Posted on May 19, 2020


EDMONTON - Alberta’s NDP Opposition is calling on the province to provide more support for festivals and the arts as part of Alberta’s COVID-19 economic recovery. 

The industry contributes $5.3 billion to Alberta’s economy according to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts 2017-18 Annual Report and employs nearly 60,000 workers. Alberta’s NDP caucus is calling for an appointment of an artist to the Economic Recovery Panel, and financial support for the struggling industry. 

“We are hearing from folks in the arts community that if the province doesn’t step in now to provide immediate support and develop a long-term strategy, they may not survive past this pandemic,” said Nicole Goehring, NDP Culture Critic. “The arts contribute a vital role in our economy and we should not be looking at a recovery strategy that leaves them behind.”

Public health restrictions on gatherings to limit the spread of COVID-19 have led to the cancellation of summer festivals and cultural events. This has only added pressure to Alberta’s arts and culture sector which have been hurt by $3 million in cuts to the Alberta Foundation of the Arts budget since the UCP formed government. 

Alberta’s NDP Caucus is also calling for the government to immediately reopen applications to CIP project-based grants, reinvest at least $3 million into the Alberta Foundation of the Arts to distribute grants and expand their scope so the arts community can adapt during and after the pandemic.

“Boardwalk Ice on Whyte is a long standing, beloved community event that is an economic and tourism driver for Old Strathcona in January,” said Jill Roszell, producer for Ice on Whyte Festival Society. “We are one of three international ice carving competitions in Canada and bring this talent and marvel to Edmonton each year. Sadly, with the cancellation of the CIP project grants this year for projects in 2021 and the delay in our casino fundraising, we have lost close to 40 per cent of our annual festival revenue. This level of revenue uncertainty will gravely affect our ability to deliver the festival as you have come to know it.”

Heather Inglis, the artistic producer of Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre in Edmonton said the last minute cancellation and pause of CIP project funding has eliminated an important funding stream for arts and non-profit organizations in Alberta.

“It has also placed these organizations in a precarious position of increased uncertainty as they attempt to navigate the wake of the ravages of COVID-19,” Inglis said.

“The funding support and grant programs provided by the provincial government are integral to the preservation of free festivals and public events like the Lilac Festival, and without them we are in jeopardy,” said Shannon McNally, the artistic director for the 4th Street Lilac Festival. “As a not-for-profit organization and a well-known community event in Calgary, the Lilac Festival is fundamental to Calgarians and small business.” McNally also noted that the Lilac festival alone works with over 500 businesses and generates nearly $3 million in sales annually. 

Performance grants should include digital shows and artists should be able to use funding to focus on research and development of their work and those whose work support the arts sector, such as tech crews and venues, should also be able to receive funding.

Lethbridge musician John Wort Hannam said when the rise of digital downloading and streaming platforms occurred, it essentially killed hard copy music sales and made music royalties virtually worthless. One of the few ways musicians could continue to make a living wage was through touring and live performance.

"For 20 years I have been able to make my living as a touring musician, promoting my Alberta-made art regionally, nationally, and internationally. The pandemic has swiftly put an end to that and consequently, the four side men I hire for most shows have also lost their portion of income my performances provided,” Hannam said. “With lost wages since mid-March, a cancelled summer festival season, and the uncertainty of my Fall 2020 performance schedule, I am left for the first time unsure of my ability to pay my bills in the coming year.”

Artist Karen Bishop said the pandemic has shown the importance of the arts and the ingenuity of Alberta artists. 

“Working artists are asking for support not a handout, but direct support that would give them venues to show their work, and help with transitioning from a way of doing business that relies on social gathering to an online market,” Bishop said. “Jason Kenney has seen fit to continue to cut this industry and is pointing artists to the federal government as the way to stay afloat.”

Both the federal and municipal governments have responded with direct funding to artists and specific grants as a response to COVID-19, however, stakeholders are saying it’s not enough to keep the industry going.

Starlite Room owner Tyson Boyd said as many as 70 per cent of Canadian Live Music Association members have never been able to access federal programs due to their eligibility criteria. 

“We don’t only need access in order to stabilize and support our live music industry through this unprecedented time, we also need to rebuild a more sustainable and vibrant music economy moving forward. Our industry should not be an afterthought because we will be playing a vital role in Alberta’s economic recovery and that needs to be recognized.”