Updated: Feb 11
by Lisa Mackay
2021 has been a long, exhausting year for many in the arts community. Riding the many Covid-19 waves has taken an awful lot of energy and has brought us through a gamut of emotions. As Omicron begins to dominate the headlines and prompt yet more updates and press conferences, it is becoming increasingly clear that the “return to normal” we were enjoying this fall will be put on pause once again. In the fall of 2021, the arts and culture world was working on regaining its footing after the closures and impact of 2020. Performances were happening once again, albeit to smaller audiences and with fewer musicians, and the response was almost euphoric. “The foyer is full of smiles and laughs,” observed Simon Mallett at a recent theatre event. “After the shutdowns and caution of 2020, people have come to feel like gathering is a gift.”
This happiness at reuniting for performances will need to be amplified and strengthened in 2022 for the arts to truly make a recovery. According to the Arts Response Tracking Survey (ARTS), the percentage of Canadian culture goers that returned to indoor performances rose from 6% in May to 18% in August, a long way from a full house. However, the online efforts of many organizations continued to deliver arts experiences directly into people’s living rooms. Looking through our completed grants from 2021, it is clear that arts organizations have upped their online game from 2020. Arts organizations like The New Gallery, KO Arts Centre, Calgary Choral Society, and Leighton Arts Centre found new ways to connect and engage directly to their communities. Calgary International Film Festival, Okotoks Film
Festival, and Sled Island kept their festivals alive and well by moving online in ways that will outlast the pandemic. Alberta Ballet School’s Virtual Dance Training Program reached nearly 500 students, and allowed them to easily transition between in-person and online instruction; a necessity as restrictions come and go.
Many innovated into excitingly original projects. Green Fools created several YouTube episodes that were shown (along with a blooper reel) at a drive-in screening at Telus Spark.
Luminous Voices figured out how to create a choral performance without lags or pitch problems in a car-concert, where each choir member performed from their car, and audience members could listen online and watch all the choristers together on screen at a drive-in movie theatre. When external facilitators were no longer an option, Silvera for Seniors worked with Inside Out Theatre to create Silvera Artists. They turned to their own residents to lead arts programs and developed true Artists-In-Residence. “After almost two years of feeling isolated and cut off from the outside community, the introduction of this program has re-ignited energy in our supported living communities.” Personally, I plan to keep these positive stories in mind and be optimistic for 2022. Over the holidays, I will also be re-living the great arts experiences I was able to have in 2021, and the great people I was able to share them with: the opening reception for Contemporary Calgary’s fall exhibitions, where I shared my love of art with 500 other excited art lovers,
including our new mayor, Jyoti Gondek; a production at Alberta Theatre Projects, where I was greeted by ushers with an enthusiastic “Welcome Back!”; and a beautiful performance of Messiah by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, with masked-but-joyous choir and soloists. Just thinking of them brings back that emotional feeling of experiencing art and being among fellow art-appreciators. Omicron may be putting a damper on our holiday spirits, but we have been through this a few times already, and we know now that this too shall pass, and there is art on the other side to look forward to. We are all a part of a warm, caring, and supportive arts community in Calgary, and we will tackle 2022 together with determination and optimism, combining our energy to improve those statistics.
So I ask you, what arts experience from 2021 will you hold on to until we re-open in 2022?
Here are a few more favourites from the Rozsa Foundation Staff to get you in the spirit:
“The rituals of attending an arts event looked a little different this fall, but the feelings and thoughts that were evoked were greatly heightened. Stepping out of my fleece pants and out of my house, I had so many questions about the return to an arts and culture event: what do I wear, am I expected to wear a mask to match my outfit, how soon should I plan to arrive at the venue, am I allowed to go somewhere without my children (we’ve been together 24/7 for 18 months), how will I greet those who I know, how do I have a conversation with a mask on, should I eat food/drink if it is offered to me, how close will I be sitting next to someone else, and more?! This fall I attended Making Treaty 7's Time Stands Still directed by Michelle Thrush, Contemporary Calgary’s winter exhibits including Simone Elizabeth Saunders’ exhibit Unity, and Swallow-A-Bicycle's presentation of SE PA RA TI SM. At each arts and culture event, I was connected physically again with friends and community, all my senses were engaged, my understanding of different perspectives was deepened, and I experienced so many raw emotions. It was so good to be back.” Geraldine Ysselstein
"My first time back in a theatre was for Verb Theatre’s A More Sparkling Version of Ourselves, and any trepidation I had about returning to live theatre was quickly diminished, as my vaccination was checked, everyone was masked and distanced in the theatre, and when the show began, we laughed together as a group of humans sharing a meaningful experience. It was a great reminder of the social cohesion that only the arts can provide and made me realize just how much I’ve been missing it." Simon Mallett
"My first time back into live performing arts was as an artist. Thrilled to be working my craft again, but had to keep my emotional investment in check for fear of the disappointment of another shutdown before we could reap the rewards. I was grateful for the clarity around the current restrictions and exemptions by the venue staff, and the respect that was shared among the artists and patrons. I was also happy that it could be viewed live online for those who couldn’t attend in person." Ainsley Soutière "BuckingJam Palace hosted pianist Mark Limacher and vocalist Caity Gyorgy with an intimate show a few weeks ago. The setting was beautiful, the music was top notch, and I watched big fluffy snow fall outside the window while they played my mum’s favourite, “The Christmas Song”. It was so magical that it may have ruined live music for me.” Ayla Stephen