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Arts orgs still feeling COVID-19 pressure as Manitoba reopens

Rainbow Stage.
Rainbow Stage. Facebook / Rainbow Stage

Industries throughout the province have struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic and Manitoba’s phased approach to reopening its economy, but arts groups have been among the hardest-hit.

The chair of Manitoba Film and Music’s board said that despite things slowly opening up — like some concert venues hosting small shows and the film industry getting back on track  — there’s still a lot of uncertainty for creatives in Manitoba.

“It’s been a real challenging time, and I consider myself one of the lucky ones,” Dan Donahue told 680 CJOB.

“The strangest thing about a lot of this is a feeling of being left in complete limbo.

“You’re left with a lack of motivation because you just don’t know what’s coming around the corner.”

Winnipeg entertainment industry takes big blow due to COVID-19
Winnipeg entertainment industry takes big blow due to COVID-19

Donahue said the arts is a career path without a lot of job security in the best of times, but people are willing to take that risk because of the fringe benefits — including a strong sense of community, which has been devastated by the enforcement of social isolation.

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Read more: More than half of Canadians feel lonely, isolated during coronavirus pandemic: Ipsos poll

While many people in creative jobs tried to make the most of things by hosting live-streamed events and other performances from isolation, especially in the early days of the pandemic, Donahue said the reality is that a live-streamed concert is unlikely to pay the bills.

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“I think we’re going to see a large percentage of people falling by the wayside. This isn’t a one-year happening,” he said.

“I think the repercussions will be two-to-three years out and (most artists) don’t have that leeway.”

“I wonder about the potential for people to just weather this.”

Read more: Winnipeg musicians make the most of self-isolation with online concerts from home

One of the biggest issues, he said, involves uncertainty for businesses, venues and production companies around insurance and liability issues… as well as whether audiences will come out even if those issues are resolved.

Organizations like the symphony, opera or chamber orchestra, who rely in large part on older audiences that are more susceptible to the coronavirus, may not find a lot of takers.

“You can relax restrictions, but are people going to take up the offer, so to speak?”

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The executive director of Winnipeg’s Rainbow Stage told 680 CJOB the COVID-19-related shutdown of the historic theatre’s season was a tough pill to swallow, but she’s confident the arts will return.

“I will not couch the fact that it has been difficult for us. It has been difficult for our staff, our creative crew and volunteers, and our fabulous patrons that have supported us for 65 years and hopefully going forward for another 65,” said Julie Eccles.

“It was a shock to all of us. I’m very pleased at how well Manitobans have behaved, though. It gives us a glimmer of hope, doesn’t it?”

Eccles said Rainbow Stage was fortunate in that it put precautions in place and has had a positive experience with its insurance provider.

Having a relatively small permanent staff was also a bonus during the financial crunch.

Read more: ‘They need us to survive’: Small business owners feel impacts of COVID-19 pandemic

“We operate with a staff of eight, and some of us have gone down to reduced hours, but for the most part it was as much work unproducing the shows as it was producing — and now we’re working on an 18-month calendar.”

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Eccles said Rainbow Stage is continuing to work ahead, online, via Teams and Zoom apps, but it hasn’t been easy.

“It is tough –there’s no getting around it. Wherever we can support an artist, we will, and that will be hopefully in the fall with paid workshops for them.

“But the reality is that even with our huge stages, there’s no way we could make [a big show] work.”
Winnipeg musicians come together to support local scene
Winnipeg musicians come together to support local scene
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