How Could A Recession Impact the Performing Arts?

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CTV and the Financial Post have recently been speculating about a possible recession in Canada as early as 2023. As we have already experienced the resiliency and change of the performing arts during the pandemic, how could a potential recession impact it further?

“Recessions tend to have a series of impacts, principally with the expected impact of fewer people spending money on personal entertainment. A night out at a show is usually more difficult for a budget-conscious person to justify to themselves as a valid expense than necessities,” says Gavin McDonald, an assistant professor in the theatre department.

While this may be, Dr. Sarah Bay-Cheng, the Dean of the School of Arts, Media, Performance, and Design, adds that “during the Great Depression of the 1930s and after the financial crisis of 2008, some arts and cultural institutions thrived. Despite the effects of the depression, 1930s Hollywood is regarded as a golden age of cinema.

“Broadway theatres were more severely affected as producers lost money in the stock market crash of 1929, and in Canada, large national tours declined. But the shift away from expensive large-scale productions created opportunities for smaller shows and new companies to get their start and to experiment with new styles,” continues Bay-Cheng.

McDonald also adds that, “excellent work can be made, and is frequently driven by, trying times. We have also seen and will continue to see partnerships evolve between brick-and-mortar companies and venue-less companies looking for a home. These co-productions can help both companies financially and also create really beautiful work that they likely wouldn’t have considered in their own silos.”

Bay-Cheng speculates, “York’s theatre and film students are getting unprecedented professional opportunities because there is such demand for production right now. But, as we have seen with music, live productions exist in an ecosystem with mediated production. If there is a severe economic downturn, will people be content to stay at home consuming performance exclusively on screen? I’m not sure.”

But what does all this mean for arts within the York community?

Lisette Canton, an associate professor in the music department, explains that a recession following the pandemic will have a dramatic impact on the arts at York due to several arts organizations closing, organizations making a costly move to digital delivery, people leaving the arts or taking on work in other fields, and educational arts training being lost over the course of the past few years.

“It will take the performing arts in all genres a number of years to recover from the impacts of the challenges we face, with support from public and private sectors needed, along with a commitment to foster and grow the arts community at York to previous levels of success,” says Canton.

“Amid the difficulties of the pandemic, artists have found creative ways to reach their audiences and a potential recession will be no different. It is our duty, however, to ensure the growth and sustenance of the performing arts moving forward,” they continue.

Bay-Cheng adds that “recessions have been periods of some of the greatest performance innovations in the past, but it will be important to ensure that arts workers are supported. 

I’m optimistic about the future of the performing arts in Canada because I saw what our students accomplished during the past two years, not only in their creative work but also in addressing social injustices through their art. The ability to work creatively and across different disciplines, to imagine and invent new ways of working, and to build new collaborations and communities in pursuit of those goals will be vital skills to thriving in the midst of recession.”

About the Author

By Sydney Ewert

Arts Editor

Sydney is in her third year at York University studying Dance. She loves to travel and explore new places. When Sydney is not editing, working, or studying for her classes, she is likely going for walks or learning new recipes.


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