Corporate dollars let the arts shine in dark times
For the 43-year-old Edmonton musician and his fellow player in the performance, Brandi Sidoryk, the online concert hosted by the National Music Centre represented not only income, but hope. Like other musicians, Angus has been hard-hit by the pandemic; paid gigs have been few and far between.
“(ATB) has been exceptional for reaching out and recognizing the need for it right now,” says Angus. “People need the arts, and just as important, ATB is assisting full-time artists who have no way of having any kind of income or being able to support themselves.”
According to an August survey by Festivals and Major Events Canada (FAME), the not-for-profit performing arts sector generates more than $20 million a week in admission revenues. Due to the pandemic, however, and with the exception of occasional revenues from online events, admission revenues are down to zero.
Statistics Canada notes that payroll from the arts sector was down more than 30 per cent between February and November. But, there is a bright spot. Arts organizations say some corporations have contributed much-needed financial stability during a difficult period. Perhaps the most high-profile of those in Edmonton is Epcor, whose Heart and Soul Fund — a $1.25 million pandemic infusion launched between August and December — donated to 44 groups in the arts, recreation and charitable sector.
Joyce LaBriola, vice-president of brand and experience with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, calls that kind of corporate support “critical.”
“Obviously we need the revenue to keep doors open, metaphorically speaking,” she says. “But it’s critical also in that it builds trust in the community that things are going to be OK.”
Statistics about the size of corporate support for the arts are scant. Arts organizations that Postmedia spoke to said corporate sponsorships can make up between five and 15 per cent of revenue.
Without releasing exact figures, the theatre expects corporate contributions to represent 50 per cent of ticket sales this season, whereas a normal season sees those contributions represent six per cent of ticket sales.
Capital Power is the Citadel’s season sponsor. The company’s Sian Barraclough says the utility company has poured nearly $415,000 into Edmonton arts and social service organizations since the pandemic began, with the bulk going to the Citadel and the Art Gallery of Alberta.
“From our perspective, that’s significant because (the AGA and the Citadel) have been closed for a period of time, so we’ve been happy to collaborate to come up with new and innovative ways to support during the pandemic, because the traditional things haven’t been possible,” says Barraclough, vice-president of strategy and sustainability for Capital Power, which had a net income of $119 million in 2019.
Capital Power’s funding at the Citadel, for instance, facilitated a series of summer theatre road shows. Over at the Art Gallery of Alberta, the utility funded a virtual tour of a Group of Seven show that started in September and runs through March.
In some cases, virtual productions may give more bang for the buck to corporations than traditional stage shows. When LaBriola steps on the Winspear Centre stage to welcome audiences to the ESO, and to acknowledges sponsors, she’s sharing that message with perhaps 1,700 audience members. But a series of online videos featuring Bach by concertmaster Robert Uchida yielded 6,000 to 7,000 views each, contributing to significant brand recognition for its sponsor, ATB Wealth.
“What’s interesting is that brand recognition wasn’t the primary focus of the conversation,” says LaBriola, noting the ESO’s biggest corporate supporters are ATB Financial, ATB Wealth, Lexus of Edmonton and Quikcard. “It’s about a long-standing relationship and why the arts were important to the city. A thriving arts scene is what makes great cities great.”
Still, the gallery’s budget dropped from about $6 million in 2019 to about $4.8 in 2020.
Capital Power has been the gallery’s lead sponsor since 2010. During these tough times, Crowston says the gallery has been going after new corporate support, but hasn’t received any fresh commitments outside of one-time Heart and Soul dollars.
“I have a feeling that many corporations are being hit as well,” she says.
Still, the ones that have continued to support the arts have had a “transformative” effect, says Crowston, noting that corporations like ATB, Epcor and Capital Power are to be congratulated for their “quite remarkable” support. She’s particularly grateful for multi-year commitments that allow arts organizations to achieve stability.
Crowston suggests organizations that have been thriving during the pandemic should consider stepping up to support the arts.
As a musician, Angus couldn’t agree more. Even small amounts of support can make a big difference to an Alberta artist, whose median income in 2016 was $25,800, according to the Canada Council for the Arts.
Angus wishes there were more organizations like ATB Financial. The corporation not only paid his going rate for the December performance, it later doubled that paycheque even after the contract had been signed.
“We would certainly like to see a little more of that,” says Angus.