Montreal is inseparable from its arts scene: From small, packed music venues to student art exhibitions and comedy shows, this seemingly enclosed community plays an important role in the city’s culture. So what happens when, within a matter of days, venues close, tours and festivals are cancelled or postponed, and everyone must stay indoors? Montreal-based creatives are now grappling with these strange and unprecedented circumstances and turning to each other for support.
“I watched the music industry dissolve in, like, three days,” Malaika Astorga, a visual artist and co-founder of Also Cool Mag, said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “The sole source of income for so many people is just gone.”
Though she was temporarily laid off from her nine-to-five, Astorga has been able to earn a sustainable income doing freelance work during her time in quarantine. However, like many artists, she is concerned about financial instability.
“I feel like I’m trying to make the best of it by focusing more on my creative work, […] but, at the end of the day, you know, I still need to pay my hydro,” Astorga said.
Like many in Montreal’s creative scene, Astorga is worried that venues won’t be able to reopen once the pandemic is over. Though there are efforts to crowdfund relief aid, she says it might not be enough.
“I’m concerned about long term support for those kinds of businesses because they’re not seen as essential businesses by the government, even though […] we’re seeing that [people] need entertainment,” Astorga said. “It’s what’s getting all of us through this thing.”
Like Astorga, third-year McGill student Gloria-Sherryl François (Glowzi), a multidisciplinary artist and DJ, has concerns for fellow artists in the music industry. Since entering the professional circuit, she has realized how much long-term planning is involved in making events happen—often as much as a year. Now that the pandemic has forced everything to a screeching halt, she is questioning the validity of the structures that are currently in place.
“If there’s one thing that this pandemic is showing, it’s that [I’m wondering], well, was this system ever made to work?” François said.
François also noted that many artists now lack access to the resources they need to create due to self-isolation and the closing of non-essential businesses. But she added that the blow to morale has been offset by increased community support within the creative world.
“I feel like that’s something that was kind of lost after the 80’s and 70’s, where people would just systematically collaborate with each other,” François said. “It was more about […] all these amazing people just coming together and making place for other folks who were not as under the spotlight as them.”
For Pelin Karaaslan, a painter from Istanbul, her biggest concern is visibility as the events, exhibitions, and pop-up shops she would normally attend have been cancelled.
She cannot access the studio she recently began renting, which she had been visiting everyday before the pandemic to work—her and her studio-mates asked for a rent freeze without success. Luckily, Karaaslan has still been able to paint and focus on her commissions during quarantine, since she has access to those materials at home.
“I paint everyday and I realize that this sounds cheesy, but really if I have paint supplies, it’s going to be fine,” Karaaslan said. “I’m just painting a lot. I’m trying to […] keep doing what I Iove.”
If there’s a time to say “thank you” to creatives and venues, it’s now. Astorga explained that the best way to help artists is through GoFundMe pages and PayPals. Also Cool Mag created an artist fund to raise money for artists who sign up. So far, the fund has helped three artists; each received $250.
Supporting artists by purchasing their artwork, music, or merchandise is another way to help financially. After that, the next best thing to is sharing their work on social media.
Despite the darkness of the situation, Astorga sees the brighter side of all the community efforts.
“Maybe it took something like this for us to realize how much we can actually support each other,” Astorga said. “Hopefully there will be more helpful, and empathetic, and […] loving structures in place after this is done, because we’re seeing that they’re essential to our well-being.”
Also Cool Mag:
Montreal Venue Relief Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/pzes5-montreal-covid19-venue-staff-relief-fund
Also Cool Mag Artist Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/also-cool-artist-fund?utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_lico+share-sheet&fbclid=IwAR3RCMrnxDG0hjzuBp0Nnrv4TirikwQOh4LeBEmKu-F2prnFUjQI9VO49Nc