COVID-19 has impacted nearly every industry in Nova Scotia, including crafters and craft organizations who rely on retail shows and exhibitions to showcase and sell their work.
The senior director at Craft Nova Scotia, Andrea Saint-Pierre, said their organization, which encourages and promotes the craft movement in the province, has over 100 members trying to cope with the challenges the pandemic has brought.
She said the organization would normally hold a large winter retail show in November so that crafters can sell their work, but they’ve had to shut the show down due to COVID-19.
“We are trying to do small shows that follow public health guidelines, up to usually 10 exhibitors at a time, but there are only so many weekends between now and Christmas. So it won’t serve all the members we have,” said Saint-Pierre.
“Every council and every major craft organization is facing the same issues. So overall, we are not able to support individual craftspeople the way we normally do,” she added.
According to an unpublished survey by Craft Alliance Atlantic Association provided by Saint-Pierre, almost 60 per cent of individual crafters have seen a decrease in sales. They expect sales to fall further or stay at that level.
The survey also noted that 80 per cent of respondents across the province were forced to reassess their online strategy, but they’re unsure at this point whether online sales are making up the difference.
Saint-Pierre said that as an organization they have seen a more than 95 per cent reduction in their revenue compared to last year, and they’ve only managed to survive because of the federal government’s emergency relief funding.
She also noted that 80 per cent of crafters in the province have applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and were receiving it because that was the only way that they can survive, with only 20 per cent of people that they’ve surveyed saying that they could continue their business as usual.
“We just found out that 20 per cent of the people are going to be applying through the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), so that means 30 per cent are still struggling so much that they can’t continue with their regular business,” said Saint-Pierre.
The director said many are considering leaving the craft sector altogether and finding other employment, and that is “a huge loss to the community because it takes a long time to build up a craft business.”
“If you fall out of the retail stream, it’s really hard to get back into it. There’s also been a lack of money for individuals to buy materials, and you need to buy your materials in advance before you can make anything,” she added.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the province, Saint-Pierre said the organization has been transitioning into online programming, which includes weekly virtual meetups with crafters to discuss their challenges and to share resources.
But transitioning to online for crafters is more difficult than people might imagine, according to Rachel de Conde, a ceramic artist, and member at Craft Nova Scotia who’s based outside of Stewiacke, N.S.
“Building an online presence takes a lot of years to do,” said de Conde.
“People use Instagram and Facebook a lot for establishing a presence where they can get their images out in front of people in different ways. But the algorithms for Facebook and Instagram have changed a lot. And so now they’re really more interested in you paying them to move your content through those platforms,” she added.
On top of that, de Conde said crafters would have to pay companies frequently for the maintenance of their website, which can be quite costly.
She said her Shopify website for her ceramics business costs more than $500 a year to run.
“There’s a lot of background expenses that people don’t think about,” said de Conde, who mainly depends on shows, various shops and galleries throughout the Maritimes to sell her work.
She said at a Christmas craft fair, she would have 5,000 people walking past her and seeing her work, which results in more sales, and that kind of exposure doesn’t happen online.
“Don’t get me wrong. Online has a lot of potential and it has a lot of opportunity for people, but there’s a huge amount of time that goes into online.”
De Conde said the holiday season is the biggest sale season for most local shops and makers, and this year will be very different.
“People can support artists by shopping at shops and galleries that sell their work, by buying directly from them, by purchasing gift cards and gift certificates, by recommending them to friends and families to help get their name out there, by commissioning work from them, and also spreading out their sales into the new year,” she said.
According to her, January, February, March, are often very slow for sales and people could spread out their shopping into these months, by buying gifts for weddings, birthdays, house warming or any other occasion to help support artists and shops during these post-holiday months as well.
Saint-Pierre said the organization’s next step is to gather the responses to the Craft Alliance survey to get a better idea of how much the pandemic has affected the craft sector and then taking that information to the government.