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April 2, 2020

Arts and culture in times of solitude and solidarity

April 2, 2020

Blog post from the Director and CEO, Simon Brault

The current pandemic has disrupted everything, and tomorrow no longer looks the way we expected it would.

To manage this unprecedented health crisis and save as many lives as possible, the top priorities are obvious—secure food and medical supplies and tighten the social safety net with billions of dollars in investments. This is what elected officials are doing with support from the scientific community.

Using the arts to fend off isolation

These priorities eclipse several other individual and collective choices. Every person who self-isolates is also helping in the fight against the pandemic. And for an ever-growing number of people, fending off isolation inspires a vital need for culture. Audiences are finding a growing number of cultural offerings at the local and international level.

Canadian artists and artistic companies are successfully increasing the number of initiatives that make their creations and programming available online. Online book loans and purchases are reaching record highs, and museums are giving access to their collections. Today, audiences are seeking out online music and theatre performances, art tutorials, and Canadian films and dramas to an unprecedented extent. Digital technologies are recreating the spaces in which people usually encounter the arts as these spaces are closed indefinitely. New digital content and platforms are the answer to many a search engine quest to fend off isolation.

Of course, we will gather again in theatres, concert halls, museums, librairies, festivals, and many other cultural spaces. We will be there in droves. But when we do, it will be with a better sense of how to use digital spaces as real spaces for engagement between audiences and creators.

Supporting the arts sector right now

This crisis is hitting the arts sector hard. As in many other sectors and a large part of the general population, the financial losses suffered at this time will probably never be fully recouped. But the cultural sector must not collapse—we must act now. We must propose measures to enable arts organizations to keep the lights on and rebound once the crisis subsides. This is the intent behind our decision to advance funding payments and to request that the Canadian government implement other mitigation measures for the cultural sector.

In solidarity with all

The arts and culture are an indispensable public service because they meet a vital need. The current popularity of the arts in the digital space is proof enough. The arts express our will to create and to live—it is worth reminding our fellow citizens and our governments of this.

The ways in which artists are conveying their solidarity with Canadians and bringing them together will resonate long after this crisis has passed. This compassionate solidarity will be worth more than any approximate calculation of the financial losses that will result from performance and exhibition cancellations.

Many artists have understood this, and many more will continue to express it in these times of solitude and solidarity.

This verse by Gaston Miron shows us the way:

I am in the public square with my people
poetry has no reason to be ashamed of me
I knew there was a hope that carried the world until now.

[Je suis sur la place publique avec les miens
la poésie n'a pas à rougir de moi
j'ai su qu'une espérance soulevait ce monde jusqu'ici.[i]]

[i] Gaston Miron, excerpt from the poem “La vie agonique” (L’homme rapaillé)