VOICES FROM THE VALLEY: COPING WITH THE PANDEMIC
Most artists do their work in two ways: alone and confined in their studio, or in collaborative or public spaces. When the restrictive measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 were put in place, artists found themselves facing a variety of situations, from little change in their studio, to the sudden inability to travel (locally or long distances), give classes in person, meet with collaborators, or exhibit their work in galleries or during cultural events.
“I commute between my home and my studio, about 20 metres, to continue working on my projects and commissions, as usual,” explains Alyson Champ, a professional artist and resident of Saint-Chrysostome, with a touch of humour. “I am also working on applications for grants and funding,” she adds.
What changed as soon as the pandemic hit, however, was Champ’s ability to meet deadlines imposed by government bodies such as the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres (CALQ). The project she is currently working on is being done in collaboration with different people and in different locations. “With social distancing and travel restrictions, I have had to postpone several stages of my projects,” Champ says. The good news, according to the artist, is that the CALQ has responded quickly and effectively to the challenges imposed by the pandemic on the artistic community by allowing deadlines for projects linked to grants to be postponed.
Many artists in several fields (visual arts, literature, music) also rely heavily on teaching contracts for a living, but the majority of these have been cancelled or postponed. This has plunged some artists into precarious financial situations. “About a third of my income is generated through teaching contracts,” Champ explains. Although some agencies and institutions have chosen to pay artists even if their contracts were cancelled, this is not the case for everyone. “This is where I have been the most affected by the health crisis,” concludes the artist.
On the other hand, the pandemic has given rise to innovations that might never have seen the light of day otherwise, such as a resurgence in the demand for online workshops. The Canada Council for the Arts (CCA), for example, offers “micro-grants” of $5,000 to help artists adapt their practice to meet the demand for virtual workshops. The organization Culture Montérégie also offers technical support, in the form of training, to help artists familiarize themselves with digital technologies.
Economic recovery plan
Quebec Premier François Legault and Nathalie Roy, the minister of culture, recently announced a $46 million economic recovery plan specific to the arts and culture sector to be managed by the CALQ. “More than ever, investing in Quebec’s collective imagination seems to us to be fundamental and crucial in these particularly difficult times,” said Anne-Marie Jean, the president and CEO of the CALQ. It is expected that additional funds will be announced at a later date to be used to finance various sectors of the arts in Quebec by giving artists the means to adapt to the new realities of the milieu.
Despite this, Champ is concerned the coming years may be challenging for Quebec artists. “Our income is already precarious at the best of times,” she admits. Should the global economy collapse, she worries, it will no doubt have devastating effects on the already fragile artistic community. “Who is going to buy our paintings? Who is going to come to our exhibitions?” she wonders. And, despite the existence of government agencies to support artists, there is no guarantee the budget for the arts will be maintained.
“Artists generously shared music, poetry readings, free workshops, while people were confined to their homes. I hope the world remembers this,” Champ concludes, with a touch of optimism.