To the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs
For the consideration of the Culture and Heritage Sector
My name is Hannah Burgé Luviano, and I am a musician and researcher living in the city of Toronto. I do not speak for all the diverse voices in my community; I speak to what I have observed living in community with other artists, and what I’ve heard in committee meetings as a member of the City of Toronto Music Advisory Committee. In my role as a research fellow for Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, I have worked with leaders in cultural organizations along the Bloor St. Cultural Corridor, and studied cultural diplomacy in governmental and non-governmental agencies. My research tracks the impact of musician kinship communities in Toronto at present, and in Mexico City during the 1950s. I have taken a break from writing the qualifying exam for the completion of my doctoral degree in order to address you today, and thank you, in advance, for listening to these remarks.
There is cause for concern when considering the impact of COVID on artists and cultural workers. The COVID crisis highlights the precariousness of the music industry, not only the low wages that artist earn, but reveals the dependency on our cultural production. This dependency includes business related to government agencies, booking agents, venue owners, cultural workers, and technical supports.
Where being a musician used to afford a middle-class existence, it does so no longer. Lower wages, the rise of the gig economy, the closure of venues, and the rise of streaming platforms have decimated our earnings. As a mid-Century, cultural historian and ethnomusicologist, I estimate that the changes artists are experiencing take us to a time not seen since WWII.
While the province opens some industries, our work which depends on public presentation, is yet impossible. There is no knowledge if or when the music industry will recover, and at what cost to everyday musicians. At this time, our earnings from artistic production, are at a standstill. The work from concerts, theatre shows, live venues, summer patios, and touring is irrevocably gone. Many touring artists have lost $30-50,000 of gross performance income between March and December 2020. We cannot estimate how many artists will leave their respective art practices. I have heard stories of artists abandoning their commercial spaces, with thousands of dollars of equipment inside, their livelihood evaporated because they could not meet their commercial rent obligation.
Artists in my community are food insecure. Even artists that were nominated for and won Juno Awards last night experience food and housing insecurity. Visibility is no marker of sustained financial success for the majority of artists. At present, in the artist community where I live, organizations such as Food Share TO are keeping us fed. The right to food is impacted by socio-economic conditions that include systemic racism and barriers based on gender constructs, immigration status, and poverty.
Artists are trying to find ways to make money through live streaming concerts and videos, radio interviews, and speaking engagements, they sell their music on sites like Bandcamp, or offer online lessons. However, there is a high cost of entry to acquire the technology required for such endeavours, and many cannot afford these upgrades. Likewise, uploading content to online platforms and building new audiences is very difficult. Not every artist can or would like to navigate this terrain.
Of course, we are yet in a health crisis, on a global scale, and COVID has touched our families, our friends, and our communities. We cannot expect “business as usual” during this time, and cannot overlook the toll on our physical and mental health. A variety of supports must be researched to meet the cultural industry in its damaged state.
What the COVID crisis has shown us, is that equitable access to cultural programming is possible. Websites like sidedooraccess.com enable artists to livestream concerts and art installations with built-in audiences. Side Door access is a revelation to the music industry, because artists have earned on average, $1200 CAD per concert, and ticket prices can be as low as $7. This business model represents innovative thinking around difficult problems. Artists can participate from their homes with the technology they own and an internet connection. Of course, such requirements still hold up barriers for those with no phone and no internet connection. But for differently-abled, Black and Indigenous people, people of colour, women, and queer artists who have seen their income as “less than” their male peers, Sidedoor access.com demonstrates an equity solution that is available right now.
We need to find what IS working and do more of it.
Many artists have received CERB (Canadian Emergency Response Benefit) and this has been a lifeline during the COVID Crisis. CERB demonstrates that Basic Income improves the lives of the most vulnerable among us. Rather than discourage artists from working, CERB has made it possible for artists to continue to work in new capacities and through digital platforms. While CERB payments flow directly to banks in the form of mortgages, or to landlords in the form of rent payments, this financial stability is more than many of us have experienced in some time.
Affordable housing models are working. The Province of Ontario has supported the Artscape community, which provides artist housing and work spaces, and Artscape is a leader in artistic community engagement. The Artscape Bayside building, opened in 2019 to accept 80 families of artist (led) households, has been a fortress during the time of COVID. My colleagues and I face loss of income, but do not fear eviction, as so do many of our peers. The province must immediately create more housing in this capacity, as there is a direct correlation between stable housing, quality of life, and artistic production.
The work of artists supports the culture industry on which the province depends. Artists hold knowledge in unique ways as storytellers, community builders, and through their experience with government programs and initiatives. Our lived knowledge is valuable. We have been and continue to be allies with those who face poverty, food, and housing insecurity.
Thank you for listening to this impact statement. I appreciate your open attention, and wiliness to listen to artists, such as myself, who are experiencing such tremendous change. I wish for your committee a collaborative spirit, an ease of negotiation, and sound leadership as you navigate a very difficult path. Thank you.
Hannah Burgé Luviano is a Ph.D. Candidate at Queen’s University, a City of Toronto Music Advisory Committee member, Ethnomusicologist (Latin America and Caribbean), and Artist-Advocate living in the City of Toronto. Her music is featured regularly on Jazz.FM 91.1, CBC Radio, and many stations worldwide. Her compositions have been featured on the recording of Kuné: Canada’s Global Orchestra (Universal Canada), in film and for theatre. www.hannahburge.com
ã 2020, not to be published without permission.