Calgary arts organizations launch initiative to support artists struggling during pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic will leave a lasting impact across all industries — but those in Calgary's arts industry are warning that theirs may be among the last to recover.

Without regular concerts and crowds, COVID-19 has made it difficult for artists to make ends meet

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, left, and musician JJ Shiplett attended the King Eddy rooftop Wednesday during a launch event for RISE UP, an initiative intended to benefit the city's arts sector. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic will leave a lasting impact across all industries — but those in Calgary's arts industry are warning that theirs may be among the last to recover.

Nearly six months after the pandemic began, Patti Pon, president and CEO of Calgary Arts Development, says that Calgary's arts community wanted to try something new to help mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on the city's artists. 

"We know how immediate the impact of COVID-19 was [on artists]," Pon said. "Curtains didn't go up, concerts didn't happen, tickets were refunded."

On Thursday, Calgary Arts Development, along with organizations including the National Music Centre, Theatre Calgary and Tourism Group, announced an initiative called RISE UP on the rooftop of the King Eddy — what is being referred to as an "open-source platform."

"For now, it's the beginning of an idea," Pon said. "My hope is that by providing this awareness, we can then start to identify other ways we can more directly support artists — financially, first and foremost."

Pon said RISE UP is the beginning of a partnership that will connect Calgarians to the arts community, and artists to each other. Some activities announced include restaurant and hotel deals, lunches with local artists and various other fundraising and strategic initiatives.

"RISE UP is so incredibly important. It may sound a bit amorphous — like, what is this exactly?" Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

"The idea here is reinvention. The idea is to reach out to the community, to artists, and say, 'How do we continue to do what we do, how do we continue to make some money at it, but how do we continue to do it in a way that's safe to continue to do it?'"

But some local artists, like MelVee X — an artist and photographer who identifies as queer and Black — say help is needed now, given the fact that many haven't worked in months.

"Who's even being consulted on this? Who's even going to be a part of it?" MelVee X said. "If the most smart, the most marginalized artists aren't being represented here, then what … Who's this for?"

Pon said any local artist can contribute to RISE UP, adding she recognizes there is a lot of work to do, making sure inclusivity is at the forefront.

With files from Terri Trembath


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