A new survey report from the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance (GVPTA) shows that COVID-19 measures are hitting performing arts and facility-based organizations hardest.
The findings reveal arts organizations based out of bricks-and-mortar venues face twice the average financial loss compared with those who aren't. They could face critical cash flows sooner than other organizations amid the crisis.
"Facilities for cultural institutions are a hub for actvity," explains GVPTA executive director Kenji Maeda to the Straight. "There's already a lack of arts facilities across Canada and if we start to lose that infrastructure then we have nowhere to go to once we open back up."
This report includes data collected between March 12 and May 20 as the GVPTA moved quickly to gather information that would help it understand the impact COVID-19 has had on arts and culture organizations, artists, and arts workers of all disciplines across B.C.
Insurance, rent, and other monthly maintenance costs meant venue-based organizations faced a 56-percent greater financial loss than those without facilities. Many of them, because their buildings are owned by municipalities or CMHC, for example, did not qualify for government rent subsidies, Maeda said.
The closures affect not only the organizations based out of these spaces but the groups who rent them out as well. And the current 50-person limit for gatherings makes it financially infeasible to reopen many larger theatres for shows, he added.
He said the findings show all levels of government need a longterm strategy to make sure the spaces that can't open up survive beyond the pandemic.
In addition, the survey showed theatre, music, and festivals reported more than twice the average loss in total ($232,000 per organization), compared to those without a facility ($113,000). "We need to acknowledge the difference between arts sectors," Maeda stresses.
Asked in the survey, "How long could you sustain 'maintenance' level operations based on your organization's financial reality?", 30 percent of those tied to a facility answered two to three months, while only 19 percent of that same group said they could survive past nine months. By comparison, 38 percent of arts groups without a venue said they could survive beyond nine months.
The study also shows 43 percent of artists and arts workers projecting an annual loss of income of 75 percent for 2020.
"Has the government sector done an adequate job in the community explaining what the plan is moving forward?" Maeda asks. "If the arts and culture programming dimishes over time, how likely will people be to come back to them once the restrictions are lifted?"
Though the report finds some optimism amid artists and arts groups that the sector will survive the crisis, the qualitative findings in the study show a distinctly bleak outlook.
"In theatre, the mood is that there have been a number of articles about how successful organizations have been moving to digital, but that's diminishing the fact that the sector is actually being crippled by COVID," Maeda reports. "The longterm stability has to be addressed. There needs to be more support and awareness. Inherently the arts is about connecting people in person, and to expect that work to go digital is not something most organizations and theatre artists are excited to do in the longterm."
In the meantime, the GVPTA continues to collect data with new surveys, this time trying to find out what government support groups have access to, how informed they feel on updates to policy, and what their reflections are on the above-mentioned shift to digital. Tomorrow, the association is also hosting a provincial town hall with WorkSafeBC, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), and Actsafe Safety Association to address the emerging questions from the performing arts community about how to return to work and relaunch programming.