Artists and the Pandemic : the Option of Finding a New Career

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

Alarming reports on the precarious situation of artists are multiplying here as elsewhere. Many artists now have no choice but to put their careers on hold to find living-wage employment. The most recent alarm bell came from the Quebec Musicians’ Guild, which published, at the end of October, the results of a survey stating that one musician in five has chosen to abandon his career.

Guild president Luc Fortin says the artists lost millions with the closing the halls, which had made efforts to comply with sanitary conditions. “It’s pretty serious,” says Fortin. “We have to think of something. It takes good support measures to keep your head above water. 

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According to the GMMQ, this survey of 755 professional musicians conducted between Oct. 6 and Oct. 22 covers several elements of the musicians’ financial situation. Despite the money invested in culture by the federal and provincial governments, the money does not seem to have flowed to the musicians, who are among the most vulnerable, the stage representing the main part of their activity. The survey shows that 75% of professional musicians have received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and 50% are facing financial difficulties. According to the Guild, in 2019, only 20% of its members earned $20,000 or less; in 2020, that number has increased to 56%.

In response to the question, “Could the problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic mean that you are considering giving up your music career for the long term?,” 57% said yes or were thinking about it, with 18% saying a definite yes. The musicians were also asked to give a rate out of 100 to the provincial and federal governments on the measures taken to support them in the context of the pandemic. The federal government received a score of 62/100 and the provincial government received 25/100. In other words, the federal government’s promptness in creating CERB and CRB was appreciated, according to the survey.

Poorly Received Restrictions

The GMMQ appreciates the efforts made by the various governments to support the cultural industry, but the financial situation of musicians remains precarious. Certain programs should therefore be reviewed to ensure that all artists benefit in a concrete way. At the time of the survey, the details of the new provincial support program for the dissemination of Quebec shows to get through the second wave of COVID-19 ($50 million) were not known. The GMMQ, like other artists’ associations, had reacted positively to the announcement of the program at the beginning of October, which was to allow many of its members to be compensated for events cancelled as of Oct. 1.

Members more or less agree at 81% with the restrictions imposed on cultural venues in the red zone. They want to return to work as soon as possible. Since the measures set in place to ensure the safety of the public and the artists were effective and rigorous and that no outbreaks were observed in connection with the performance venues, the GMMQ fully understands the musicians’ dissatisfaction.

It should be noted that the survey was conducted prior to the Quebec government’s announcement of a $50 million assistance plan for the cultural sector, which brought some relief to the community.

Drawing on inner resources

Léa Weilbrenner

The context of the pandemic allows us to see the wide diversity of artists’ reactions in finding alternative resources. While some have converted to the health care sectors, among other things, others have drawn on their artistic versatility. This is the case of lyric artist Léa Weilbrenner, who has taken up the business of making face coverings for singers. This ingenious initiative was much appreciated and encouraged Weilbrenner to develop the other artistic activities she practiced before the pandemic, including her passion for pottery and decorative objects in her boutique La Maison de Léa, launched in 2019. This artist was born into a family of ceramic craftsmen and from a young age loved to decorate ceramic pieces created by her parents. Weilbrenner says that the confinement allows her to take advantage of her other artistic skills, including gouache painting and watercolor. After launching her line of face covers for singers, which have the advantage of being thin, made in several layers and designed so as not to touch the mouth, she was pleasantly surprised by the rapid increase in orders from all over the world, Quebec, Canada, the United States, Europe, etc.

Other artists have drawn on their inner resources to use their versatility to ensure the continuity of their creativity. Rose Naggar-Tremblay’s career as an international opera singer came to a halt because of the pandemic, just when she was so happy to see the best season of her life taking shape. So as not to despair, seeing all her contracts, especially in Europe, cancelled or postponed, Rose had no other option but to use her imagination to try to regain possession of her means. 

To continue earning a living, she began teaching languages: French, Italian, as well as an introduction to creative writing online. This reunion with her other passion for teaching gave Naggar-Tremblay a second breath to take advantage of the confinement and continue her creative momentum in composing booklets, poems and recording songs. “It brought me a serenity and mental stability I had never felt before,” she says. “It felt very good and gave me the energy to turn this disastrous upheaval into a healthy creative whirlwind.”

Translation by Jacqueline Vanasse

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

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