Early in the pandemic one of my staff members asked to be fired. CERB had just been announced and their idea was I could lay them off, they’d apply for CERB, and then “volunteer” at Inside Out and keep doing their job as before.
And they’d talked to a couple other staff members who were all willing to do the same.
This offer really cracked me open, in the way a show of kindness can cut through all the emotional and mental defences we put up during a crisis.
It was so generous, showed such commitment, and there was no way I could accept.
I couldn’t even consider it, not just because it was probably very illegal. I had committed that we would all stay on, everyone working together to figure out how we can still be there for our community. By everyone I mean the staff of Inside Out Theatre, a Deaf, Disabled, and Mad Theatre company. At the time we had 10 full and part-time staff members, who I told over and over that they can count on keeping their jobs.
Two years later I can tell you we’re all still here, no one was laid off and in fact we’ve added a couple of staff positions.
And I can say that’s only the case because of the support and investment from CADA and our other funders.
We had just previously received an increase in our Operating Grant from CADA, an increase that helped us cover our payroll obligations for those first few months when all of our earned revenue evaporated. CADA’s subsequent Covid response programs (your Resiliency/Recovery/Re-etc grants) allowed us to redirect staff positions to meaningful and Covid-safe work.
In that first year of the pandemic, when everything felt so precarious, our public funders showed up with consistency, flexibility, and conviction.
That conversation with my staff member I started with was prompted by the introduction of CERB - the federal program providing $500/week for folks who lost their jobs due to Covid. CERB spurred on a lot of conversation, particularly around the concept of Guaranteed Basic Income. I don’t have room to dig into a deeper conversation about Basic Income here (but if anyone reading wants to get into it please drop me a line!)
I mention it because I’ve come to think about Operating Grants, like the one Inside Out receives from CADA, as a form of Basic Income for organizations. Studies consistently show that Basic Income programs lead to greater security, resilience, and economic mobility - the same positive effects arts organizations enjoy with healthy operating grants.
I’m holding out a pragmatic hope that Canada will see some form of a Guaranteed Basic Income one day. In the meantime, let’s imagine what a Basic Income for artists would mean, what kind of freedom and stability that would inject into their lives.
Let’s talk about what an Individual Artist Operating Grant would look like.