Our COVID Response
The COVID-19 pandemic affected people and industries all over the world. The arts, entertainment and recreation sector was among the hardest hit by pandemic closures, in terms of number of jobs as well as total number of hours worked. Not only this, but it is expected to be the last to return to pre-COVID economic conditions. CAPACOA released a useful compilation of COVID statistics that demonstrate the impact.
Toronto artists indeed felt the effects; even before COVID, artists have struggled to live and work in Toronto. See the Toronto Arts Foundation 2019 booklet: Arts Stats 2019 - Going Without: Artists and Arts Workers in Our Creative City, which makes it clear that Toronto's artists face disproportionately high costs to live in Toronto (paying for both work space and essential training) while experiencing disproportionately low incomes.
At the beginning of the pandemic Toronto Arts Council recognized that it was imperative to pivot and worked diligently to respond to the immediate needs of the arts community. We acted quickly and effectively, offering artists new funding opportunities while expediting support to the city’s arts organizations.
Here’s what we did:
- With performances cancelled, contracts were terminated and artists needed immediate financial support. Before the launch of CERB, in collaboration with Toronto Arts Foundation and City of Toronto, TAC introduced the TOArtist COVID-19 Response Fund in March 2020. Thanks to the generosity of donors responding to the Foundation’s fundraising campaign, and the efforts of staff who worked into the night, a total of $833,667 to 982 individuals was disbursed to applicants in record time, with the first payments to artists disbursed within 10 business days after opening the Fund.
- Recognizing the monetary constraints on many organizations with fixed costs TAC accelerated grant payments to annual and multi-year funding recipients in May 2020 to help them avert a crisis.
- TAC maintained funding to projects and individuals, knowing that artists would continue to explore, develop and disseminate new work in music, theatre, dance, literature, media, visual, community, and Indigenous arts.
- In doing so, in 2020 we hosted 68 days of adjudication and assessed 3626 applications. We recommend the largest number of grants in our history totalling $23,397,603, including the TOArtist COVID-19 Response Fund.
- Following increased emphasis on equity and inclusion in the arts, TAC conducted consultations with the Black Arts community. 162 survey respondents, plus 10 in-person consultations resulted in a report suggesting improvements to our outreach and granting process.
- A new TAC Black / African-diasporic arts grant program was launched early in 2021, and $850,000 grants were approved in its first year.
- Timaj Garad joined TAC staff as Outreach & Access Program Manager to lead outreach efforts focused on the Black/African-diasporic arts communities and help design and implement the new grants program.
- To help support increased equity among all TAC’s operating clients the Equity implementation assessment score was increased from 10% to 20% of the overall score.
- A recovery grants program providing additional support for COVID costs to arts organizations provided $1.2 million in one-time grants in 2021.
Throughout the pandemic:
- Understanding the critical need for timely information TAC issued 39 e-bulletins from March 2020 to the beginning of 2022 and co-hosted five town hall style Digital Updates with Economic Development & Culture to provide the arts community with updates on COVID-19 regulations and funding opportunities. A COVID-19 section was created on our website serving as a resource hub for TAC updates, health regulations, arts business tools, funding opportunities and art activations while it was relevant.
- Understanding that grant recipients faced extraordinary challenges during the outbreak, we assured recipients that they may postpone, adjust or cancel projects affected by the COVID-19 outbreak without penalty from TAC.
- Organizations receiving core funding were not required to have replacement programming for events or activities that were delayed, changed or cancelled due to COVID-19.
Toronto Arts Council and Foundation worked with partners on research projects to bring essential support to arts organizations managing through COVID:
- #lights-on – a Toronto Metropolitan University led project that brought together key stakeholders to make sense of the crisis, synthesize and analyse data and impact studies, develop and communicate strategies for support of the sector as it envisioned the future.
- Cue to Cue also led by Toronto Metropolitan University drafted Guidelines for Occupational and Public Health Standards in performance venues during COVID recovery.
- Beyond the Toolkit: Toronto Arts Foundation partnered with UofT and other organizations to catalyze conversations about pedagogy among community-engaged practitioners and the potential role of community engaged practitioners in the aftermath of COVID-19.