It wasn’t long ago that Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian was advocating for a new arts centre in Kamloops, the proposed Kamloops Centre for the Arts that had its April 4 referendum postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fast forward a few weeks and Christian is now advocating to help local arts groups survive the health-related crisis.
Last week, during a regular’ mayor’s call, Christian spoke to Minister of Municipal Affairs Selina Robinson about local arts groups taking a financial hit. Christian said he is concerned about impacts on Western Canada Theatre, Kamloops Symphony Orchestra and Kamloops Art Gallery.
He told KTW that, historically, artisans are the first to be impacted by, and the last to recover from, such disasters.
“They have a lot of problems with, obviously, cancellation of productions, but also their fundraising,” Christian said. “A lot of the groups that we have sort of survive on fundraising events, be it everything from galas down to golf tournaments. None of those are going on and those groups, we try to fund them the best that we can, but we can’t be the backstop for them.”
Western Canada Theatre artistic director James MacDonald said the theatre company has been left with a hole in its finances this year, resulting from physical-distancing guidelines in place to limit spread of the novel coronavirus.
“We cancelled the final four shows of last season,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a significant loss in ticket revenue, in repaying subscription revenue, advertising revenue, some sponsorship, those types of things. We lost because of that. We were fortunate because some people have returned the value of their tickets and remaining subscriptions to tax-deductible donations. It’s not a massive amount of money because, really, the big thing is losing ticket sales, the inability to sell the tickets. It’s not just the tickets we’ve already sold, but it’s the tickets we would sell. That was a pretty big loss, especially on Chelsea Hotel.”
WCT has stayed afloat via community donations and through an advance on government-subsidized operating funds. In addition to subscriptions donated back by the community, a live-streamed event featuring the music of Chelsea Hotel raised $6,000 for the theatre company. Through the BC Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts, the provincial and federal governments provided an advance on next year’s operating funds to help cash flow. No new funding has arrived, however, and it's money that was already budgeted for next year.
“Will it have an impact? Potentially,” MacDonald said. “If there’s no new funding, certainly it’ll have an impact. Of course, the other challenge is trying to predict what the landscape will be like in the fall or even in the spring, in terms of how many people can gather and how we can safely gather.”
Gatherings of 50 people or more — including WCT audiences — were determined last week to be the last shoe to drop in provincial reopening plans. Health officials have said not to expect large gatherings until a time when either a vaccine is discovered, widespread treatment is available or herd immunity is achieved, the last piece in B.C.’s reopening puzzle.
That could be a long wait and MacDonald said he is doing “agility planning” for next season, including shiftable programming based on multiple scenarios, with the possibility for smaller performances that work within provincial health orders.
The federal wage subsidy — which has Ottawa covering 75 per cent of employee pay and which has been extended past June — has helped WCT maintain a reduced staffing level in order to do that planning, as well as maintain a social media presence and provide online classes.
MacDonald said WCT is looking at the potential for online fundraisers and events. He’s optimistic about future possibilities, including more local talent and stories and smaller performances. In addition, he expects advocacy within the arts community will only grow.
“Our survival really depends on our ability to gather,” MacDonald said. “It’s great to be able to produce things online or share that, but it’s not making anybody any money — no matter what level. It really relies on our ability to sell tickets. … At some point, we will face the hard reality that if we can’t produce, we’re going to be in serious trouble.”