Archive COVID-19: Information and support for the arts sector

Last updated: March 2, 2021 
Note, this page was archived on July 29, 2021. Refer to our current page for up to date information. 

We encourage you to revisit this page often as it is being updated regularly.

Our thoughts go out to the many artists, staff at arts organizations, and their loved ones whose health and livelihoods are affected by the global spread of COVID-19. 

COVID-19 and the arts sector

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

The pandemic has led to the closure of public spaces and the cancellation of events around the world, causing great stress on the arts sector. The Canada Council for the Arts will continue to work with the Government of Canada, as well as provincial, territorial, and municipal partners, to ensure the strength of the sector.

At present, the Council’s priorities are to ensure the health and safety of people across Canada and around the world and to work towards the sustainability and recoverability of the arts sector. This includes the Council’s longstanding commitment to equity and diversity within the arts. 


Our survey

To better understand the needs of the professional arts sector in overcoming the COVID-19 crisis, the Canada Council for the Arts sent a survey to approximately 30,000 of its clients (artists, groups, and organizations) on April 6, 2020.

The survey and responses reflect the challenges faced by the professional arts sector, and address the Government of Canada’s emergency aid measures as they were during the period the survey was conducted.

Read the final report and explore our data to understand the complexity of the challenges faced by the arts and culture sector to get through the pandemic crisis.

Additional Investment for the Arts

As announced in the Economic Statement released in fall 2020, the federal government is investing $181.5 million in the Supporting Arts and Live Events Workers in Response to COVID-19 Initiative to stimulate employment in the arts and culture sector, support ongoing operations during the pandemic, and prepare for the sustainable recovery of the sector.

Canadian Heritage will be distributing $65 million, and the Canada Council for the Arts will invest the remaining $116.5 million.

Explore and Create: Additional Funding

The Council is investing a portion of the additional one-time funding in the Research and Creation and Concept to Realization components of its Explore and Create program. Program guidelines and eligibility remain unchanged.

Digital Now: Grants for the Development of Digital Artistic Content

The remainder of the Council’s portion of the funding is being invested in a one-time initiative called Digital Now. Digital Now provides groups, collectives and arts organizations with grants to develop, create, adapt, promote, disseminate and optimize digital artistic content.

The Canada Council for the Arts' emergency support

The Canada Council for the Arts is in ongoing dialogue with the various levels of government and arts communities across the country to better understand what is needed, and possible, in terms of support.

Below you will find the emergency support offered by the Council at this time.

Emergency support to organizations

Advance payments on core grants

The Council advanced funds to core-funded organizations in an amount equivalent to 35% of their annual grant by May 4, 2020.

COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund

On May 8, the Government of Canada invested $500M to help alleviate the financial pressures of affected organizations through the COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund for Cultural, Heritage and Sport Organizations.

Canadian Heritage and its portfolio organizations were responsible for the distribution of these funds.

A two-phased approach was taken in order to accelerate the distribution of funds.

Phase 1: support for arts organizations 

The Council administered $55M in phase 1. These funds were distributed to eligible arts organizations experiencing a significant financial impact as a result of the pandemic.

Phase 2: support for Indigenous and equity-seeking groups and organizations.

The Council administered $7.8M in emergency support in phase 2. These funds were distributed to arts groups and organizations from Indigenous, culturally diverse, Deaf and disability, and official language minority communities affected by the pandemic.


Digital Originals

Digital Originals was a one-time initiative which is now closed. The deadline was June 15, 2020. Results have been communicated to applicants.

For more information, visit the Digital Originals page.

Digital Strategy Fund for short term activities

The Digital Strategy Fund, including for short term activities, is now closed. Applicants have now received their results.

For more information, visit the Digital Strategy Fund page.

Impact on our programs, initiatives, and activities

General changes to our granting activities

Extended or suspended deadlines and activities

Grant program deadlines have been reinstated and the deadlines for 2021-22 are now available on the Deadlines and Notification of Results web pages. Some prizes continue to be suspended, please visit our Prizes web page.

Peer assessment committees

The Council is currently holding virtual peer assessment committees. We’re grateful to our many accommodating assessors.

Feedback on grant applications

Canada Council staff continue to help and support applicants who are preparing new grant applications.

However, the Council has shifted away from providing individualized feedback on past applications in an effort to continue to meet its service standards for the processing and assessment of applications and to focus on helping applicants with their future applications.

Program staff will no longer be able to discuss past applications.

