A group of Nelson organizations is proposing a $30,000 study that would determine the size of the arts and culture sector in Nelson and the extent of its contribution to the local economy.
That sector, along with the food and beverage sector, are the hardest hit by the pandemic in Nelson, Andrea Wilkey of Community Futures Central Kootenay told Nelson City Council at a Feb. 22 meeting.
Across the country, theatres and other arts venues have closed or are struggling. Performers – including singers, musicians, actors, dancers and all the technical support people associated with them – have been unemployed since the first days of the pandemic.
Wilkey spoke as a representative of the Nelson and Area Economic Development Partnership (NAEDP).
“We felt that (these two sectors) were really key industries for our community and are being hard hit by COVID-19, so we wanted to give them some extra attention.”
She said the community needs a clear understanding of the economic size and impact of the arts sector in Nelson and specifically how the sector has been impacted financially by the pandemic. The study will also make recommendations on how to best support the COVID-19 recovery in arts and culture sector.
“We are hearing from the sector,” Wilkey said, “that when they are applying for grants, one of the (granters’) first questions is, ‘What was the size of the sector before, and what has the impact been?’”
The study would be conducted by a research team at the Rural Development Institute at Selkirk College.
A 2003 study concluded that the net economic impact of arts and heritage in Nelson was $75-million, including spin-off employment and tourism spending.
“The principal beneficiaries of the arts economy are not specifically the members of the arts community,” the report stated, “but rather all residents of Nelson – particularly those in the hospitality industry – who gain from tourism spending.”
Arts activity in Nelson has increased significantly since 2003 and that study is considered to be out of date.
The NAEDP is a collaboration of the City of Nelson, RDCK electoral areas E and F, the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, and the Community Futures Central Kootenay.
Wilkey’s presentation took place at a special meeting called by city council to hear from representatives of the arts sector. They all described a pandemic year of stress, emergency measures, financial risk and adaptation to online production.
Sydney Black, executive director of the Nelson and District Arts Council, told the meeting that during the pandemic the organization has managed to produce many of its events by live stream, by pre-recorded session, or on Zoom.
“We have learned that digitization is not going to go away,” she said, “and now we have redesigned all our programming, retrained all of our staff, purchased all of the gear, and spent the last nine months figuring out all the bugs.
“It sounds so easy, in theory, to take it all online, but it is so complicated and so time-consuming and requires so much extra staff and knowledge.”
Stephanie Fischer, executive director of the Capitol Theatre, told the meeting the theatre’s losses, in terms of revenue, volunteer engagement, and opportunities for performers, have been immense.
“We have not left any stone unturned,” in finding alternative funding, she said. “We have explored it all, to keep the organization afloat and do programming and pay artists.”
She said in the short term the community can support the theatre by buying tickets to its steaming events, of which there are two or three per month until June.
Astrid Heyerdahl, executive director of Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History, said much of the organization’s losses have been driven by declines in tourism.
But she stressed the importance of the museum collection and galleries to residents of the city as well.
“There is no option for us to fail,” Heyerdahl said. “We maintain the physical history of this community, we build arts and heritage for the future.”
Eleanor Stacey, executive director of the Civic Theatre, said the province has unfairly categorized theatres as special events, and as a result they, along with cruise lines, conference centres and banquet halls, are completely closed.
“Theatres should be recategorized as businesses, matching the status of restaurants, bars, and night clubs, all of which are currently permitted to operate in some way,” she said, adding that she and other theatre managers are lobbying the province for this.
She said the economic impact of theatres and arts venues is often misunderstood and underestimated by governments, and the study proposed by Wilkey would help in correcting this.