Calgary arts, tourism groups roll out new platform for COVID-19 safe events

Calgary Arts Development President and CEO Patti Pon speaks during the Calgary Rise Up launch announcement on Thursday, August 13, 2020. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

A group of Calgary organizations is trying out a new way for Calgarians to safely experience arts events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new online platform called

Rise Up Calgary

is planned to be a hub for event listings with coronavirus precautions in mind, from drive-in movies to hotel and concert packages where you watch the performance from your room’s balcony.

The initiative is a joint venture from groups including the Calgary Hotel Association, National Music Centre, Tourism Calgary and the Calgary Arts Development Authority (CADA).

CADA president and CEO Patti Pon said Thursday that arts and hospitality were among the first sectors to experience the effects of public-health restrictions due to COVID-19, and they’re likely to be the last to recover. Amid ongoing gathering restrictions and physical distancing requirements, workers from musicians to actors and dancers are largely out of work, and performance venues are sitting empty.

“We can’t really say we will have recovered as a community until those sectors get back on their feet in a way that’s resilient and healthy,” Pon said.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the new platform is about reinventing the way people connect while the danger of COVID-19 is still present.

 JJ Shiplett performs in the rooftop at the King Eddy, while Janice Manchul, ASL interpreter, performs the song in sign language during the Calgary Rise Up launch announcement on Thursday, August 13, 2020. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

“I can’t tell you when things will be back to normal. I can’t tell what normal means. But what I can tell you is that we have the ability to create normal,” he said.

“If artists are not the ones doing that creating, then who will?”

CADA works as the granting body for numerous not-for-profit organizations in the city, and Pon said a survey indicated that from March to August, arts groups in the city were suffering through an average 53 per cent drop in staff and an 81 per cent cancellation of artist contracts.

Organizations have also issued “tens of millions of dollars” in refunds as events were cancelled, Pon said — and that’s after many people who bought tickets didn’t ask for their money back, instead making the money they’d spent into a donation.

Pon said the arts sector braced for a hard time in March, when restrictions on large gatherings were first announced.

“That’s when we all thought this was going to be three, four months. And here we are now talking about the potential of years.”

Non-profits that typically rely on ticket sales, corporate sponsorship and other donations have watched revenue dry up, with few options for making up the ground.

Pon said she hopes the community can come together and collaborate to find new ways to survive the pandemic.

“For every single one of you who leaned on the arts, you got to do that for free. That’s why we support the arts — because we want it to be available to everyone.”

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