This holiday, consider donating to the Civic Theatre. Photo: Submitted

This holiday, consider donating to the Civic Theatre. Photo: Submitted

LARGE POPCORN, EXTRA BUTTER: A year to invest in the arts we love

Eleanor Stacey writes about the importance of donations

by Eleanor Stacey

As we move into the holiday season, charities across Canada are beginning to roll out their end-of-year donation campaigns. You are probably starting to see them in your mailbox, email inbox, as ads on your social media, and on the radio too. It’s the time of year that we are all asked to dig deep to help make the holidays better for others, to support our food centres, and to also look at our own tax benefits of giving before Dec. 31. All of our donations, large and small, have the potential to make a real difference to these organizations that exist to make things a little (or a lot) better in the near or longer-term future.

Nelson Civic Theatre Society is one of such organizations. We are working on our own storytelling now, so that we can help our friends, patrons and greater community understand the value of supporting our registered Canadian charity this year. More on that in the weeks and month to come. However, today, I thought I’d write about something more than NCTS, because there is an emergency continuing in the Canadian cultural sector that I am not sure that is broadly understood by the general public.

Hill Strategies is a widely respected cultural research company that has been looking closely at the Canadian cultural landscape for more than 20 years. This month they published a report called “Organizational Stress and Resilience in the Arts in Canada,” a statistical report on the wellbeing of artists and arts organizations and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In it, many of the concerns that cultural managers have been talking about for more than a year and a half have been confirmed, showing what is at stake right now in Canadian cultural organizations: the sector is in a fragile state because attendance and sales have been the lowest in more than five years due to 20 months of closures and capacity limits imposed by health orders. It also touches on the fact that a huge number of jobs have been lost. But there was one key finding that really got my attention:

Since January 2020, eight per cent of organizations in the Canadian arts, entertainment and recreation sector have closed permanently.

Eight per cent is not a small number. Statistics Canada reported that in 2020 there were 67,697 establishments registered in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector in Canada. If eight per cent of them have closed, that constitutes a loss of more than 5,400 Canadian arts, entertainment and recreation entities since the beginning of the pandemic, and, as Hill Strategies reports, represents a larger decline than the average of all other sectors of the Canadian economy.

Imagine our community without eight per cent of the arts, entertainment and recreation that you love. It might be your favourite theatre, music festival, museum or heritage site, or your favourite indoor or outdoor pastime. Some of the permanent closures in Canada have been here too, and given that organizations in our region are still experiencing more rigorous constraints on our ability to welcome guests and patrons than our colleagues and counterparts in the Lower Mainland because of the ongoing additional restrictions imposed by Interior Health, there could still be more.

This fall, if you are thinking about charities to support for year-end donations, I hope you’ll consider helping our local arts, culture and recreation entities. This is a year when your support gets our local sector through to the other side of the pandemic. This is a year to buy tickets and artisan crafts for presents, to renew your nonprofit cultural memberships, to rent a movie and buy a bag of take-home popcorn. It’s the year to make a donation in a loved one’s name, and to show your staff you appreciate them by getting them family passes to cultural experiences in our area. This is the year to watch for local online campaigns on Giving Tuesday (Nov. 30) and to help charities reach their goals.

It’s not all bleak though: there are already signs that the sector is beginning to recover, as capacity restrictions begin to lift. Every indication is that with time audiences will return and are eager to do so, but it will take a little while. In the meantime, this may be the best year ever to give experiences of cultural, arts and recreation to loved ones, and, if it’s within your means, make a gift to your favourite cultural organization before the end of the year.

To read the full Hill Strategies report, please visit https://hillstrategies.com/resource/organizational-stress-and-resilience-in-the-arts-in-canada

Eleanor Stacey is the executive director of Nelson Civic Theatre Society, which runs The Civic Theatre and Reo’s Video.