Creativity Strikes While Stuck in the House

COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund provides income for local artists who have lost it all during the pandemic

When Belinda Cornish, actor and playwright, watched the full-dress rehearsal for her play The Garneau Block, she had no idea that the small audience in attendance would be the last.

The Garneau Block, based on Todd Babiak’s novel of the same name, was supposed to open at the Citadel Theatre on March 14, but had to be postponed due to COVID-19. Artists and theatres rely on the revenue and ticket sales to invest not only in their next production but the next theatre season. To have that income stop suddenly is a shock to artists across the country.

“It’s a new world we’re living in right now,” says Cornish. “One in which, if we want to create and put our art and creativity out into the world, we have to do it through a screen.”

The pandemic hit the arts sector hard and early. Theatres were forced to close, and shows were cancelled due to the banning of mass gatherings. Many artists like Cornish were left with no work or income for the foreseeable future. Even though theatre can’t be enjoyed by a live audience at the moment, the show must go on.

The Citadel Theatre launched the Stuck in the House Series on March 20 to honour artists who lost compensation due to cancelled or postponed work. The Facebook livestreams and watch-parties give the artists a chance to showcase their talent while giving the Citadel’s patrons something to look forward to.
“We got shut down… and there was all of a sudden an absence of the thing that we sometimes lean on for comfort and inspiration and joy,” says Chantell Ghosh, executive director of the Citadel Theatre.

When planning the series, the Citadel recognized that all artists in Edmonton are impacted by COVID-19 and invited them to participate in the series. The Citadel’s goal is to air a new mini performance every day until the theatres can open their doors again.

“It just seemed so restorative for so many people to just have something that they could focus on at home that was part of their craft and filled them with excitement,” says Jessie van Rijn, a producer at the Citadel.

The videos are pre-recorded to aid in the Citadel’s priority of making them fully accessible. They are edited to ensure that anyone with an audio disability or sensitivity can still enjoy the performances.
As of May 8, there have been 50 videos aired on the Citadel’s Facebook feed which have surpassed 131,000 views.

Thanks to an Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) grant of $5,000, Citadel Theatre pays the artists a flat fee for performing. Any donations collected from the videos will also be split up between the artists.

“One of the first sectors to feel the impact of closures was the arts,” says Craig Stumpf-Allen, ECF’s director of grants and community engagement, on why this grant is important. “The Stuck in the House Series gives audiences an opportunity to engage with their favourite local performers and gives diverse artists an opportunity to earn an honorarium and showcase their work.”

ECF developed the COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund (RRF) on March 25 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. ECF committed $500,000 of its discretionary dollars to seed the fund. The RRF quickly doubled its impact to more than $1 million through contributions from the public, community partners and allocations from ECF’s Donor Advised Funds.

For artists like Cornish, the Stuck in the House Series gives them the opportunity to connect with their community and keep their shows alive, even if it is in the spirit of an online video.

“Creators don’t stop creating,” says Cornish, “And the Stuck in the House Series was such a beautiful idea in terms of giving us a look, a platform, a venue, and an encouragement to keep doing that.”

Learn more about the Stuck in the House Series on The Well Endowed Podcast.