Why the Arts Matter, Now More Than Ever

Mar 29 2020 | Posted in Blog, Spotlight

​As the country settles in to weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of the important role that arts play in times of distress.

First and foremost, the arts allow us to express ideas and wishes that ordinary discourse doesn’t allow. They help citizens dress their subconscious feelings and emotions in memorable forms. They help us question and understand the world we share and can transform our daily experiences into something much greater. The arts reflect the community they come from and yet remain universal, they connect us at a deeper level than any other form of communication we’ve found. They give us symbols that people identify with and give identity to places and beliefs that may not have one. The arts, however, contribute much more than this.

In a groundbreaking study by the Winnipeg Arts Council (Culture to the Core: The Economic and Social Impact of the Arts in Winnipeg), the arts and culture sector was found to be responsible for $1.7 billion, or 2.9% of Manitoba’s total GDP in 2014. The same report also found that between 2009 and 2012, the arts and creative industries outpaced the overall growth in GDP and employment in Winnipeg, such that the sector now accounts for about 3.7% of the City’s total output, and 6.4% of its employment. Approximately 5,500 Manitobans are employed by non-profit arts and cultural organizations and the arts and culture sector at large provides direct employment to 22,000 Manitobans, approximately 3.3% of Manitoba’s workforce (Statistics Canada, 2016). In a very short time, however, the novel coronavirus has dramatically changed all of this.

Slowing the spread of COVID-19 remains vitally important. Unfortunately, the best tools to prevent further spread of COVID-19, such as physical distancing and staying home, have led to cancellations of large-scale cultural events and put many artists suddenly out of work. The RWB has cancelled 80 Years - A Retrospective, the final mainstage show of our monumental 80th season. We have also cancelled our annual gala fundraiser. These drastic actions are unprecedented but necessary to protect our patrons, artists and staff from exposure to the coronavirus.

The RWB plays a significant role in Manitoba’s arts and culture eco-system. Since our inception 80 years ago, the RWB has created art that elevates the human spirit and fosters a sense of shared humanity. Our home is the prairies, the world is our stage, and since 1939 we have been a cultural leader and an ambassador for our community. We have toured to 44 countries and 581 cities around the world, in the process becoming the first Canadian ballet company to cross the Iron Curtain, and the first Canadian ballet company to perform in Israel, Cuba, and Latin America. In addition, the RWB directly employs almost 200 full and part time employees and generates significant work for Canada’s choreographers, designers, production technicians, and for musicians and conductors. We also operate a prestigious ballet school, where students come from all over the world to become professional dancers, further adding to the Winnipeg’s status as a cultural leader for the arts.

Manitobans have already shown their incredible support for the RWB. The generosity of those patrons who have chosen to donate their cancelled tickets back to the RWB deserves to be applauded, and those without the ability to do so have been understanding and gracious. On behalf of the RWB, thank you for the kind messages and warm thoughts we’ve received over the past days. We are overwhelmed by the support during this difficult time. As we continue to create art in the next weeks, months, and years we are deeply grateful to have you with us every step of the way. However, this support must continue if we are to prevent catastrophic devastation to the arts community in Manitoba.

We strongly encourage those who can to give generously to the arts organizations you value most. We are all part of the same community and there are many who, like us, need to have you with us during this pandemic.

For those who choose to support the RWB, there are three great ways to help us through this tumultuous time:

  1. Consider renewing or purchasing a subscription for our upcoming 81st season, Virtue & Villainy, which begins in October with the Canadian premiere of Septime Webre’s Alice (in wonderland).
  2. We have just launched the RWB Silent Auction in place of our annual Ballet Ball fundraiser. You will be able to bid on 88 prize lots and four grand prizes, all in support of one great cause.
  3. Donate to the RWB and receive a tax receipt.

The world may have changed because of COVID-19, but with your support and the support of key philanthropic partnerships, RWB will be able to achieve its mission in the years to come, and ensure the arts which have defined our international identity will continue to flourish into the future.

André Lewis,
Artistic Director & CEO