August 12, 2020

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Opinion

'New normal' must include support for artists

IN the first quarter of 2020, Netflix had its biggest three-month subscription gain in its 13-year history. A recent report from Billboard and Nielsen Music, since March, we are spending 60 per cent more time with music and other forms of digital entertainment.

Between our work-from-home commitments, workout playlists and Netflix marathons, we should take a moment to pay attention to a group that urgently needs our recognition and support: our artists.

Artists continue to give us more entertainment than we’ll ever consume, and throughout time they’ve shown up to entertain, comfort, distract and to bring people together.

With the closure of venues and cancellation of major festivals, a large number of artists have turned to social media to put on live performances — anything from DJ sets and comedy bits to tattooing demonstrations and drag shows. And many have only asked for donations.

Last month, Prime Minister Trudeau announced $500 million in relief to the arts, culture and sports sectors affected by COVID-19. How the funds can be accessed has yet to be determined.

"We need our artists to continue to make us dream, particularly in dark times," Trudeau said in his address to the country on April 17. "They can’t really benefit from the wage subsidy, because they’re not employees."

Increased government support and recognition of complex employment models is a great thing. But what more can be done to support our local artists?

"Is it time that we consider creating a universal basic income?" asks Ashok Mathur, graduate dean of OCAD University in Toronto, the largest and most comprehensive art, design and media university in Canada.

"In places like Ireland, where there is a deep support network, artists and designers are paid to be artists. If you are a trained artist, instead of looking for grants or a ‘day job,’ you get a basic income. It isn’t huge, but then you don’t have to do secondary jobs that take people away from their art."

How can everyday Canadians help?

"It’s an interesting question. Some workers in the middle class — many of whom are working from home at 100 per cent salary — are saving money," says Mathur. "They’re not going on vacation and they are not eating out or spending money on outside entertainment. I recently got a ticket refund for a cancelled play; I’m looking to see how I can use that extra money to support the artists. We can continue to support the artists that we normally would."

We should become familiar with what our local theatres and artists are working on virtually.

"For those who have the disposable income, there are several theatre companies that have adapted and are creating and performing plays through other mediums," says Hartley Jafine, who uses theatre to teach communication skills to health-sciences students and health-care trainees at McMaster and the University of Toronto. "(People) can donate to artists and art spaces to support them and their work so they can continue to create content in the future."

As we transition to a "new normal," it may be worthwhile to reconsider how to better integrate our artists into society. Artists bring a whole new perspective to seemingly unrelated sectors.

"Theatre skills are life skills," says Jafine (in a course I took with Hartley as a BHSc student in 2012, I learned the arts provide more than just entertainment). "The aim of my work is to enhance clinical competencies, including communication, collaboration, empathy, perspective-taking and exploring discussions on the topic of power and status."

A number of graduate students working with Mathur at OCAD university are also investigating ways the arts can be integrated into the current pandemic response and the "new normal" of the future.

Artists continue to reliably entertain, comfort, document history and teach us through their work. Let’s adapt with them and continue to support their work. Let’s rethink how we can better incorporate them into our economies. And after this is all over, let’s never forget to leave a tip next time we’re able to spend an evening out enjoying live music at a local pub.

Michael Multan is a resident physician at the University of British Columbia.

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