Artists take the street in protest of poor working conditions

Quebec’s act regarding the status of artists would guarantee better working conditions and less contract uncertainty for the province’s artists

On Oct. 22 a group of artists took over Bleury St. to protest poor working conditions for artists. The 50 individuals advocated for a revision of Quebec’s act regarding the status of artists, which would guarantee more stable working conditions for creators from all disciplines.

The event was organized by the Mouvement A. R. T, Rassemblement Diomède and Québec Solidaire’s Front culturel. The three organizations are working together to pressure the Culture and Communications Minister Nathalie Roy to change the province’s act regarding the status of artists. They hope this revision will provide more stability in artists’ working conditions. Artists are not provided with insurance for injuries, health issues, or lost contracts. Therefore, the groups are advocating for safer working situations. They’re also asking for the value of art to be acknowledged  through an increase in salaries.

Artists were affected considerably by the pandemic due to the cancellation of working opportunities, but now that theatres are reopening, their revenues and contracts remain unstable. For Ariane DesLions, an artist who creates clown performances for young audiences and is a spokesperson for Mouvement A.R.T, the lack of a social safety net weakens the whole artistic field. “The work contracts are not protected, they are thrown in the garbage for reasons such as bad temperature, the pandemic, strikes. […] That is why we ask for more recognition of the social and economic value of all Québec artists,” she said.

As pointed out by DesLions, the government has only two parliamentary sessions left before the next elections. Therefore, she sees the revision of Quebec’s act regarding the status of artists as a pressing issue that should be addressed as soon as possible.

Statistics Canada published a report about the effect of the pandemic on the revenue of the artistic industry in 2020. Not-for-profit performing arts companies lost 61 per cent in operating revenue and 22 per cent in salaries, while for-profit performing arts companies lost  64 per cent in operating revenues and 57 per cent in salaries. The report also states that most businesses of the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors produced less than half of their revenue in 2020 compared to before the pandemic.

For DesLions, these numbers will affect the future of the art world since fewer people will want to become artists and live in this precarious state. “In 10 years, we will understand the gravity of what is happening right now. Who will want to be an artist tomorrow? You have to be convinced and carefree to start an arts career because the reality of artists is a rough road,” she said.

In February, Roy organized consultations aimed at  improving the existing legislation. Mouvement A.R.T submitted a statement during these consultations to explain their point of view on the question. Titled Être un artiste, tout un contrat!, the document summarizes the challenges faced by artists and provides recommendations to improve their working conditions. One of their suggestions is to create financial insurance to protect artists when they lose contracts. Mouvement A.R.T’s proposal has so far been ignored by the ministry.

Rassemblement Diomède has been organizing events around this issue since last summer. Since then, they have protested multiple times to advocate for the reopening of artistic venues. Their group is composed of artists from different disciplines and uses street performances  to reach the public. Last Friday, they presented a theatre text accompanied by improvised dancing.

Laura Borello-Bellemare has been participating in Rassemblement Dimoède’s protests since their first one. “It was a way to show that we were still there, that we wanted to perform, that we were essential even though we were considered non-essential,” she said. Borello-Bellemare believes that the march on Oct. 22 was necessary since, “even though theatres are open again… there are still a lot of issues to advocate for.”

Rassemblement Diomède founder and theatre artist Hugo Fréjabise also expressed his concerns. He explained that for his organization, the value given to artists by society has to be revisited. “I think there is a double paradox for artists, we put them forward as the emblems of a country, a society, and at the same time, we leave them in precariousness,” he said.

Early in October, Roy promised that Quebec’s act regarding the status of artists would be revised. At the time, the minister could not provide a clear timeline for when any changes may be made to the act.


Photo courtesy of Oona Barrett


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