Successful grant applications: postponing your project

If your grant application is successful but you’re unsure if you’ll be able to undertake your proposed project, indicate that you do not want to receive the payment until you have confirmation of your plans in your grant acceptance form. When you make a final decision, contact the program officer identified in your results letter. Payments of successful conditional grants may not be released until conditions are met and changes have been be pre-approved, in writing, by a Program Officer to ensure eligibility or through an approved project update report.

Changes to our grants

When planning the format, location and timing of your proposed project, we encourage you to stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 developments from reliable public health authorities and to carefully consider safety and risks to yourself, your collaborators and the public.

If your plans include travel and/or public gatherings, consider postponing the project, completing the project without these elements or modifying the activity to a virtual event or one that respects social distancing guidelines. These changes must be pre-approved by a Program officer in writing or through an approved project update report

Blackout period

The blackout period for international travel is ongoing until further notice. While the portal continues to accept applications that involve international travel, applications are subject to conditions. This is in accordance with the Government of Canada’s recommendation to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice. It also applies to Canadian citizens living abroad who are considering non-essential travel outside their country of residence.

As of September 1, 2020, travel within Canada may be supported according to the restrictions of local health authorities. If a quarantine period is required, related costs will not be considered eligible project expenses.

Be sure to consult the Government of Canada’s travel and tourism page for important information if you plan to travel. Information specific to travelling within Canada is on the COVID-19 and travel: Crossing provincial and territorial borders page.

Conditional funding

  • Projects that include international travel will be conditional upon the lifting of the Government of Canada’s recommendation to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada and/or any restrictions prohibiting foreign nationals from entering Canada.
  • For Canadian citizens who live abroad, travel within your country of residence may be permitted, depending on local health advisories. Non-essential travel to other countries will be conditional upon the lifting of the Government of Canada’s recommendation to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada.
  • Grant recipients may cancel or postpone their project or submit a project update that is not dependent on international travel. Payments of successful projects that contain international travel during the Government of Canada non-essential travel advisory period will not be released until conditions are met and changes have been be pre-approved by a Program Officer, in writing, to ensure eligibility. The proposed changes must adhere to the program guidelines for eligible expenses. If the changes are significant, you will be asked to complete a project update report.
  • There may be restrictions or conditions on projects in which public gatherings are an essential part.
  • If conditions are not met, grant payment could be withheld or need to be reimbursed.

Project grant applications dependent on domestic travel

The blackout period for travel in most regions within Canada ended on August 31, 2020. Please regularly consult provincial or territorial regulations before planning travel outside your region as these may change rapidly.

Cancellations and postponed events

The Canada Council for the Arts advises grant recipients to cancel or postpone all public events in line with the guidance provided by public health authorities, including the Public Health Agency of Canada and your local and provincial or territorial health authorities.

Conditional grants will be issued to successful projects for producing or hosting public events, such as performances, exhibitions, workshops, and conferences, dependent on the ability to postpone events until after the restrictions on public gatherings are lifted. All changes must be pre-approved in writing by a Program Officer to ensure eligibility of the proposed changes or through an approved project update report. Please refer to program guidelines for eligible expenses. Here are your options:

  • Retain a grant for other expenses eligible in the component of your cancelled Canada Council-funded event. We encourage you to find innovative ways to share your work publicly despite any cancellations of public events. This could include live-streaming, podcasting, and video. You must document the impact of COVID-19 and how you used your grant funds in your final report, which you must submit to the relevant program for approval.
  • Retain a grant for other eligible expenses related to your participation at a cancelled event. Eligible expenses include costs related to modifying, postponing, or cancelling activities. You must document the impact of COVID-19 and explain how you propose to use those funds in your project update report, which you must submit to the relevant program for approval.
  • Repay any unspent funds on eligible expenses.
    Unfortunately, we cannot allow you to spend those funds on activities unrelated to the approved project. See the guidelines below.
  • Check your portal account for information on whether you will need to reimburse all or part of your grant.
    If the amount granted needs to be fully or partially reimbursed, you will receive a letter through your portal account that will provide further instruction on what you need to do next. See the guidelines below.
Guidelines on the reimbursement of grants for activities affected by COVID-19  
  For grants of:   recipient must repay the unused amount if it is:

$5,000 and under


more than 15% or $500 (whichever is greater)


$5,000 up to $30,000


more than $1,000


$30,000 up to $75,000


more than $2,000


more than $75,000


more than $3,000


Government of Canada's emergency support measures

The Government of Canada is offering support measures with its COVID-19 Economic Response Plan to individuals and businesses (organizations).

Please note that Council staff cannot answer your questions about these measures. The Government of Canada site has a COVID-19 Virtual Assistant who will be able to help you.

For individuals: The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) gives income support to employed and self-employed individuals who are directly affected by COVID-19 and are not entitled to Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. More info on the Canada Recovery Benefit.

