‘It’s going to be a bit more bumpy’: Winnipeg art organizations call for help from Ottawa

Arts organizations in Winnipeg were among the first to close when the pandemic hit, and now fear they may be the last to recover. They are turning to Ottawa for help.

This year, the Royal MTC brought one of Stephen Sondheim’s most popular musicals – Into the Woods – into Winnipeg. Despite this production and others, ticket sales have not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

“We are seeing softer audiences then we had pre-pandemic,” said Camilla Holland, the executive director at the Royal MTC. “We’re at about 80 per cent of the pre-pandemic audiences that we enjoyed.”

They are dancing to a similar tune at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

“We’re about 30 per cent lower than we were in the pre-COVID,” said Chris Turyk, the ballet’s managing director.

Prairie Theatre Exchange says its ticket sales are down 50 per cent from where they were pre-pandemic. The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra is hurting too.

“In our case it’s a hit of close to a million dollars if not a little bit more,” said Angela Birdsell, the executive director at the symphony.

Federal supports that were in place during the pandemic are gone.

“They ended with the idea that everything would sort of pop up back to normal,” Hollands said. “We’re not actually back to normal yet, it’s going to be a bit more bumpy.”

That’s why 20 performing arts organizations from across the prairie provinces have co-written a letter to the federal department of Canadian Heritage asking for help.

“We requested a meeting with Minister (Pablo) Rodriguez (Minister of Canadian Heritage) to say, ‘look – what can we do to help us sustain the next couple of years.'”

The organizations say the assistance would keep their heads above water and allow them to take artistic chances.

“Without that financial cushion or that financial certainty, it makes making those choices feel a lot riskier,” Turyk said.

Birdsell said the organizations want to get this on the government’s radar now so they’re able to make music instead of sounding alarm bells about their ability to make payroll.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra tells CTV News it believes recovery could take as long as five to seven years.

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