There is no question: the impact of COVID-19 on the health of many people around the world has been devastating. The economy has also become a casualty of the crisis. And what about artistic activities? The answer to this question has two aspects: on the one hand, music, film, plays, and those involved in them seem to be on the list of non-essential activities.
On the other hand, however, at these times of angst, uncertainty, and for many, solitude; it is the different manifestations of the arts and culture what provide moments of solace and hope. The diverse musical expressions, movies and videos available online these days; and those artists performing live from their balconies are clear demonstrations that the artistic manifestations are—after all—an essential ingredient to keep people in a good disposition. A state of mind that is essential to overcome these worrying times.
However, the effects of a pandemic on the artistic activities may change, and even endanger the long-term survival of some of them. Will people who are now watching movies on Netflix or other streaming platforms be back to attend movie theatres when this crisis is over? Of course, streaming was already a growing phenomenon in the film industry. Just last year, two of the Oscar contenders (“The Irishman” and “Marriage Story”) had only been released in theatres for the brief period required by the Academy to be eligible for the statuettes. Netflix was their primary channel to reach the audience.
I hope that at the end of the pandemic people will be back in cinemas, theatres, and concert halls. Still, the survival of some independent venues may be endangered if the crisis lasts too long. One just has to have in mind that optimistic projections mention four months (things may return to normal by mid-July), while pessimistic ones 18 months (normality by mid-September 2021).
In the case of Montreal, well-known for its many festivals, especially in the spring and summer, there are already a few that have been cancelled. These are the cases of the literary fest Blue Metropolis, initially scheduled for May 1-6, and Les Coups de Théâtre festival also in May. “We were (almost) ready… to unveil the program for our 16th edition, twelve shows from France, Russia, Denmark, Portugal, Flanders, Quebec and Ontario. All these countries and provinces now confined, and their borders closed…” the organizers of the theatre festival said in a press release.
There is yet no news about the festivals produced by Spectra, but most likely the Francos (formerly Francofolies) to be held in June could be cancelled. Regarding the International Jazz Festival, that takes place at the end of June and beginning of July, the organizers would probably wait some time before making any announcement. The same may apply to other of the popular summer events such as the Fireworks Competition (from June to August), the Just for Laughs Festival (July), Osheaga (July), ComicCon (July) and the World Film Festival (August-September) which last year was suspended. Still, with the promise, it would be back this year.
Some events have been postponed or redesigned their formats, as it has been the cases of some with an ethnic content: the 11th edition of the Latin American Film Festival has been moved to August 28-September 7. The African film fest Vues d’Afrique will inform of the future of its event on April 6. The Asian Presence festival would be likely to change its date.
And a final sad note: one of Montreal’s iconic artistic corporations, the Cirque du Soleil, has already announced that after laying off 95 per cent of its staff, it “is exploring debt restructuring options that include a potential bankruptcy filing after it was forced to cancel shows because of the novel coronavirus outbreak,” according to a report of The Gazette this past March 26.
Artistic and cultural activities are in this way, experiencing the dreadful effects of the coronavirus. If many of them disappear, that would undoubtedly be a loss for Montreal.