RAFT’ing Down the River Corona

Updated: Jun 3

by Ayla Stephen


Ayla at the Edmonton RAFT session in March

Arts administrators, board members and artists from Edmonton, St. Paul, Calgary, and Banff gathered together at the ATB Arts Barn in Edmonton on the blistering cold days of March 14 and 15, 2020 to develop new skills at our Rozsa Admin Fundamentals Training (RAFT) session. This would be my first-time facilitating RAFT on my own and leading up to the dates I felt really excited and really nervous.

In anticipation of the workshop, I updated the not-for-profit financial section, printed the case studies, picked up the snacks and name tags that Ainsley Soutiere (our Office and Event Coordinator) had prepared, and daydreamed about which donuts I would pick up at the Donut Mill when I hit Red Deer. RAFT was on track!

Leading up to the workshop we were closely monitoring the COVID-19 developments. The week of the workshop the Alberta government asked that gatherings over 250 people be cancelled. Theatres were shutting down their productions. Museums were closing their doors. COVID-19 safety measures were quickly increasing, and washing our hands and keeping away from recent travelers was no longer enough.

As I was driving to Edmonton, my truck packed with snacks, case studies, and poster paper, I wondered, “Should we be going through with this workshop?” When I arrived in Edmonton I got overwhelmed while checking my text messages and emails. One of the participants who had registered was feeling ill and opted to stay home and isolate just in case. A few others were in touch to find out if we were still going ahead. I wondered how many people would show up the next day. Oh, and other work was slipping away as I made my way up the QE2.

In addition to my work at the Rozsa Foundation, I also work as the Associate Producer of The Shakespeare Company (TSC). In my three-hour drive from Calgary to Edmonton, TSC’s production of A Tender Thing had been cancelled, with questions surrounding our remaining programming (which would also be cancelled within days). The company had a casino event scheduled for the following week, and during my drive we had (understandably) lost 40% of our volunteers. It did not seem likely that the casinos would even be open by the time our scheduled date came along. Within days a Provincial State of Emergency was put in place and casinos across Alberta were shut down. I had two feelings: relief and worry.

I was relieved that our supporters, volunteers, board, and staff would be kept safe. But I was (and am) worried about the impacts of missing our casino. Participation in a charitable casino event can provide $20,000 - $70,000 (depending on location) of funding for 18 months. Has TSC lost that revenue until the next casino event comes available? How do we make up for such a significant loss? Many organizations in Calgary and Alberta are in the same position.

All of these things were on my mind when the Edmonton RAFT cohort met on Saturday, March 14th. I knew the impact of COVID-19 would be weighing on everyone else in the room too, so we started the first day by talking about how we were all being affected. Things were happening so rapidly that we were all still processing what was going on. Participants were grappling with fresh job and gig loss, or did not know if their organizations programming would be going forward. Students were unsure of how they would complete the remainder of their school semester, and parents were worried about potential school closure (which would happen only hours after the workshop ended).

Despite all this worry, we had a lot of fun. The second day of RAFT focuses on the development of a project plan for the fictional Multicultural Youth Orchestra. This group of 11 people (most who had just met for the first time) came together and developed four different projects, including budgets and presentations. There are so many unknowns right now that some days it feels silly to even think about planning for the future, but then I think back to that weekend and it is heartening to remember that there are so many smart, capable and passionate people working in the arts. When this is over we will need these people to help restore and rebuild the community that we are all missing right now.

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