I wrote a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau a couple of months ago, (for which I have still yet to receive a response), asking for an extension of the CERB. On June 16, the government announced an 8-week extension. I was extremely grateful to hear this news, as I’m sure we’re all of the people in the Arts Sector who have been relying on this support to keep us afloat during these precarious times.
On June 22, I wrote an Op-Ed for Ludwig Van. And now, here I am again, voicing my concerns, as I received my final CERB payment on August 5 and am waiting to see what the government has in mind for this “parallel EI” for artists who depend on that lifeline until our industry can get back on its feet again. We have no idea what it looks like or if it is planned to be available to start in September, though it has been rumoured to involve retraining, along with room to work more hours before a clawback in benefits, according to media reports.
…instead of finding solutions as to how to reopen, everyone is closing up shop, and nobody in Canada seems to be looking for a way to resurrect our industry, at least in the immediate future.
I have been contacted by UBI works and the Canadian Musicians Coalition to support their causes. I consider them both compelling and ambitious concepts to support Canadians. However, for me, and also for my colleagues such as Robert Pomakov who wrote an Op-Ed for The Globe and Mail on June 23, we want to find a way for our industry to reopen, so we can get gigging. However, it seems that instead of finding solutions as to how to reopen, everyone is closing up shop, and nobody in Canada seems to be looking for a way to resurrect our industry, at least in the immediate future.
The Canadian film and television industry is actively reopening, which is great news, and ACTRA has come up with a protocol for opening that has been approved by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development. Still, even with this positive and proactive response, it is very likely that only principal performers and a handful of recurring featured background performers will be engaged in the near future, leaving thousands of background performers out of work for the remainder of the year.
However, there are bleaker facts in regard to in-person musical and theatrical performances. Figures such as Conductor Sir Simon Rattle offered his views on what the European landscape looks like for reopening in an interview with The Guardian. Rattle has been experimenting with live performances in Europe, and on June 18 came together with Nicola Benedetti, Alison Balsom OBE, and Sheku Kanneh-Mason to join in a virtual meeting about the future of the music industry with the UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden. In Canada the landscape is desolate.
Canadian Opera Company: Fall 2020 season: cancelled, Calgary Opera: 2020/2021 season: cancelled, Manitoba Opera: 2020/2021 season opener production: cancelled, Vancouver Opera, Pacific Opera Victoria, VSO: cancelled for 18 months until 2021/2022! Calgary Philharmonic: season cancelled until January 2021. Music Toronto: live performance season 2020/2021: cancelled.
Here are some Hard Financial Facts of how this Pandemic is affecting the Arts Sector courtesy of Arts Pond:
$2.07 BILLION (0.12% of Canada’s GDP) is the estimated lost or at-risk income of self-employed artists in Canada in 2020 (based on 82,200 self-employed artists in Canada x $25,200 average income)
2.96 MILLION estimated lost or at-risk gigs in 2020 (82,200 self-employed artists in Canada x 36 average gigs)
• 158,100 artists in Canada, (source: Hill Strategies)
• 52% of artists are self-employed, (source: Hill Strategies)
• 82,200 artists are self-employed (52% of 158,100)
• 36 average number of lost or at-risk gigs in 2020, (source: I Lost My Gig Canada COVID-19 Impact Survey at May 27, 2020 (n=796))
• $25,200 average lost or at-risk income in 2020, (source: I Lost My Gig Canada COVID-19 Impact Survey at May 27, 2020 (n=796)
• $1.741 trillion Canada’s GDP in 2019 estimated
Our situation in Canada is being supported by our government for now, unlike many of our colleagues in the United States, where the performing arts managers and agents have come together to plead for support of their industry. However, even with this current government lifeline, it is not a pretty picture here in Canada, and support must continue until our industry reopens. The reality of the CERB is that while it has been essential, its time is now ending. It is therefore imperative that the transition to a “parallel EI” be more than just another band-aid for the Arts Sector. We don’t know what is going to happen with the pandemic, or any potential vaccine, but what we do know is that our industry is completely shut down and not opening in the near or even distant future and plans must be made now to address that very cold hard fact/truth.
I would like to offer a personal note in response to the concept of retraining that is being suggested with this new “parallel EI”. To those who may judge me as a bit of a prima donna, as someone who might think herself too good (and perhaps over educated, as I have 8 years of higher education and have received a bachelor and master degree in my craft) to go out and get a job at 7-Eleven in order not to take precious tax dollars away from the rest of the hard-working Canadians while we ride out this pandemic… I pay taxes too; I file yearly and am up to date on my income tax. I have never filed late, and also pay property taxes to the City of Toronto for my residence, which likewise I always pay on time and have never defaulted on. In 2006, after I was not hired back to a teaching job at Acadia University that I held for the academic year of 2005-2006, as when my EI ran out, I was obliged to take on work, and I also needed to work in order to get the bills paid. I was trained (without pay), and then worked 8-weeks for minimum wage in a warehouse office space, in the same room as my abusive boss, for a damage restoration company. I did my job well, I was never late, and I treated my clients with the utmost respect even though I was not receiving that same respect from my boss. It was horrible.
You cannot just stop investing in your career, your body, your instrument — it is a full-time commitment that requires complete dedication, love and money to maintain.
I have also worked in the hospitality industry, the film industry (where I would still be working if that industry was open right now), and in domestic household cleaning to support myself in my career in the arts on those low-gigging years. No job has been beneath me, and I am happy to give every task my complete dedication, no matter how removed from my actual career. I can say I am proud of my work ethic, across the board.
Additionally, in my career as a singer and voice teacher, I consistently upgrade my skills through professional development opportunities such as workshops and courses, and keep my instrument in shape through regular practice, lessons with my voice teacher, sessions with my voice coach and preventative maintenance with my speech-language pathologist. You cannot just stop investing in your career, your body, your instrument — it is a full-time commitment that requires complete dedication, love and money to maintain.
It is not uncommon for the self-employed gigging artist to have more than one source of income that flows parallel to their “career” job. I have singer colleagues who, pre-pandemic, maintained a busy teaching studio; and many of my theatre and film/tv colleagues also work in the hospitality industry to supplement their income. I have a couple of colleagues in contemporary circus who also work as therapeutic clowns, another is an osteopath, and many run circus-camps during the summer. Of course, all of that work is currently suspended due to the pandemic.
Lastly, and certainly not least, I want to acknowledge that this is only a very small piece of what is happening on a much larger scale in our world and community at large, and I realize that the perspective that I present here is very much one-sided… not at all encompassing the world’s endlessly deep injustices and imbalances that I haven’t addressed or considered in any way in my viewpoint. Rather, I looked at a micro-organism of the problem that exists with its own very heavyweight in the community that I live in as a performing artist and arts creator. It exists within a much larger issue — at the base of it all is that how the world has been “functioning” (and I put this in quotations because I believe that the way it is and has been going on, is not a functional society) has to change, and that there are so many injustices, and this cannot continue to keep happening.
Stacie Dunlop, professional singer, currently under-employed due to COVID-19
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