An empty theatre is seen in this stock photo. (Felix Mooneeram/Unsplash)

In the past two years, businesses across the province took substantial hits to their economy and work as a result of COVID-19. For artists, these setbacks meant a complete halt in their business, if they could afford to remain open at all. 

ArtsLink New Brunswick executive director Julie Whitenect said the pandemic caused the loss of three out of every 10 jobs within the sector. 

“We’re losing artists and art organizations and initiatives because they can’t work. Musicians don’t have places to play. The audience has not come back to its full force that it had before. Festivals aren’t happening,” said Whitenect. “We’re losing our faces. We aren’t able to connect with our audience or with each other and it’s been really hard.”

ArtsLink N.B. is a service and advocacy organization for New Brunswick that works closely with artists to help them understand provincial policies and programs to improve the socioeconomic status of the sector.

Each year, ArtsLink N.B. and other art collectives come together to create a budget for the arts sector. Since 2014, part of this process has included asking the province to follow through with their promised investment of $10 million in the sector — today, only $5 million has been invested. 

“Typically, we ask them to invest the remaining five. This year, we think that that’s not going far enough, considering the global circumstances,” said Whitenect.

Whitenect said the funding programs, like the Canadian Employment Relief Benefits program, were promising at first, but they aren’t enough anymore. 

ArtsLink N.B., the Association Acadienne des Artistes Professionnelles du Nouveau-Brunswick (AAAPNB), and Mawi’Art: Wabanaki Artist Collective released an open letter to the Government of New Brunswick pleading for officlals to invest $12.5 million in the arts and cultural industries and promote essential recovery from the pandemic.

“This is a very important sector to the province. Socially and economically, it’s the second largest contributor to our [gross domestic product] … It’s also made up of workers that have 38 per cent lower incomes than the rest of the New Brunswick labour force. This was prior to the pandemic, so I’m sure it’s even more drastic now,” said Whitenect. 

Whitenect said she knows ArtsLink N.B. and similar collectives can no longer be alone in advocating for this essential funding, which was why the open letter was written. 

She encourages artists and art supporters to send a letter to their MLA and explain why the arts sector is important to them and why it needs to be supported. In the meantime, she said the public can financially support those within the arts and culture sector by reaching out to their local artists. 

“Think about the money that you spent anyway and donate it to an artist or subscribe to their Patreon or reach out to your local theatre company and see how you can help either financially or with your time or your efforts,” she said. 

Whitenect said ArtsLink N.B. and other collectives have been advocating for this support for years, but there is now a more dire need. 

“This sector needs support. It’s an important sector economically and socially and if we don’t invest in it, it will not recover.”