Two weeks ago, I was laughing into the camera on my phone, making an Instagram story about how I was a “Doomsday Prepper” because I’d bought a couple of extra cans of beans during my weekly grocery shop. I had no real intention to use them immediately, but now—several bean-based meals later—the world looks significantly different than it did just a week and a half ago.
As a working artist, I generally operate under the quiet suspicion (read: fear) that my current gig is the last one I’ll ever do. Because of this, I keep a revolving door of income generating joe-jobs in my back pocket to fall back on in times of need, to supplement potential gaps in my income. Sometimes I’m doing all of them at once, sometimes I’m doing none. Often, even when I don’t need to, I’m doing one or two of them in my spare time “just in case”. Many artists live this way.
For anyone wondering what it means when someone says that this pandemic will hit the arts community hard, they’re not only referring to the upending of theatre contracts and productions grinding to a halt. They’re also referring to the backup gigs most artists have in place for times when creative work is thin. Those are now gone too.
Selena Vyle, a local in-demand drag queen explains, “I teach a kids music program in the mornings and do drag at night so I’m completely out of work right now.”
For others, the shift has not only affected their livelihoods, but their living situation as well.
“I’ve been living in New York for the past 5 and a half years, working (and not working) as an actor and comedy writer,” says Filip Jeremic. “Since this pandemic created an almost immediate shut down of our industry, I had little choice but to hastily come back to Toronto. With the situation worsening so rapidly, coming home felt like the right move.”
Ann Pornel, a Toronto-based comedian and star of Second City Toronto’s runaway hit She The People, was out of town at an improv festival in Cape Town, South Africa when the pandemic was declared. “It went from ‘I think we’ll be okay for another few days’ to ‘Go home, NOW’ in a 12-hour time frame. The choice to come back was absolutely the right one, but I can’t think about it for too long because the financial burden of cancelling that trip plus buying an emergency flight back is crushing.”
I found it interesting that, while facing the prospect of not working for an indefinite amount of time, each of the artists I talked to mentioned the fact that the global pandemic has given them the space for some much-needed rest. As a person who has hustled to the point of burnout at various times in my career, I understand this sentiment. However, this, if anything, is a huge indication of just how demanding the gig economy can be. Some brilliant artists are barely ever afforded down-time because of the constant hustle to produce their art and pay their bills. If it takes a worldwide shut-down for an artist to find the space and time to restore their parasympathetic nervous system, then as a society, beyond this moment of crisis, we need to be addressing ways in which we can better support our arts community as a whole.
Selena explains that along with many other artistic disciplines, drag artists are adapting their performance venue to accommodate social distancing. “A lot of drag performers are making up for lost gigs by doing Instagram Live shows, and pinning their e-transfer and PayPal information in the comments for tipping. If you’re a salaried worker whose paycheque is not affected by isolation, then we’d really appreciate your virtual tips, as that’s how we pay our rent.”
“For those still making money during this time, buying prints or original pieces from local artists online would be hugely helpful to them,” Jeremic offers. “Often, a single piece of art can cover one month’s rent for an artist. And when this blows over you can proudly show off your Coronavirus art at dinner parties!”
“What I want people to remember is how much they’ve turned to art when shit hits the fan,” says Ann. “The shows/movies/music we’re all bingeing; the video games we’re playing; those were all made by artists. Appreciate that and next time one of your artist friends has a show, a concert, a gallery showing, go, pay, support.”
Artists of all disciplines are an incredibly vital part of a thriving society, and whether we admit it or not, we rely on them for daily enjoyment. For this reason, and many more, it’s important to make it a point to contribute in whatever way you can in order to maintain the vulnerable existence of those who work in the gig economy. If you’re wondering what you can do to support artists during this time of need, check out some of these options below.
Donate The Cost of Your Cancelled Ticket
Perhaps the biggest blow to those of who make money from performing is the indefinite cancellation of our live shows. This is an inconvenience, of course, for those who have purchased tickets and looked forward to seeing shows for months on end, but it is a devastating turn of events for anyone who makes a living from the ticket sales. If you’re in a position to, think about donating the cost of your ticket to the theatre company that produces these shows. This will help with revenue, which in turn will allow those companies to pick up and produce shows more quickly once they are able to again.
Join Online Community Groups
Care-mongering Toronto – Arts/Live Events Industry is an example of a great resource for anyone who is looking to lend whatever resources they have on hand, as well as an excellent place to look if you are in need of help or information. Groups like this are popping up all over social media. If you see one, join it!
Watch online content!
Many artists are making a transition to an online platform right now, and a great thing you can do with some of your isolation time is tune in and support their endeavours. One such endeavour that’s gaining a lot of traction is The Social Distancing Festival, showcasing artists from all over the world! Even if you aren’t in a place to pay for content right now, your support is not in vain. It’s a real boost during an isolating experience to know that people are appreciating your work.
Donate to Funds set up to support artists
Glad Day Bookshop has created an Emergency Survival Fund for LGBTQ+ artists in our community. Through public donation one of their goals is to support 100-150 artists, performers, and tip-based workers.
The Canadian Artist + Musician Relief Fund aims to help low-income Canadian artists and musicians whose livelihoods are affected by the pandemic.
The Social Distancing Festival has also set up a wonderful landing page with excellent suggestions of arts organizations who are all very worthy and in need of your donations.
If you’re someone in the arts community who is in need of help, support from the Canadian government is on its way. This funding will aid in the bare, day-to-day essentials, and with any luck the support from the rest of our community will fill in the gaps.
The arts sector is definitely not the only corner of the world hit hard by these uncertain circumstances, so we’ll need to come together to find ways to bring relief and support to everyone. It’s been said many times, but the meaning is nonetheless true, the only way out of this is together.
Ann adds, “I think the most important thing people can do is STAY INSIDE AND WASH YOUR GODDAMN HANDS. STAY HEALTHY, STAY KIND, AND MAYBE THIS COULD BE OVER IN A FEW WEEKS WITH LITTLE HARM DONE TO US. The sooner we go back to ‘normal’ or whatever the ‘new normal’ is going to be, the sooner we can get back to creating art that most people take for granted.”