Arts

10 Canadian heroes who have used arts and culture to help us through the pandemic

We look back at some of the folks we've highlighted the past year and ask: who's your pandemic art hero?

We look back at some of the folks we've highlighted the past year and ask: who's your pandemic art hero?

Documenting 2020 ... with neon duct tape. This message from Health & Safety Notes, a community art project led by Mark Reinhart, appears on the exterior of Workman Arts in Toronto. (Andrew Williamson)

It's not an anniversary that anyone wants to the celebrate, but this weekend marks one year since the pandemic descended our existences into the locked down, socially distanced state they've been in ever since. We as a collective society have so many people to thank for getting us through it, especially those who didn't have the luxury of going into lockdown so that we could have medical services, groceries, deliveries and anything else we needed. But we've also all been turning to art and entertainment more than ever to help us push through — and we wanted to thank just a few of the many, many artists in this country who've utilized their pandemics to shine a little light on ours, even as their industries and livelihoods have been brutally hit.

Below is a list of 10 Canadian artists or arts organizations we've covered over past year that have made a difference. And we want to know who did the same for you. Who's your pandemic art hero?

Let us know by emailing us at cbcarts@cbc.ca or tweeting us at @CBCArts by next Friday, March 19 and we'll round up your selections in an article here on the site the following week. Include the subject line "Pandemic Art Heroes" and 1-3 sentences on the artist or organization that you want to shout out, plus your name and city.

UPDATE: Thank you so much for your nominations for Canadian "pandemic art heroes," we have published a selection of them here!

This is your chance to pay tribute to the Canadian artists who have helped you make it through the past year — because we know this list is just the tip of the iceberg, and there are so many folks who deserve to be celebrated.

Lisa Shepherd and Nathalie Bertin

These beaded masks are bringing together a whole new community to find healing

2 years ago
Duration 5:09
Lisa Shepherd and Nathalie Bertin — two Métis artists and friends who live on opposite sides of the country — have amassed over 1,500 group members so far.

Last April, Lisa Shepherd had already been thinking about beading a mask when her friend Nathalie Bertin posted on Facebook: "Where are the beaded masks? It would make such a great exhibition!" Before long, the two Métis artists — friends who live on opposite sides of the country — had started a group on Facebook called "Breathe." They designed the project to build community through masks. "It exploded," Bertin laughs, pleased that more than 1,200 people joined the group in less than two weeks. Read more.

Club Quarantine

On the first day of quarantine, four Toronto friends — recording artist Ceréna Sierra, producer and musician Casey MQ, comedian Brad Allen and digital creative Mingus New — were chatting via Instagram video. They wanted some more people to join them, but Instagram caps its video chats at six users, so someone suggested they try Zoom instead. As more and more people joined, the chat grew from a few friends hanging out into a full-blown virtual party — and Club Quarantine, the hottest queer social event of our socially isolated new normal, was born. It's proved a necessary outlet every week for so many queer folks that miss IRL interaction, and will continue to do so this Friday night when they host their one-year anniversary partyRead more here.

Nick Green

Literally less than a week into lockdown, Toronto playwright Nick Green had already pivoted his energy into creating The Social Distancing Festival. A truly extraordinary (and fast!) response to the madness of the pandemic, it's a virtual space for celebrating work that has been affected by COVID-19. And it's led to hundreds of submissions from all around the world. When the festival was profiled on CBC Arts back in March, Green said he hoped the site could become a "gathering place" of sorts. "I'm calling it a TV Guide of exquisite art," he said. "So many places are doing cool things, but you only hear about them if you follow them on social media." Nearly a year later, the project is just as relevant as ever — and still going strongRead more.

Ravi Jain

Theatre is on the brink of collapse. Ravi Jain has a vision for how to save it

2 years ago
Duration 13:52
The award-winning stage director sits down with Amanda Parris on the series finale of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists.

Theatre is on the brink of collapse, and theatre director Ravi Jain has a vision for to how to save it. COVID-19 has been a huge obstacle for him, as it has for theatre artists around the world. And when Jain sat down with host Amanda Parris for the special theatre-focused series finale of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists, he explained why it's important that theatre artists all take this time to reflect on the conditions of the industry — and not just with respect to the pandemic. He's definitely a voice theatre decision makers should be listening to as we figure out how to rebuild from here. Read more.

