, loss of certainty, loss of revenue etc. The Rec Centre was closed only two weeks after our Annual Member Show opened. All the art work is still there, so we decided to present it online for the world to view, experience and maybe even purchase.

Patricia Dahlquist is a Surrey Civic Treasure and a singer, actor, teacher and the Founding Director of the Young People’s Opera Society of B.C.

“This Pandemic has curtailed a large part of my social life which includes support of other arts organizations in our community Seeing empty theatre seats set in motion the beginnings of a constant state of anxiety and depression. Weird for a diehard optimist! We, the leaders of non-profit arts organizations that are always delicately balanced on the edge of a financial cliff, are sensing the ruin of our vital, creative and contributive groups.”

David Geertz, who formerly booked bands into The Flamingo’s three showrooms, is a principal of Cloverdale Concerts.  He works with Dione Costanza in Penmar Community Arts Society, a group that organizes live music opportunities.  He talks about how COVID 19 has impacted his creative endeavors.

From an organization stand point we have had all of our events cancelled up until the end of August at this point. In addition to our public events we have also had to cancel some private functions that were a very large part of our revenue model.“

Many theatre groups have put a lot of money into renting space and production costs which they carry upfront on the understanding that they will recoup those costs at the time of show with ticket sales and other revenue.

Ellie King, Artistic Director of the Royal Canadian Theater Company in Surrey says

“We have lost about $50,000 in revenues which is a massive financial hit and means that we cannot in any way recover our production costs. For a small company such as ours which didn’t receive any funding from Metro Vancouver, BC Arts Council or from Canada Council this is a HUGE blow for our company.”

While she is very grateful to the support of the City of Surrey and is determined to get back on their feet and continue to provide high-value theater to the Surrey and outlying communities, she is blunt about the effect this has had on the organization.

“The cost to us has been great and the financial security we had been building has been deeply eroded.”

Blues for the Bank featuring Chris Thornley and his band

Chris Thornley is a musician and leader of a local band.  He is most famous for his Blues for the Bank concerts in Surrey.  They raise money for the food bank by donating their talents for a wonderful evening of entertainment.

“All music projects that I had on the go have been cancelled and all concerts that I was looking forward too have been postponed indefinitely ( Hall & Oats , Boz Scaggs , Pink Martini and local favourite Jim Byrnes ). One of the things I really miss is our rehearsals. With some of my friends it is as much a therapy session as it is playing music. So consequently, I have been feeling a little blue. I know this will pass.”

Actor – Michael Charrois

Michael Charrois is an actor, writer, director, instructor and professional performer who makes his living from the arts

“The majority of my work comes from live performance and teaching drama classes on contract. I usually have 5 or 6 gigs on the go at any one time to make ends meet. I have high hopes for recorded storytelling (a good time to be a singer/songwriter with an internet connection) but I have fears about the short term viability of live performances; concerts, theatre, film screenings. We can’t gather in even small groups to create and no one will want to gather in an audience until a vaccine is developed. Grim.

All of my gigs are cancelled: a touring production of Screwball Comedy presented by Surrey’s Royal Canadian Theatre; teaching recreational drama classes after school in Burnaby and Coquitlam; teaching a weekly drama class at an Independent school; teaching workshops in schools through the Evergreen Cultural Centre including On The Road visits to K B Woodward School in Surrey. The film industry is shut down, so no film work there either, including background. Bleak.

While most are trying to stay positive, many of the artists and support teams that I spoke to said that they feel they will be forced to leave the industry that they love.

We do it because we love it, it is part of who we are, but we can’t financially afford to wait for things to come back to normal. The theatre industry in particular would take a bad hit because it would lose some many people with experience due to the lack of security in this industry.”

There are many industries that are going to take a hard hit during these unsettling times but there is no industry that saved our sanity like the entertainment industry.  While we salute all of our front line workers with well-deserved adulation, when our pot-banging is over, we return to our rooms to watch movies, listen to music, read books, do puzzles or paint by number.  The arts, which has taken the largest hit, is the very thing we turn to for solace in times of trauma and uncertainty.

Next posting – Creative people are resilient. Their super power is their ability to create.  Look for tomorrow’s article and hear what have arts organizations and creative people have done to continue creating during these difficult times.






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