Artists as Donors: Reflecting with Margaret Atwood

It’s been a year since we launched our TOArtist COVID-19 Response Fund. It was heartening to see so many fellow artists contribute to the fund. One of them is the Canadian icon and arts champion, Margaret Atwood. We caught up with her recently to talk about the impact of the pandemic on arts and artists.

“Arts are a core element of being human,” Margaret Atwood

With the abrupt closure of cultural and artistic events across Canada at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, hundreds of artists, dependent on income from live performance, readings and concerts found themselves struggling to make ends meet. We at Toronto Arts Foundation recognized the dire need to pivot resources for our hard-hit sector and, together with Toronto Arts Council, launched the TOArtist COVID-19 Response Fund. The Fund received an incredible response from hundreds of donors who understood the precarious position of the artists. Many of the donors to TOArtist COVID-19 Response Fund were artists themselves, helping each other through this difficult time. 

One of the artists who contributed to this fund and also championed it is the celebrated writer, Margaret Atwood. 

In conversation with Toronto Arts Foundation Atwood recalled conversations with several artists who were struggling during the initial days of the lockdown. “I heard a lot of (cancelled) book launch stories,” she says. Several writers rely upon book launches to sell their books. “Performing artists were very hard hit by the shutdown of live performance venues. Artists who are dependent on any form of exhibition to which the public would normally come.” Reinforcing Atwood’s point we also saw that out of 982 artists who were supported through our TOArtist COVID-19 Response fund, 47% were from the music industry, having lost performance income. 

While Toronto moved to a gradual easing of restriction, followed by another lockdown, and a transition of many artist activities to the digital space, there are still many practices that continue to struggle. “Theatre is going to take a while (to recover),” said Ms Atwood. The challenge she identified would be to get the audience back into the auditoriums. While our artists have found creative ways to cope and respond to the situation, we at Toronto Arts Foundation understand that there are certain sectors within the art industry that will continue to struggle for some time to come and through the support of our donors and sponsors we will continue to help. 

“There is an economic argument to be made for supporting the arts,” she said. “All these (artistic) events contribute to the economy. The theatre for example is a huge stimulus to the restaurant and bar business. There are several secondary ecosystems dependent upon the primary (the artist).” Our research also shows that four times more tourists come to Toronto for culture than sports, and arts and culture contribute $11.3 billion annually to Toronto’s GDP. 

We at Toronto Arts Foundation are committed to serving the needs of the artists and the arts community during this unprecedented time in our history and we want to thank Margaret Atwood and all of the arts champions who contributed to the TOArtist COVID-19 Response Fund and continue to support our COVID-19 Response Effort initiatives.