The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries

The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries is a "telephonic adventure" created by Toronto immersive theatre company Outside the March. The show was especially tailored for social distance, and the group conceived of the project at the beginning of the pandemic while pondering the needs of stay-at-home audiences and out-of-work artists. "We knew we wanted to do something that could be fun and positive and uplifting at a time when we are surrounded by so much that's bleak and hard to grapple with," says Mitchell Cushman, who co-directs the show with Griffin McInnes. CBC Arts staffers Leah Collins and Lise Hosein participated in the event, and you can read more about that here.

Gurdeep Pandher

Bhangra dancing to Celtic music in the Yukon wilderness is the mash-up we didn't know we needed

1 year ago
Duration 2:04
For viral sensation Gurdeep Pandher, who loves to blend unexpected genres, the two art forms are a great fit.

Yukon's Gurdeep Pandher's Bhangra dance videos became hits on social media during the pandemic, with audiences appreciating the boundless energy and joy that he brings to his performances. Usually shot outdoors against the backdrop of Yukon's stunning landscape, CBC Arts was lucky enough to commission Pandher to make a few videos for us. Pandher, who is also a school teacher, is passionate about using Bhangra to bring people together. "I feel that when I perform to different genres of music, it gives the great messages of unity-in-diversity and the importance of building cross-cultural bridges, which are very important in the mentally/emotionally disconnected world we live in." Read more.

Priyanka

After years of waiting, Canada finally got its own iteration of Drag Race during the pandemic and now we have our first official drag superstar. Canadians — and countless fans around the world — came together to say her name loudly and proudly: Priyanka! And herstory was made. Not only was the show itself an oasis of joyful content for us through the summer, but after receiving her crown, Priyanka went above and beyond to fulfill her duties as our reigning queen despite the pandemic of it all. "I think it's kind of continuing what I've already been doing through the season," Priyanka said of what she wants to give back from her win. "Sticking up for our community and being a voice and being, you know, the representation that people need to see on TV. Just being that person to give people hope that they can do it too. It doesn't matter what your skin colour is; you could be as successful as anyone." Read more.

Mark Reinhart

Documenting 2020 ... with neon duct tape. That was the work of Mark Reinhart during last year's pandemic summary, and his aim was to bring communities together. Slapping phrases like "This Is Our Moment" and "We Don't Need To Do What We Have Done" on schools and houses and bridges using strips of bright tape, the project — titled Health & Safety Notes — lent some much needed flare to spaces that otherwise felt quite dreary. Before a piece would go up, Reinhart would spend some one-on-one time with whoever lives, or works, at the installation site. "We kind of have a conversation about what they're experiencing," he says. And they also discuss their vision for the future. Together, they'd decide on a phrase that more or less nails their current hopes or fears — something they want to share with everyone in town. Read more.

Theatre SKAM

'We just won't let it die.' Four performers keep theatre alive ... out of the back of a truck

2 years ago
Duration 2:46
Theatre SKAM's "Pop-Up Theatre Home Delivery" brought their performances to the Greater Victoria Region.

For the four performers from Victoria, B.C.'s Theatre SKAM, surviving the pandemic meant delivering their shows straight to people's homes. Theatre SKAM's initiative was called "Pop-Up Theatre Home Delivery," and it involved folks in the Greater Victoria Region booking 15-minute socially-distanced outdoor performances delivered to them from the back of a flatbed truck. The performers, who created the shows themselves, decided early on to bubble with each other, allowing them to take off their masks when interacting with one another for performances but still remain over six metres from their outdoor audience. Read more.

Sara A. Tremblay

As she saw artists around her continuing to suffer through the economic consequences of COVID-19, Sara A. Tremblay was determined to find a way to help. The Facebook group Les Encans de la quarantaine (French for "quarantine auctions") was born, and all of 2020 it virtually promoted the work of Canadian visual artists with the goal of generating income for them. And did it ever take off. "Not only are artists selling work through the auction, on numerous occasions individuals have sold additional work because of the publicity they have received on Les Encans de la quarantaine," Tremblay says. Read more.

UPDATE: Thank you so much for your nominations for Canadian "pandemic art heroes," we have published a selection of them here!

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