Since the pandemic began, we’ve known that artists are in for a long road to recovery. With some communities in the North beginning to relax physical distancing measures and remove the enhanced supports they put in place early on, artists are caught between a sluggish marketplace and the drying up of emergency supports many have been relying on.
Today we hear from Alberta Rose Williams, a multimedia artist based in Calgary, AB, who is our Southern Community Liaison, originally from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, about what's happening for Inuit based in the South.
What have you been hearing from artists in your area about how they are faring?
I have been hearing that they're okay. One of them said that she applied for Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and is getting some other funding, but it's going to be a lean summer. Another has been at home, homeschooling her kids and working on her carving.
What supports are available in your area?
There was $305 million from the government for Indigenous communities across Canada, and $45 million of it went to Inuit regions, Inuit across Canada through beneficiary groups. For example the group that I'm a part of, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, distributed over $20 million to their beneficiaries along with the regular shares that they send out every year.
There is also a list of artists grants from archive.com, although I'm not sure how many of those are still available now. The Aboriginal Curatorial Collective (ACC) had a call out for paid artists videos as well as an Emergency Fund, which expired quickly. I've also seen COVIDhelpcenter.com, which is a coalition of arts funders who launched $2 million in artist relief funds.
In Calgary, there is the Elephant Artists Relief (EAR) and they have emergency funds for individual professional artists in Calgary, with a maximum amount of $2,500. It seems like it's pretty accessible for folks, although it does say that artists have to have specialized training in the field, and not necessarily an academic institution. You have to fit into the definition of professional artists, for example being recognized as a professional by your peers, committed to devoting more time to artistic activity and have a history of public presentation in a professional context. I do wonder if any of that would include passed-down Indigenous knowledge.
There are also many groups promoting performers and visual artists’ work online. But that leaves out artists who don't really have access to the internet.
In an ideal situation, what immediate support would assist artists in your region?
I think that the CERB was a good idea initially, although it does leave a lot of folks out. It was something that I didn't even qualify for! Having the relief funding from the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation was great, but it took a while to come through.
I would like to see funding available to anyone without too many restrictions. I think there are a lot of folks out there who are marginalized and were already struggling before the pandemic happened. It seems like funders worry that people will take advantage of the system, but they just want to pay the bills and survive and buy groceries.
Are there any initiatives or positive stories you think we should know about?
I think the call from the ACC was a pretty good story, because initially they were giving $100 to folks through the Curating Cares project, which they were able to increase to $200 per grant while increasing the number of applicants they could give to. The ACC also partnered with other arts organizations, including the Inuit Art Foundation, to give out $1000 grants to individual Indigenous artists across Canada. The need was overwhelming however, and the fund was exhausted in just a few days.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.