Ethnocultural arts groups need help as well

L-R: Ihor Michalchyshyn, Darka Tarnawsky, Cathy Paroschy Harris, Christine Preachuk, Ashley Cochrane, Fedir Danylak and Kevin Kluk

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

Several weeks ago, we commented on the Ukrainian Canadian Congress’ letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcoming the Speech from the Throne and the Government’s stated intention to work with the provinces to establish national standards for long-term care centres throughout Canada. The UCC stated that the 40 Ukrainian long-term care homes across Canada have seen better health outcomes and higher rates of life satisfaction for seniors and their families than have comparable for-profit institutions, and offered to work with the Government of Canada to identify experts, stakeholders and practitioners in our community who can contribute their expertise to the development of national standards for all Canadians.”

In that same letter, the UCC noted that the Government also intends to introduce further support for industries that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, “including cultural industries like the performing arts.”

“When developing this support, the UCC urges the Government to ensure that non-professional and community-based arts, cultural, music and dance groups are eligible to apply for assistance,” it said.

They followed up this letter with other letters to the Ministers of Heritage and Inter-governmental Affairs and spoke with several officials urging that their definition of which arts groups are eligible for assistance during the COVID crisis include non-professional and community-based arts groups. However, the message the UCC is getting is that this is unlikely to happen. Nevertheless, “we’re going to keep pushing these issues,” says Ihor Michalchyshyn, CEO and Executive Director of UCC National. “We’re not going to let them drop, but, at the moment, that’s the lay of the lands,” he adds.

With this in mind, on September 30, UCC National hosted a live-streamed “Community Conversation” on COVID-19 with a number of representatives from Canadian Ukrainian dance groups. Participants included: Kevin Kluk, Yorkton Kalyna Dance, Yorkton SK; Ashley Cochrane, Dolyna Ukrainian Dancers, Kelowna B.C.; Christine Preachuk, Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble, Winnipeg; Cathy Paroschy Harris, Chaban Ukrainian Dancers, Thunder Bay; Fedir Danylak, Barvinok Ukrainian Dance School, Toronto; and Darka Tarnawsky, Ukrainian Shumka Dancers, Edmonton.

As Tarnawsky of Shumka told New Pathway – Ukrainian News, panelists discussed the abrupt shut down of all of their regular activities in March of this year when the pandemic first peaked. From school classes to festival performances, dance competitions to national tours, trips to Ukraine to long-planned fundraisers, all activity ground to a halt and revenue sources began to dry up.

“All groups involved in the discussion, except Shumka, are volunteer run so were unable to receive government wage subsidies or other emergency benefits. Shumka was also able to access an interest-free $40,000 CEBA loan of which $10,000 is forgiven if the balance of $30,000 is paid by December 31, 2022. After much lobbying and advocacy work, Shumka was also able to access $5000 from the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Arts Branch: Arts Presentation & Training fund as part 2 of phase 2 of the COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund for Cultural, Heritage and Support Organizations. This has helped to pay for PPE, additional cleaning services, and extensive cleaning supplies needed to keep the Shumka Dance Centre a safe place,” she stated.

“Fundraisers and performances remain off the books until the pandemic situation allows such to happen. With less activity possible sustainability is a concern for each group. Many rely on local Ukrainian halls as a rehearsal space, and with no hall rentals, financial constraints are being forced on the halls themselves. It is definitely a domino effect,” added Tarnawsky.

It appears that the Government has made the sustainability of professional arts groups a priority and is willing to let the semi-professional (Shumka) and amateur groups fall through the cracks. This is unfortunate because multiculturalism remains an integral element of our Canadian identity and is enshrined as such in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, initiated by Justin Trudeau’s father and former Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau. To lose our semi-professional and non-professional, community-run performing arts groups would be a serious blow to Canada’s cultural identity and development. We realize that, in this crisis, the Government has many issues to deal with, many hands reach out for some help, and the deficit is ballooning out of control. But, as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland puts it, we can’t afford not to spend the money now, because if we don’t, the result will be much worse down the road.

Therefore, in assessing how to mitigate the economic damage caused by the pandemic, the Government of Canada must look at the global picture and consider the semi-professional and non-professional community performing arts groups just as important to our cultural development as the professional ones. They make Canada the unique country that it is and their demise would be a severe blow to our identity. This is a tragedy we cannot allow to happen.