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Performing arts will be one of last sectors to reopen, Calgary city council told

The entrance to Arts Commons, one of the 36 southern Alberta arts organizations and festivals receiving funding from the federal government, as announced on Aug. 29, 2019. Global News

The performing arts sector was the first to be shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic and will likely be the last to be recover, Calgary Arts Development told city council on Tuesday.

The arts development authority invests and allocates municipal funding to arts groups in Calgary. During its annual report to Calgary city council, officials said there has been an 83 per cent drop in the number of artists hired in the community and a number of arts organizations have made significant layoffs.

“Already in this near term, you’re seeing companies go to zero staff,” said Patti Pon, the president and CEO of Calgary Arts Development. “They have no capacity to undertake the work to even think about what the future looks like.

“We may very well see some companies look to other adapations — that could be collaborations, that could be mergers, that could be closures.”

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READ MORE: Theatre Calgary develops video series to entertain Calgarians amid the COVID-19 pandemic

She said that relaxations brought in with the relaunch by the provincial government don’t help in the near term, not making it financially viable to hold performances.

“The margin is very, very thin, so with physical distancing, you have a 700-seat house and 100 per cent capacity for you with physical distancing is a third, that just doesn’t make sense,” Pon said.

“The numbers don’t add up.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he sympathizes with the arts community in Calgary.

“Those physical distancing requirements probably make it impossible for them to actually open and be able to make any money,” he told reporters after the council meeting.

Nenshi said as the city deals with its own financial challenges because of the pandemic, he doesn’t believe funding should be cut for the arts.

“There may be some organizations whose expenses have really gone down because they’ve been forced to close, but by and large, what we need to do is maintain our funding to these organizations — even in tough economic times — or the knock-on economic effects will be much worse for the city.”

In its annual report, Calgary Arts Development states that the arts contributed $131 million in direct economic impacts to Calgary in 2019.

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