For artists and authors, the latest provincial health order has the earmarks of a double standard

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      If you're in the mood to go to a bar in Metro Vancouver with five members of your household and fill your belly with booze until 10 p.m. without wearing masks, that's okay.

      But you're out of luck if you want to put on a mask, sit physically distanced in a sterilized Vancouver arts venue, and see the world premiere of a solo or two-person dance performance or play.

      Authors are also banned from reading from their books in physically distanced venues where everyone is wearing a mask.

      That's because in this province, the sale of alcohol—which generates big money for the province—takes precedence over much safer arts and cultural events that nourish our souls and provide much-needed income to some of our community's brightest lights.

      That's basically what the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, decreed with her latest order on November 19.

      It affects world premieres at the Scotiabank Dance Centre, the Firehall Arts Centre, the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre, and the Sheraton Wall Centre. In addition, it means no live audience for the Vancouver premiere of a Vancouver-produced one-person play about climate change, Pathetic Fallacy, which will continue online. You can read the details here.

      Prior to Henry's order, I spoke to the producers of all of these events. I was thoroughly impressed by measures that they've all taken to ensure their patrons were going to be safe.

      Here's one example. After artistic director of Chor Leoni Erick Lichte, explained everything being done to make Translucence: An Immersive Light and Sound Experience virtually risk-free, I responded that it was more dangerous going to the grocery store than taking in this event.

      He said that was the goal all along—to make it safer than going to the grocery store. Only 45 people would be sitting in one of the city's largest ballrooms wearing masks, listening to prerecorded music, and watching a light show.

      Lichte—like the Firehall's Donna Spencer, the Norman & Annette Rothstein's Jessica Mann Gutteridge, dance producer Mary-Louise Albert, and the team at Rumble Theatre—went to extraordinary lengths to protect small audiences. 

      It was a similar story at the Eastside Culture Crawl, where safety was put at the top of the list of priorities. I haven't heard of a single transmission of COVID-19 from any of Vancouver's major arts venues. The Firehall has been offering safe live events in front of tiny audiences since the summer.

      Did lobbyists help the big boys?

      Last May, I wrote about a multitude of lobbyists who had descended on the provincial government on behalf of many industries hoping to survive the pandemic. They represented multinational corporations, including international retailers, and local governments.

      Whirlpool, L'Oreal Canada, Home Depot, Sobeys, and others could afford to hire someone to bend the ears of B.C. politicians and government officials.

      Small local arts organizations, on the other hand, don't have big bucks to do this. They've already been hammered by the pandemic.

      It's worth noting that Vancouver had the highest concentration of artists—2.43 percent of the population—of all major cities in Canada in the 2016 census. That's according to the Ontario-based consulting company Hills Strategies.

      I don't expect heartbroken artists and producers to raise a ruckus about the unfairness of Dr. Henry's order. Nobody wants to be seen to be publicly opposing her efforts to save lives.

      But something smells fishy about this situation. Booze sales and man camps associated with massive infrastructure projects are fine with this government. So are giant construction sites that mostly employ men.

      But the cultural sector—which offers livelihoods to a huge number of women and LGBT people, and has none of the lobbying power of Big Oil, Big Construction, and Big Retail—gets thrown on the bonfire in the interest of public safety.

      I suspect that privately, this isn't sitting well with a fair number of folks in Vancouver who voted NDP in the recent provincial election.

      If you are one of these people, take the time to visit these arts groups' websites and buy tickets to watch the shows virtually.

      We can still vote with our wallets, even after all the mailed-in ballots have been counted and John Horgan finally has his majority government.

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