'We're in this together:' Live streams showcase Hamilton artists during COVID-19

The novel coronavirus has closed businesses, hollowed out city streets and is starving Hamilton's arts community, prompting  CoBALT Connect — a non-profit organization that connects creative businesses in Ontario — to take action and start Hamilton Shows Up, live-streamed performances by artists.

CoBALT Connects hosted two live-stream shows and may host more if they can get enough donations

Hamilton artists have taken part in virtual concerts amid COVID-19 closures. (Submitted by CoBALT Connects via Facebook)

Hamilton's local artists and performers are used to being on a stage or in front of a live crowd, but COVID-19 has changed all that.

Now, they sit in front of a webcam where an aerial silk performer swings through the air and a string quartet plucks away at their instruments for an invisible audience, all of whom are watching from their computers at home.

The novel coronavirus has closed businesses, hollowed out city streets and is starving Hamilton's arts community, prompting  CoBALT Connects, a non-profit organization that connects creative businesses in Ontario, to take action.

After calling out to people on social media, Jeremy Freiburger, the group's cultural strategist, told CBC News they decided to host a virtual show which would have local artists perform for 10 minutes each for an online audience.

He said the city of Hamilton heard about the idea and gave them roughly $2,000 to pay for the streaming software to host a show and pay performers.

With that, Hamilton Shows Up became a reality.

"It was a really awesome experience to get artists and the public back together again, even though they can't be in the same space," Freiburger said.

The first show, on March 21, was nearly five hours long, featuring 22 artists. It has been seen nearly 4,000 times.

It also featured a segment from Mayor Fred Eisenberger.

"These digital platforms and ways of getting talent back into our lives and back in front of people and supporting that talent, the musicians, the theatre, poets, all the people that really make our city such a great cultural, diverse place that gives us lots of entertainment — we need to support and help," Eisenberger said during the show.

CoBALT Connects also hosted a second show on Saturday through donations from the public and the remainder of the city's cash injection.

"We pushed the line a bit this time, so we had the Brott quartet do a classical piece, we had an aerial silk performer, we had poetry, theatre, music, we had mime," Freiburger said.

The two shows attracted almost 6,500 viewers and performers earned $100 each, per show.

Freiburger said the next two episodes are planned, but won't run until they have the money to run it and pay artists.

COVID-19 freezes income for artists

As the novel coronavirus continues to push lawmakers to add more restrictions to social life, artists are struggling.

"Every theatre in the country is closed, every bar that would normally hire a musician on a Friday night is closed, tours are cancelled," Freiburger said.

"It's every level of artists that are hurting right now. Artists are already precariously employed ... every gig they've lost is literally food off the table ... they're hurting right now."

Freiburger added many artists who work a second job have also lost that source of income as well, due to all non-essential businesses closing.

Freiburger hopes the shows will help them survive and help the community get through an age of isolation.

"We're starting to see how much the notion of culture, and that's bigger than the arts, is part of our existence ... these online opportunities are just ways to remind people of that," he said.

"It's also a brilliant distraction from the reality of what we're going through and it's a way for us to come together collectively ... and a way for us to still connect and feel each other and see each other and recognize we're in this together."


Bobby Hristova


Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca


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