Local businesses light up to support live event industry

The summer months are incredibly busy ones on Vancouver Island, where the live event industry is concerned. But with nearly every festival, concert, and conference scuttled this season due to COVID-19, the industry is hemorrhaging untold thousands of dollars and hundreds of staff with every passing month.

With the real possibility of a total collapse on the horizon, Doug Lyngard of Victoria’s DL Sound is hoping to bring more eyes to the issue. Lyngard is the lead co-ordinator for the Vancouver Island instalment of Light Up Live, which will see participating Vancouver Island venues awash in red light tonight as part of a Canada-wide initiative celebrating the live-event industry. The hope is that the demonstration of solidarity between local venues — set to take place shortly after sunset — will kickstart discussions surrounding the current provincial health regulations, which cap most live events at 50 people.

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“Our industry, like many others, has been devastated by the pandemic,” said Scott Gurney of 17Black Events, a local live event production company. “However, we have not been given the chance to create a back-to-work plan where we can operate events larger than 50 people safely and efficiently. We are all in limbo waiting for Phase 4, which is a very long way away.”

The Vancouver Island event is part of the global #WeMakeEvents coalition, which has held similar showcases of support in the U.S. and the U.K. The string of light-up events across Canada tonight is designed to educate the public about the issue, which is in need of rectifying if the arts and culture communities in Canada ever hope to recover, Lyngard said. A social media component (under the hastag #LightUpLive) is also expected to keep the conversation afloat in the days that follow, he added.

Lyngard and his local Light Up Live partners, Anton Skinner and Holly Vivian, have secured commitments tonight from the Royal B.C. Museum, Belfry Theatre, Royal Theatre, McPherson Playhouse, and the Strathcona Hotel, among more than two dozen others. The Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River and Duncan’s Cowichan Performing Arts Centre will also turn their lights red for the occasion, Lyngard said.

He didn’t have to ask twice, in most cases. The pandemic has spared few, and the desire for change has unified the industry, he said. “We’ve never had anything like this happen to us. Prior to this, we were a growing industry. But compare it to the airline industry. When there’s a massive financial downturn, lobby groups hit hard to get financing in order to keep the airlines afloat. The live event industry has never had to do that before. If there was a downturn, there was still shows and you could still survive. We’ve never been this decimated.”

During his 36-year career, Lyngard’s production company has provided sound and lighting to some of the biggest festivals on Vancouver Island, including the Phillips Backyard Weekender, Laketown Shakedown, and Sunfest. Like others of his ilk, Lyngard’s business was levelled completely following the shutdown in March. He’s currently running at five per cent in terms of revenue compared to last year at this time. “I would have been working pretty much every day” through festival season, he said. “In March, April, and May, I probably had 30-plus shows booked before festival season was to kick in.”

It has been reported that more than one million Canadians who make their living in the live events industry will lose their jobs if the government does not provides immediate financial support. His industry is not alone in their plight, but Lyngard said few realize the greater economic impact of a single concert, let alone a festival. “Even with a small event, 12 businesses are getting a piece of the pie.”

B.C.’s Economic Recovery Plan, which was announced Thursday, offered help but did not present a solution. A long-term vision for the industry was not evident in the $1.5-billion pandemic economic recovery plan, with just $21 million set aside for the arts-and-culture sector. That will need to change if there is hope to have live events at any point in 2021. So, too, will the ways in which the provincial health authority allows event producers to operate, Gurney said.

“There is no question that experienced and responsible event industry professionals can create, manage and execute safe live events for more than 50 people. This is is not just about business and getting back to work, this is about the long-term health of our communities and the long-term viability of the arts and culture sector in our province and country. It is crucial that our industry gets back to work to support our artists, to support our venues, to support the suppliers and workers that make live events happen, and to provide a sense of place for all of us to enjoy the arts, in all of their forms.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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