Airdrie’s performing arts organizations are now grappling with new restrictions imposed by the Alberta government to address increasing cases of COVID-19.
According to Tara Pickford, owner of Ambition Performing Arts (APA), the restrictions are the latest blow in an already tough year. Pickford said closures earlier in 2020 decimated the dance industry.
“We are losing studios left and right,” she said. “If this closure is not the right type of closure, we just ask that they do the right thing faster so that we can be back on to the road to recovery.”
On Nov. 12, the Alberta government announced a two-week pause for a variety of activities including performing arts in hopes of reducing the spread of the virus. The two-week shutdown is set to end Nov. 27, so long as the spread of COVID-19 doesn’t worsen.
Kendra Phillips, director of Star Bound Dance Company, said the temporary shutdown is concerning, adding continued closures have made it hard to operate.
“I just won the Airdrie Chamber of Commerce’s Legacy Business Award,” she said. “What if my legacy is, I can’t make it through this? That is so sad after 21 years of service in the city of Airdrie.”
Pickford is a founding member of Dance Safe Alberta. The committee launched Nov. 13 and already has 70 members, along with 350 Facebook group members that include studio owners, instructors and vendors who serve the performing arts community.
“Our whole mandate is to be at the table with the government and find out what we can be doing and how we can be a part of the reopening conversation,” Pickford said. “If we are not the lever that you need to pull, please pull the right ones, because we are suffering already.”
In the meantime, APA and other local performing arts groups have shifted their classes online. Pickford said her studio was prepared for that eventuality.
“We did know this was a possibility and we invested in the technology in May to ensure we would have smooth switches to online in the future,” she said.
Pickford said her staff is currently teaching from the APA studio via online Zoom classes. She said the transition has been smooth, although the preference is to teach the classes in person.
“We have definitely had to change our teaching methods to engage students online,” Pickford said. “We still have to be mindful of all of the different learning styles of students. For people who need the hands-on learning, we definitely have to get creative in keeping their engagement.”
Although the announcement meant APA had to change how it was operating, Pickford said the priority is the safety of staff and students.
“Ultimately, as leaders in the community, it’s our job to bend the curve,” Pickford said. “We have been planning our season with the eventuality that almost anything can happen.”
Zanni Performing Arts, which offers a variety of performing arts classes for children ages four and older, has also shifted its operation online since the government’s announcement.
“We have had to stop classes for two weeks,” said founder Giovanni Macagnino. “Our primary concern is the safety of our children.”
The restrictions have forced Zanni Performing Arts to adapt. Macagnino said his teachers have been working on activities students can do at home while the program is shut down.
“It does mean a lot of money, as we have refunded parents, and it means extra work for the teachers, but they are happy to do it,” he said. “They see the benefit for the children and they want to keep them motivated.”
Macagnino said he and his team are looking ahead proactively, but they are also ready to react in the event changes continue to occur.
“I hope we are back on Nov. 28, but if not, we will see what the announcement is,” he said.
He added if restrictions are extended, he is looking at adding online classes to ensure his team can still interact with children in the program.