As cancellations continue, Edmonton arts industry comes to 'screeching halt'

Tightened guidelines on public gatherings and increasing cancellations of concerts and performances have members of Edmonton’s arts community scrambling to reschedule events and find work.

Musicians turn to streaming as a way to recoup lost income

Edmonton singer-songwriter Joe Nolan is one of many Canadian musicians whose gigs have been cancelled due to event restrictions over COVID-19. (Joe Nolan)

Stricter guidelines on public gatherings and increasing cancellations of concerts and performances have members of Edmonton's arts community scrambling to reschedule events and find work.

Like many organizations, including the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the Now Hear This Music Festival, the Citadel Theatre has cancelled or postponed spring break camps and shows.

"It has all come to a screeching halt," said Chantell Ghosh, the Citadel's executive director.

    Cancellations mean significant income losses for artists, producers, promoters and festival organizers.

    Remaining performances of Shakespeare's As You Like It were recently cancelled at the Citadel Theatre in response to COVID-19. (Dylan Hewlett/RMTC)

    Edmonton actor Natercia Napoleao said her income is dwindling fast; she expects to earn just $150 this week. 

    Since she cannot attend auditions and her other jobs have been cancelled, she is considering babysitting or shovelling snow.

    "Many of my co-workers, my colleagues, people in the arts industry, are very frightened right now," she said Monday in an interview with CBC's Radio Active.

    Horizon Stage in Spruce Grove has also temporarily closed, cancelling and postponing performances.

    Live-streaming shows

      Brent Oliver, the City of Spruce Grove's director of cultural services, said the cancellations are hitting musicians particularly hard.

      "It's really tough because in the music industry they have been saying for 20 years, since the invention of streaming and online purchasing, that your music online is less valuable than you playing live and now nobody can play live," he said. 

      Oliver plays in the band Ayla Brook and the Sound Men, which just released an album last week and has postponed its tour to promote it.

      Instead, the band will play to an empty audience at the Starlite Room on April 3, live-streaming the show for fans.

      Jann Arden, Dan Mangan and Edmonton's VISSIA all experimented with streaming shows for homebound Canadians this week.

      Singer-songwriter Joe Nolan is planning his own live-stream concert on Wednesday afternoon.

      Nolan, forced to cancel a gig in Winnipeg, a tour in the U.S., and festival appearances in Ireland, is currently house-sitting in Edmonton but may have to live out of his van without revenue coming in from those concerts.

      "I'm just trying to find ways to stay alive," he told CBC News.

      The Canadian Live Music Association sent a letter to five federal ministers on Monday asking for a large-scale compensation fund for concert and festival producers, as well as tax relief, short-term work benefits and help for self-employed workers and small businesses.

      The association estimates that more than 36 per cent of its members' organizations will fail within four to eight weeks, with others laying off more than 70 per cent of employees.

      "We need the government to step up for part-time gig workers," Napoleao said.


      Madeleine Cummings is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She covers local news and files for CBC Edmonton's web, radio and TV platforms. You can reach her at madeleine.cummings@cbc.ca.