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The Campbell River arts sector prepares to weather COVID-19 storm

Financially, it will be a tough go, but the arts are never really about money, they’re about the art
It’s going to be a tough go, financially, for the next little while for artists and arts organizations, according to arts council executive director Ken Blackburn, but art will always persevere. Photo by Marissa Tiel/ Campbell River Mirror

The arts and culture community in Campbell River will be taking a huge hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Campbell River Arts Council Executive Director Ken Blackburn, but he’s confident it will weather it like it’s weathered so many other emergencies.

“We’re probably headed towards a total shutdown of just about everything, it seems,” Blackburn says. “All sectors going to be affected, and the arts are certainly no different in that regard.”

But the arts sector, Blackburn says, has some particular concerns.

“In terms of the immediate impact, many arts organizations financially function pretty close to the bone,” Blackburn says. “A lot of them hope their fiscal year ends – in a good year – come very close to balancing out at zero. So when you stop revenue for places like theatres and galleries, these places are really depending on attendance to balance their books, so when you don’t have a lot of fat built into your budget any kind of loss in revenue can put some organizations into the red and be a tipping point for them.”

But the arts sector certainly isn’t alone in that, Blackburn admits.

“I think it’s true for a lot of sectors, particularly the not-for-profit sector,” he says. “Most of them always operate pretty close to break-even. It’s going to be trying times.”

There is hope, Blackburn says, that there will be some kind of compensation package or grant situation that will be made available at some point, but he doesn’t know what that could possibly look like, even after his decades in both the art and not-for-profit sector.

“I would really hope that we see, in the near future, some kind of government assistance to compensate for the losses everyone is going to feel,” he says. “The arts are an absolutely sound investment from government at all levels, whether it’s municipal, provincial or federal. They are the reason our communities are healthy and vibrant and sustainable. The government should have a responsibility to step in and ease that burden. I mean, they do it in the private sector all the time – you’re going to see all kinds of government support for the economy, businesses and corporations, and I would hope they wouldn’t forget or ignore our not-for-profit sector.”

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One thing Blackburn would like to point out to people is that there is some discussion already happening on that front.

“There are some communications happening right now telling artists and art organizations to carefully track and monitor their losses from this,” Blackburn says, “and I would highly encourage that, so that you’re prepared to present what exactly those losses are should there be a program put in place to compensate people.”

But art, in its essence, isn’t about money, Blackburn says, and he does see the faint hint of a silver lining in all this.

“More and more people are going to be spending more and more time at home,” he says, “so there’s a possibility that the arts sector, being made up of creatives, after all, can find a new way to reach people in their homes, whether that’s by streaming a concert online to an empty theatre, as I just saw the Vancouver Symphony do, or a gallery photographing all of the works in a given show and having an online exhibition where they can encourage and foster the discussions they were hoping to have in person.

“I want to be positive and think that artists will find creative ways to maintain that social connection through alternative means when social connection isn’t, physically, a good idea.”

And he’d like to think, long-term, it’ll be worth doing just that.

“When we return to a more normalized state and get back on track, I think people will remember that the arts went through a tough time, but they kept trying to keep the community buoyant and were positive, and they renew their membership, they make a donation and get a tax receipt, they attend the events, supporting them full-on. If the arts keep sending it out, which they will, it would be nice to see it come back when we normalize.”

There could be a whole lot of spectacular work that comes out of this situation, as well.

“The arts has always been an amazing window into what’s happening in the world, and these are crazy times,” Blackburn says. “There are a lot of artists that are going to take this opportunity to get some work done and reflect and observe things that we’ve never seen before. I’m sure we will get some tremendous new works out of this.”

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