July 23, 2024

Richard Garvey should be on tour.

The 34-year-old Kitchener musician spent all winter planning for the three-month, cross-country trip that would have started Tuesday, but was forced to cancel as venues shut down over the coronavirus.

His blue Dodge Caravan, which he bought for the tour, is now parked on the driveway outside of the house where he rents a simple room for $500 a month.

“I was going to be living in my van and not paying rent, so everything just gets tighter sooner,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Without shows, his income mostly comes from a small group of supporters who send him monthly donations through the website Patreon.

He puts his music on streaming services, too, but it doesn’t pay much: After five years and thousands of listens on Spotify, the company recently sent him his first $100 cheque.

For Garvey, like so many local artists, the pandemic has amped up financial pressure.

“My income is cancelled and I have more expenses,” he said.

Stories like Garvey’s are the reason that four local artists have decided to take action while government aid, scheduled to arrive in early to mid-April, makes its way to bank accounts.

They have organized themselves in a Facebook group called “KW Artists – Plan B: Supporting our local artists through COVID-19” and started a GoFundMe page with the same name.

“Funding will start to trickle in from the government, but there is immediate need. Rent is due in a week. Food and medicine and other necessities are needed. We need to act now,” said Isabel Cisterna, an organizer of the group and founder of Neruda Arts, a local not-for-profit that promotes many kinds of artists.

The Kultrun Market, a gift shop in St.Jacob’s, Ont., is one of many arts spaces forced to shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Patrick Spencer / Spoke)

In Ontario, all arts events were forced to stop on March 17 when a state of emergency was declared, but many had voluntarily shut down before the announcement.

Cisterna, a 20-year veteran of the region’s arts community, says it’s been a “terrible hit” to the industry.

Entire seasons of shows evaporated, festivals were called off and lessons cancelled. She says it’s tough for the actors, directors, musicians and behind-the-scenes workers who were already living from gig to gig. And she says some are self-isolating and sick because they were recently playing shows to large crowds.

The GoFundMe has already raised over $2,000. Anyone related to the arts industry from the region who has been affected by COVID-19 can apply for a portion of the fund by contacting them through their Facebook page or on the Neruda Arts website.

“There might be people falling through the cracks, and we want to find them,” Cisterna said, adding that she hopes the regional government will support the arts during the crisis.

On Wednesday, the federal government announced a new benefit that self-employed and contract workers — a category that many artists fall under — can apply for.

The measure, called the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, is part of a $107-billion aid package passed by the legislature. Workers can apply for the measure, which provides $2,000 per month to individuals, in early April and payments will start to come out 10 days later.

Plan B is there to fill the gap.

Making her case for donations in a time when so many are in need, Cisterna said that while arts spaces were deemed non-essential by the provincial government earlier this week, the arts themselves are anything but.

“Look at what people are doing right now in isolation: They are making videos. They’re watching Netflix. They’re listening to music. Everything they are doing is related to the arts. Take that away and what are we left with?”

As for Garvey, he continues to livestream performances as a way, he says, “to spread joy during a crisis.” He won’t need to use the Plan B fund, but hopes artists worse off than him make use of it.

The other organizers of the Plan B fund are Pam Patel, the artistic director of MTspace, and two local actors, Terry Barna and Jennifer Cornish, who is also an accountant.

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