RiseMTL in crisis: What can I do to help arts organizations?

Interview with Amy Blackmore, Anisa Cameron, and Patrick Lloyd Brennan

After the ordered closure of theatres on March 14th due to COVID-19, and the subsequent request made by the Quebec government to cancel all cultural events in the province until August 31st, many arts organizations in Montreal are hurting. However, these groups have also begun to see an outpouring of support, with people wondering how they can help theatre companies close to their heart. 

Amy Blackmore (Executive and Artistic Director of Mainline Theatre and the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival), Anisa Cameron (President of The Quebec Drama Federation and Artistic Director of The Côte Saint-Luc Dramatic Society), and Patrick Lloyd Brennan (Managing Director of The Quebec Drama Federation) share a wealth of knowledge between them in how best to help the theatre community during this difficult period.


1. Take care of yourself first.

Amy Blackmore upholds that before even reaching out to offer help, you need to prioritize your own health and individual well-being. “There’s so much love out there for our arts organizations, for artists, and for the work that we’re doing, but we really want to know above anything that people are able to take care of themselves. We want to make sure that they’re staying at home, that they’re staying informed about what public health is saying, and that they’re using resources like the Quebec Drama Federation and the English Language Arts Network to get information.”

2. Donate in any way you can.

Once you are taken care of, if you have the ability to contribute financially, that is one possible way to offer assistance. However, supporting an organization monetarily doesn’t only mean large-scale donations, and contributions can also be in-kind. Says Anisa Cameron, “if they [arts organizations] have campaigns running, they need help; if you have the means to give, every little bit counts. No donation is too small.”

(You can help the QDF help our artists by donating here.)

3. Show your support online.

According to Blackmore, “Something we’re encouraging our community to do is to invite their friends to follow and like company pages/accounts on social media. As an organization we are trying to increase our internet reach, and due to physical isolation, social media really is a great way for us to access new audiences.” (While you’re at it, give the MainLine and the Fringe a thumbs up on Facebook).

You can also lend expertise you may have that can help creative companies navigate a more digital world. “If you have a certain set of skills that would be useful right now – like if you are really good at online content, or if you’re a Zoom wizard – you can offer volunteer services to these organizations,” says Cameron.

4. Advocate for the sector.

With many unemployed artists and closed businesses struggling at this moment, Patrick Lloyd Brennan highlights the significance of advocacy and the work that The Quebec Drama Federation is spearheading in that capacity. “There’s a lot of importance to sharing our situation with people that may not know what it’s like to be an artist or to be working in the arts and culture industry at this time,” he states. You can even simply show support by “sharing articles and sharing the advocacy work that is going on out there.”

One of the most effective actions in seeking relief for the sector is by directly reaching out to public leaders and writing a letter to your MP, MNA, and senators to express your concerns and how important your local arts organizations are to you. “The more people that know, the more pressure there is on our government and granting agencies to help,” explains Brennan.

Cameron adds that “there are also MPs and officials at the federal, local and municipal levels that can be reached on social media. I’m not suggesting to rudely call these people out publicly, of course, but you can approach them on these online platforms. They’re accessible.”

Brennan assures that these officials are listening about the state of the performing arts industry right now, and that these efforts are not fruitless. “In the past month I’ve been on multiple calls with the Minister of Canadian Heritage, with the Minister of Culture and Communications, and with heads of granting agencies. They are having info sessions, taking in our questions, and really listening to us in a way that, in my experience, has never happened before.”

Photo Credit: J. Smith Photography


Brennan, Cameron and Blackmore all reiterate how appreciated community support is right now, and how their respective organizations are feeling the love being put out by members. 

“Seeing the strong voices and the empowerment within so many people in our community throughout this crisis has been incredible. Some of the things that have been most inspiring for me is hearing new voices, or voices that have been around before but haven’t been given the opportunity to shine. Folks are stepping up, leading their communities, and doing whatever they can to help.” Brennan says.

“I find that this community is so giving of their time, their knowledge, their mentorship, and with really trying their best to elevate us all together. It’s a really beautiful thing and it’s just flourished even more, I find, in this time of crisis,” considers Cameron.

“It seems like everyday there’s just awesome things going on, and that speaks to the nature of this community and how dedicated everybody is to one another. I mean, theatre is the art of life on stage, and I feel like our community really practices what it preaches in that respect,” reflects Blackmore. 


However, it is important to note that the job isn’t done once social distancing measures begin to relax. Theatrical institutions will have some hard decisions to make moving forward, and they’ll need community support more than ever. That being said, Blackmore, Brennan and Cameron are all hopeful for the future. 

Brennan remarks that it is important to remember that, “the performing arts industry was the first one to shut down, and will probably be the last one up and running just because the nature of our work is bringing people together, for the most part, in mass gatherings. So, something that is really important is to remember that, as the media angle shifts, there is still going to be a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Cameron says, “I think that there are some really important lessons that we have learned as the human race. There’s a lot of talk about ‘going back to the way things were’ and there are a lot of things in ‘the way things were’ that were broken and not functioning properly. It is my hope that our ingenuity in this time has shifted our reality as a species on this planet and that we can move forward in a way we never have before.”

Blackmore adds, “Change is just what happens, and adaptation is your reaction to it. I think that our industry is going to have to adapt, and will adapt, and I think the leaders of our arts organizations are going to have a lot of difficult decisions to make over the next couple years due to the impact of COVID-19. My hope and my wish is that, while we make those difficult decisions, our community will support us by letting us know that it’s okay – that those decisions that were hard to make were okay.”

And, as a final hope for the future, “After all this, when we are back in theatres, everybody is going to be so sick of looking at their phones that they’ll actually turn it off and put it away!”

Check out this week’s Resource Round-Up by the Quebec Drama Federation website for theatre-related resources, as well as other information and support: https://www.quebecdrama.org/covid19

Disclaimer: this interview has been edited for purposes of clarity.

#RiseMTL by Montreal Theatre Hub
Are you or do you know of someone who has started a creative community initiative in response to COVID-19? We’d love to feature them as part of our #RiseMTL series. E-mail us at info@montrealtheatrehub.com

Cheyenne Cranston

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