‘The situation is grim’: Toronto concert halls turn to government funding for survival
As music lovers flock to drive-through concerts across the country to get their concert fixes during COVID-19, their favorite indoor venues remain closed – at the risk of remaining closed permanently.
The pandemic has left live music venues in Toronto and across the country empty, with owners hoping they can make it into the New Year.
Canadian Live Music Association President Erin Benjamin says the live music industry is being tested like never before in its history.
“It’s a disaster. We are losing rooms every day,” she said.
According to Canadian Coalition of Independent Theaters, which launched an online campaign to support Canadian theaters, without government support, more than 90% of independent theaters are at risk of shutting down permanently.
Some have already closed, such as the Orbit Room in Toronto and the Starlight Social Club in Kitchener-Waterloo.
“I will not be able to survive without help”
“The situation is grim,” said Jeff Cohen, owner of Toronto’s Lee’s Palace and Horseshoe Tavern, as well as Collective Concerts.
He doesn’t expect to be able to produce a concert until April or May of next year.
Cohen explained that sites must rely on the “kindness of the owners” and financial support from the government.
“We will not be able to survive without help,” he said.
Canadian Heritage has set up an emergency fund of $ 500 million to support organizations working in the field of culture, heritage and sport, of which $ 20 million will go directly to the live music industry , according to an email sent by the Department of Canadian Heritage to Radio-Canada.
He adds that the goal is to provide financial assistance to for-profit festivals and venues that typically do not receive federal funding through the Canada Music Fund during the first six months of the pandemic.
The ministry acknowledged in its email that after the initial funding announcement earlier this month, it had received criticism from industry players who said many music industry entrepreneurs live were not eligible for the program. However, Canadian Heritage indicated in the email that since then the criteria have been adjusted accordingly.
Cohen is hoping to qualify for the fund, as will Shaun Bowring, owner of Toronto concert halls Baby G and The Garrison, and promotional company Transmit Presents.
âRight now our goal is to reach next March,â Bowring said.
“We just want us to be all hereâ¦ So we have to find the finances to do it.”
He explained that he’s not looking to make a profit, he’s just looking to fund the monthly expenses to get to 2021.
Bowring and Cohen also mentioned that Toronto City Council will allow venue owners to get a 50% rebate on their property taxes.
âI think that’s going to keep some concert halls and downtown Toronto alive,â Cohen said.
A world without live music?
In the meantime, with the current pandemic measures in place limiting indoor gatherings to 50 people, as well as the requirement to implement a series of additional security measures like personal protective equipment and the installation of plexiglass, Bowring explained that it was simply not economically feasible.
Additionally, being in the midst of a pandemic, putting people in confined spaces is not the safest approach for customers or staff, he explained.
Cohen agrees, explaining that security measures are needed during this time, he just hopes government funding will be provided so that the sites can be taken care of financially in the meantime.
Together, at the Drive-In at the Stardust Drive-In Theater in East Gwillimbury, music lovers gathered over the weekend to watch movies and live shows with local artists and DJs, from the safety of their vehicles. This is an example of organizations seeking to fill the void.
But industry players are just hoping that when the pandemic is finally over, the infrastructure for live music will remain intact on the other side.
âThere is no industry I can think of that is better equipped, more passionate and more committed to helping Canada rebuild than the live music industry,â said Benjamin.
“It’s so hard to imagine, not only the financial challenges, but you know, a world without live music, it’s just, for some of us it’s just impossible to imagine.”
Bowring added that if concert halls were to disappear, it would be a major piece missing from the industry’s largest infrastructure.
âIf we’re not here, it’s a very difficult job on the other side of COVID for artists and musicians to come out and play again – and it affects their livelihoods as well. “
Cohen remains optimistic that when this is all over and the music halls reopen, people will want to see live music “like crazy” again.
âYes, we are in trouble. But we will win,â he said.