The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on arts & entertainment

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It is no doubt the arts and entertainment industry has suffered significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. After a year of varying restrictions, lockdowns and cancellations, many arts organizations across the country experienced a sudden halt in operations and a massive decrease in employment rates. 

An article by the Canadian Association for the Performing Arts (CAPACOA) calculated that in 2020, one in four arts workers lost their jobs across Canada. 

Based on the Labour Force Survey conducted by Statistics Canada, CAPACOA gathered that employment in the arts, entertainment and recreation industries decreased by 25.4 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019 — the greatest loss of employment out of all industries relative to its size. 

This significant loss of jobs may be the result of the mass cancellations of many events, festivals, performances and other arts and entertainment programs that usually consisted of large gatherings and were not considered essential. CAPACOA noted that the arts industry saw a decline of 36.6 per cent in total actual hours worked, and the performing arts businesses were hit the hardest with a plummeting decline of 60.7 per cent of total actual hours worked in 2020. 

Another major impact the pandemic had on the arts industry is the transition to virtual and live streamed events. From the Juno Awards to the Toronto International Film Festival, many of Canada’s most popular arts events took place virtually where the audience could enjoy from the comfort and safety of their homes. 

The National Arts and Culture Impact Survey (NACIS) released in November 2020 concluded that one in two organizations had a positive experience going online and 59 per cent of individuals and 65 per cent of organizations agree that virtual events are necessary. However, approximately a quarter of organizations expressed that going online is not the best option for them, with many noting that they did not have the proper technology and tools for hosting virtual events.  

Many of the arts programs  in Waterloo Region were also cancelled in-person or streamed virtually last summer. The Ever After Music Festival, Kitchener-Waterloo’s largest music festival, was cancelled last year and officially postponed to 2022. Other organizations like the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery (KWAG) hosted virtual exhibitions on its YouTube channel.

Many arts clubs at the University of Waterloo also stayed connected through social media platforms and virtual events after all the in-person events and gatherings held by WUSA were cancelled due to COVID-19.

Animusic Ensembles, a unique UW student group of musicians who welcome all kinds of instrumentalists and play music from anime and videogame soundtracks, continued their concerts and performances virtually over the past year. 

“When lockdown happened, we were planning for our concert and then all of a sudden it sounded like we couldn’t have one,” said Jasmine Chan, former president of Animusic Ensembles and a third-year pharmacy student. “It was a big shift because we had to quickly salvage the term and figure out a way to kind of make our practices not go to waste.”

It was difficult for many clubs to transition online, however for Animusic Ensembles, that was not the case.

“The transition for our club has been surprisingly smooth,” said Amanda, a third-year computer engineering student and current music club president. “Figuring out exactly what direction we were going to take it first was a bit tricky, but I think it ended up pretty well because we have a YouTube channel now and we’re a lot more active on social media as well.”

“A lot of people have resorted to streaming as an alternative way for live performances,” said Stone He, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student and active member of Animusic Ensembles. “Our primary focus is recording projects.”

Animusic Ensembles, although a newer club in comparison to other UW musical groups, had an overall positive experience operating their club online over the past year.

“We actually happened to be able to retain a lot of members because they would have otherwise had to leave because they were graduating,” said Chan. “So we actually got really lucky in that sense that we retained a huge majority of our member base and we were still able to get new members because they saw that we were an active club.” 

“We gained a sizable following on YouTube, and we had one video that reached 12,000 views,” said He. 

Looking ahead toward upcoming semesters, it is still uncertain when on-campus gatherings and in-person events will reopen. 

“I personally can’t wait to get back to in-person rehearsals, but I do think that the online side of things will continue — posting to YouTube and sending recordings in — because it has been so successful for us and it’s a way to keep our alumni in the loop,” said Chan. 

“I think we’re moving to a more hybrid approach as time goes on, because the social media presence that we have has actually been very beneficial to us in terms of growth and it’s really fun to know that you’re actively contributing to something together,” said Amanda.  

More about Animusic Ensembles and their upcoming performances can be found on their social media pages and YouTube channel.

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