With live performances still hobbled by the pandemic, N.L. musician pleads for government support

·3 min read
Justin Fancy, a country singer from Conception Bay South, N.L., wrote a letter to the provincial and federal governments pleading for continued financial support for artists in 2022. (CBC - image credit)
Justin Fancy, a country singer from Conception Bay South, N.L., wrote a letter to the provincial and federal governments pleading for continued financial support for artists in 2022. (CBC - image credit)
CBC
CBC

As Newfoundland and Labrador begins the new year in Alert Level 3 of the provincial government's tiered system of health restrictions, a Conception Bay South musician says more government support is needed for the arts.

Country singer Justin Fancy says many performers are struggling under the pandemic and continue to need financial support.

"I consider myself to be kind of an advocate for music in Newfoundland and Labrador," said Fancy.

On Thursday, Fancy published a letter on Twitter that he sent to the provincial and federal governments, seeking support and speaking of the "frustrating" impact of the pandemic.

"With businesses closing their doors, artists have been forced to cancel their gigs and are unable to make any regular income as a result," wrote Fancy, adding that he fears the pandemic will "break the arts community" if help is not received from the provincial and federal levels.

Fancy started recording his first album in January 2020, only two months before the pandemic hit the province — something he says made him more independent of live performances.

But many artists do still rely on income from live performances, which have been decimated by the pandemic.

One artist who doesn't rely on live performances to make a living is comedian Rick Mercer.

Mercer, originally from St. John's, knows that ticket sales are crucial for performers.

"That's the only way they make money. They don't make it any other way. And all of that just stopped," Mercer told CBC News on Thursday. "It was devastating. The ones that kept their heads above water, I'm amazed."

The pandemic, says Mercer, is especially difficult for up-and-coming performers.

Mercer himself was affected by pandemic restrictions — a comedy tour he had planned was postponed several times.

"They say, 'OK, the show can go on, but at 50 per cent.' Well, that's fine and dandy. But the reality is, for example, the tour that I was going to go on, they just immediately cancelled it because it just wouldn't work at those numbers," said Mercer.

"When you're in the live business, you need bums in seats, and obviously we couldn't have bums in seats. And so it's been tricky."

For lesser-known artists like Fancy, financial support has been essential throughout the pandemic.

Fancy availed of different funds to work on his album and an EP — most recently, Music N.L.'s holiday relief fund, which offered a 50 per cent subsidy of cancelled work up to a value of $500. The singer also made use of Arts N.L. funding and of the provincial government's artist support program

"The funding has been key," said Fancy.

"If I didn't have that then, I'd be just burning a hole in my pocket that I don't have."

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Funding for the arts and entertainment sector should continue throughout 2022, said Fancy.

The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts and Recreation told CBC News in an emailed statement that in 2021, the fund supported 668 applicants with a total of over $3 million.

It further funded Arts N.L. with $5 million, which is the usual amount provided annually to the association.

The department didn't say whether it would renew the fund this year, only that it will "continue to support [artists] in the months to come."

With numbers being low in the province in the fall, Fancy had planned to tour Newfoundland's Arts & Culture centres.

Now he is unsure whether he will be able to go.

"There's no better feeling for an artist to step into a room and know that he's got 150, 200 tickets sold for a show and they're coming to see you," said Fancy.

"You can't transfer that to technology. It just doesn't happen."

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