Starting on Monday, live music professionals can begin applying for grants through a program set up by the Alberta government to help the sector survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
The $2-million Stabilize Live Music Grant program lets people in the music industry apply for $1,500 grants to help them “prepare for a return to live performances,” the government said in a news release on Friday.
For-profit music venues are able to apply for $25,000 grants to “support innovative projects to help Alberta’s music industry adapt and relaunch.”
Both the smaller and larger grants are intended to be one-time funding that may cover up to 100 per cent of a project’s budget.
The grant program is a partnership between the government and Alberta Music, which will administer the grants.
More information about the grants is expected to be provided on Monday.
“The live music industry is critical to our quality of life and our economic recovery, and we need to maintain the sector’s viability in these uncertain times in order to see future growth,” said Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Minister Leela Aheer. “Once the province can reopen, there will be a pent-up demand for live music and we need to make sure the live music industry can meet that demand.
“This investment will allow Albertans to safely enjoy live performances and ensure our amazing artists return to the stage stronger than ever.”
Carly Klassen, the executive director of Alberta Music, said many in the industry have been struggling and a number of venues have closed because the “entire live music sector has been at a standstill for 14 months.”
“Everyone’s just sitting and waiting for music to come back,” she told 630 CHED Afternoons on Friday.
“It was absolutely wonderful to hear this contribution from the government of Alberta.”
Mike Spencer, the artistic director at the Geomatic Attic in Lethbridge, said the venue’s last show was in March 2020.
“Anything that can be done to help is appreciated,” he said.
But it’s the recognition of the arts industry that has Spencer excited.
“It’s not so much the monetary value,” he said. “It’s the confidence that there’s a recognition out there that the arts and entertainment sector is valued.”
Joal Kamps, a singer-songwriter who is also Alberta’s artist-in-residence, told 630 CHED Afternoons that he and many other musicians have had to pivot to get by over the last 14 months.
“There hasn’t been work for many of the people in our industry,” he said. “For our family, we’ve had to look into… other work opportunities, grant opportunities and dip into our own savings.
“This program is going to be fantastic.”
Kamps added that he and many other musicians thought when the pandemic first hit, they would be able to use the excessive amount of downtime to work on creative projects. But he said it has not always turned out that way because of a lack of interaction with live audiences.
“That very thing is actually what fuels much of our creation,” he said.
“I can’t wait to get back (to performing live)… People are hungry for it.”
Country musician Mariya Stokes told Global News that performing live was her main source of income before the pandemic.
“That’s how most of us (musicians) make a living and feed our families and are able to create more music to release,” she said.
Stokes said she is particularly worried about how smaller venues and up-and-coming artists will get through the pandemic.
“The importance of small music venues can’t be understated,” she said.
“In order to keep Canadian culture and Canadian music — and Alberta music specifically — growing, we need to make sure we’re supporting the small venues as well as the smaller artists… And the other industry folk who maybe are in school to be a light technician, or a sound technician.”
Funding for the grant program stems from $15 million that the government recently allocated to the Stabilize Program in its most recent budget.
According to the Alberta government, the province’s live music industry created over 5,400 jobs in 2017 and generated a “direct economic output” of $709 million that year. The government added that live music was a growing sector in recent years.
The Opposition issued a news release in response to the grant announcement Friday, arguing that because it is project-based, it “means that venues and artists must use the money for a future event and cannot apply this grant to operational costs or retroactive projects during the pandemic.”
“(This will) will leave venues on the hook for operational costs with no revenue coming in,” the Alberta NDP said.
“The industry has been clear with the UCP that they are in need of pandemic support to make it through to the other side,” said Opposition culture critic Nicole Goehring. “I’m concerned that these venues, which provide a huge boost to our economy, could be in serious jeopardy.
“The UCP has chosen the wrong vehicle to deliver this money. Venues have been clear and I worry that the government has squandered their opportunity to truly help out the live event industry while we deal with a massive third wave and no guarantees this industry can resume operations any time soon.”
More information about the grant program and eligibility requirements can be found online.
–With files from Global News’ Jessica Robb
Watch below: Some Global News videos about COVID-19’s impact on live music in Alberta.