For organizations: To support businesses facing revenue losses, including non-profit organizations and charities, small employers may be eligible to receive a temporary wage subsidy. More info on Canada’s support for businesses. 

Canadian Heritage support is also available to the cultural and creative sector. More info on Canadian Heritage support.

The Government of Canada has also launched Wellness Together Canada: Mental Health and Substance Use Support, which offers free online resources, tools, apps, and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals.


Individuals: How to calculate your income from a grant

The Canada Revenue Agency provided clarification about how grant income should be calculated for the purposes of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

When submitting your first CERB claim, you cannot have earned more than $1,000 in employment and/or self-employment income for 14 or more consecutive days within the four-week benefit period of your claim.

When submitting subsequent claims, you cannot have earned more than $1,000 in employment and/or self-employment income for the entire four-week benefit period of your new claim.

The timing of your grant payment has no relevance to the calculation of income and potential eligibility to the CERB. Your grant income is based on the amount of the grant less the expenses you have paid or will be paying to other people and businesses. Generally, the grant income will be the fee or subsistence allowance you are paying yourself to undertake the project. In terms of timing, this income is considered “earned” at the time work is performed over the duration of the project, not as a lump sum payment. Note that this applies to all grant revenue, not only grants from the Canada Council.

A simple example:

  • Your project started in June and will finish in October, a duration of 5 months.
  • Your grant is $10,000.
  • In order to do the project, you expect to pay other people and businesses $6,000. You are budgeting to pay yourself a fee of $4,000.

Your grant income is $4,000 for this project.

If you did grant-related work in each of the 5 months, your monthly grant income for this project is $800 per month from June to October.

If you did grant-related work in 4 of the 5 months, your monthly grant income for this project is $1,000 for each month during which work is done.

This is how you should calculate your grant income when you consider applying for support from CERB. If you are not sure that this describes your scenario, you should contact the Canada Revenue Agency and speak to an agent. Please do not contact the Canada Council for more information as we cannot provide tax guidance on specific situations. Also note that the Canada Council takes no responsibility for how this information is used and any rulings or penalties that the Canada Revenue Agency may levy as a result.

Information on CERB letters

The Canada Council is aware that several artists have recently received an “education letter” from Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). These letters are meant to provide clarifications to Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) recipients on employment income, including self-employment, as it relates to eligibility for the benefit and their personal tax situation.

Receipt of this letter does not necessarily mean that you are ineligible and that you need to reimburse the CERB amounts received to the CRA. They are to advise you that you may have to provide more information to confirm your eligibility. If based on your personal situation, you consider grants received from the Canada Council as self-employment income, you will be eligible if you meet the other criteria. CERB recipients who determine that they meet the eligibility criteria can simply disregard the letter.

If you determine that you are not eligible, you will be given time for repayment, without penalties, and you will also have access to flexible payment arrangements.

The Canada Council is in communication with the CRA to ensure that artists can clarify their personal tax situation to confirm eligibility based on self-employment or business income, where necessary.

The Canada Council cannot advise on individual tax files. If you received an “education letter” from the CRA, please follow the instructions included with the letter and contact the CRA directly for clarification. Please also consult with a tax professional to correctly identify any self-employment income.

To assist you in completing your 2020 tax return, the Council will provide further instructions in early 2021 on the various ways income from Council grants can be reported on income tax returns.

Latest news and communiqués

Blog posts from the Director and CEO, Simon Brault, on the pandemic

The Canada Council for the Arts’ Director and CEO, Simon Brault, is regularly sharing his thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the arts sector. Check back here to discover new posts.

Contact us

We invite you to explore the information on these pages before contacting us.

If you have a COVID-19-related question for the Canada Council and you didn’t find an answer here, please email Although we aim to reply within two business days, this may be affected by volume and staff availability.

Accessibility: We welcome Video Relay Service (VRS) calls, and we can also support longer conversations with your preferred sign language interpreter in ASL or LSQ. As always, we will cover these interpreting costs. Please email us at

We recognize the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 health crisis on many equity seeking communities including Deaf and disability arts communities. Many artists and arts professionals who are Deaf, have disabilities or live with mental illness are now required to develop alternative approaches to maintaining their independence, health, and safety in everyday life. The Council wants to be as flexible as it can in the ways it is assisting and supporting the arts community. If there are alternative ways that the Council can deliver its support that will be more accommodating to your situation, please let our staff know.

For more information about the types of accommodations we currently provide, please consult our Accessibility page.

SRV Canada VRS logo

Canada Council also welcomes VRS (Video Relay Service) calls.

For more information, please see the SRV Canada VRS Canada website (