Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra lays off staff as COVID-19 puts season on hold indefinitely
Orchestra cancels concerts, fundraisers as province recommends against gatherings of more than 50 people
The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra has become the latest organization to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and calls from health officials across Canada to practise social distancing.
The orchestra, which is in its 72nd year, announced Wednesday it has been forced to lay off 111 members — 67 orchestra members, 30 members of its administration and 14 Sistema teachers, effective March 29 — as the pandemic has put its season on hold.
"It could not have happened at a worse time for us," said Trudy Schroeder, executive director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
Schroeder said the orchestra first decided to cancel last weekend's concerts on Friday, then decided this week to cancel all concerts and fundraisers for the foreseeable future.
The decisions come as health officials in Manitoba urge gatherings over 50 people to be cancelled and for people to stay home as much as possible.
"I've been in arts management since 1987. I've never, never seen anything like this, completely unprecedented," said Schroeder. "I mean it's completely unknown, uncharted territory."
Schroeder said it would not have been financially feasible to keep staff on payroll for an extended period of time, without knowing when the WSO's season and fundraisers could resume.
"You know, we weathered some tough time before," she said. "We have every confidence that we'll be able to get through this. But it is a completely uncharted territory.
"When it comes to all these these big packages for corporate relief and that sort of thing, I mean at this point the cultural sector has not been included."
Schroeder said she has faith the community and its sponsors will come back after the threat of the pandemic has passed.
"We know that particularly in difficult times great music is … one of the most important things to remind us of our humanity, to remind us of our connection together to remind us of really the brilliance and the way that we need to care for our souls.