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Marvest is an online crowdfunding platform for the maritime industry. It provides ship owners with easier access to capital and gives investors access to investments that were previously only available to institutional investors.

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2020 in review: How Ottawa's arts sector survived

Dec 28, 2020

Author of the article: Dec 28, 2020  •   •  5 minute read Mark Monahan, founder of Bluesfest, in Gatineau Wednesday June 17, 2020. Monahan is parked at Zibi, where he will be holding a Bluesfest Drive-In. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia Article Sidebar Article content At the beginning of 2020, the biggest challenge for Ottawa’s arts community was attracting new audiences. Now, after a months-long pandemic that involved widespread restrictions on gatherings and a swath of event cancellations, most of the year has been spent simply trying to find ways to host audiences without spreading the virus, and stay afloat until a vaccine makes it safe for people to venture out again. We apologize, but this video has failed to load. Try refreshing your browser, or 2020 in review: How Ottawa's arts sector survived Back to video Without a doubt, it’s been the most challenging and turbulent year for the arts sector in memory as thousands of artists lost their gigs. The entire infrastructure that revolves around them, from clubs and hotels to security and staging companies, was in danger of collapse. An extinction event, some observers called it. To add to that turmoil was the soul-searching in the arts sector and beyond prompted by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police. The horrific incident was captured on camera and the video spread like wildfire, indisputable evidence of the consequences of systemic racism. Advertisement Article content continued But if there was a silver lining to this difficult year, it’s that the pandemic came at a time when the major players in the industry were not only embracing digital innovation as part of the solution to changing tastes, but also figuring out how to attract more diverse audiences. COVID-19 was clearly a factor in fast-tracking both aspects of that process, at least for the entities with fairly stable funding. To start, let’s cast back to the dawn of 2020. Audiences and their expectations had been shifting for a while as millennials came of age and the population diversified, findings that were revealed in the first Culture Track report, a 2018 survey of cultural consumers in Canada. RWB presents The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Daniel Crump /jpg Our arts institutions had taken those results to heart and were changing with the times. The National Arts Centre had already started livestreaming intimate Friday-night concerts, and was hosting big-budget productions that mashed up traditional art forms like ballet and theatre with state-of-the art lighting and digital technology. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet gave us an eye-popping Wizard of Oz in January, for example, while NAC English theatre producer Jillian Keiley directed a dazzling version of The Neverending Story that sold out its mid-winter run. Artist Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory is featured in a photo by Jamie Griffiths entitled “Silaup Putanga Iluani.” Photo by Julie Oliver /Postmedia Meanwhile, staff at the National Gallery of Canada, under the direction of their youngest leader in a century, Dr. Sasha Suda, was analyzing why an exhibit of contemporary Indigenous art, Àbadakone, was turning out to be far more popular than a summer retrospective of the portraiture of an old master, Paul Gauguin. They were also making space for a greater emphasis on digital arts and performance art. Advertisement Article content continued Over at the Ottawa Art Gallery, CEO Alexandra Badzak and her team had been striving to knock down any barrier that would prevent someone from coming to the gallery by offering free admission and weekly child care. They were also busy hosting events such as the Winter Jazz Festival and getting ready for the inaugural Ottawa film festival. And they were curating exhibits, of course, with a fresh, sometimes provocative edge. Ottawa native Alanis Morissette, shown performing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2019. Photo by Amy Harris /The Associated Press Rounding out the four pillars of Ottawa’s arts sector is the Bluesfest family of festivals, which includes the main event, RBC Bluesfest, along with CityFolk, Marvest and the Festival of Small Halls. Director Mark Monahan was gearing up for a huge year, possibly the biggest in Bluesfest’s quarter-century history, with the announcement of a killer lineup that included superstar DJ Marshmello, legendary rockers Rage Against the Machine and Ottawa’s own Alanis Morissette, along with a couple hundred other musical acts. Things began to fall apart in March. The global pandemic was officially declared on Friday the 13th of the month, triggering lockdown restrictions that forced the cancellation of everything, from the musical CATS that was mid-run at the NAC to the St. Patrick’s Day parties that musicians were counting on to lift them out of the winter slump in revenue. As the weeks wore on, more and more events dropped off the calendar: No Pearl Jam. No Hamilton. No Cirque du Soleil. No Bieber. Local musicians reacted almost instantly by turning the camera on themselves, and livestreaming for tips on Facebook. The phenomenon was noticed by executives at Facebook Canada, who called on the NAC to help devise a program to support artists. Thanks to the expertise of the NAC’s music and variety producer, Heather Gibson, the #CanadaPerforms initiative was put together in record time. Advertisement Article content continued With $100,000 in seed money from Facebook, the #CanadaPerforms program gave $1,000 in short-term relief to artists in any discipline to perform a one-hour livestream from their home or studio. It kicked off with Jim Cuddy and friends, and went on to feature shows by Whitehorse, Margaret Atwood and Lisa LeBlanc, to name a few of the 700 artists who performed. Thousands more dollars in donations flowed in, too. On Oct. 8, the NAC Orchestra (NACO) and Music Director Alexander Shelley, reunited in person for the very first time since the beginning of the pandemic. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia News Even when the NAC began to welcome small audiences back for in-person shows in the fall, the livestreaming continued and, in fact, expanded to include the NAC Orchestra. At year-end, all signs point to livestreaming becoming a permanent feature of the centre’s offerings. By summer, the National Gallery became the first institution to reopen, albeit with reduced hours, limited capacity, physical distancing markers, extra sanitation measures and a mandatory mask policy. The OAG soon followed, with similar safety protocols. Kellylee Evans performs during the RBC Bluesfest Drive-In Series on Friday, July 31, 2020. (Press Images PHOTO/Scott Penner) Photo by Scott Penner /jpg Most Ottawa festivals, including Music and Beyond, Chamberfest, the Ottawa International Animation Festival, CRANIUM and the Ottawa Adventure Film Festival, opted for virtual editions presented in creative ways. Bluesfest, however, in a partnership with the NAC, adopted a hybrid model, with a live, drive-in edition at the site of the Zibi development that was also livestreamed. Headliners included the Sam Roberts Band, Tim Hicks, Patrick Watson and Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine. The ideas kept coming from the Bluesfest office. Fall brought the Chef’s Table series, featuring musicians performing on a boat in the Rideau Canal, well distanced from an audience enjoying a fine dinner on the terrace of the NAC. A digital edition of Marvest featured Ottawa artists in pre-recorded videos. The festival of Small Halls took place, with a limited number of in-person tickets available. Organizers had the foresight to capture the shows on video, and later used them to pad out an online edition of CityFolk, which also featured headlining sets by Jason Isbell and Steve Earle, who both performed remotely. Advertisement

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