A survey of 561 circus artists and companies across Canada reveals the great precariousness of the circus community, which is experiencing the most serious crisis in its history, according to the national group of circus arts, En Piste. Here is a recap of the survey’s findings…
An article in La Presse reports that “the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on artists and circus companies is major. Not only do 75% of respondents believe that their losses “jeopardize their activities”, but 66% of circus performers are also considering a career transition.” This was the main concern expressed in the survey, to which 477 individuals and 84 circus companies responded.
“This information [of artists who are considering a career change] threw me to the ground,” says En Piste executive director Christine Bouchard. “And then I felt very sad because it indicates how deep the crisis is. How can a circus artist survive when the market collapses? When companies can no longer operate? When a circus artist can no longer present their act, or even train? It is not possible.”
Jean Siag of La Presse discusses the survey’s findings, stating “The total and cumulative loss of income in fees – rehearsals, shows, tours, corporate events, teaching, etc. (until July 31) is estimated at nearly 6.7 million by artists, while the loss of income to circus companies is estimated at more than 19 million, according to the results of this survey carried out in April by En Piste.”
As a result of these disruptions, he says that circus artists are no longer able to plan their professional activities or to train. “Circus infrastructures and equipment are not a luxury,” insists Bouchard. “It is a need, a necessity.”
Of 561 respondents (32%) reported annual incomes below $ 20,000; 40% had an annual income varying between $ 20,000 and $ 40,000; 16% were between $ 40,000 and $ 60,000; and only 12% had incomes over $ 60,000.
But the problems with funding infrastructure in Canada, and let’s face it, elsewhere in the circus world, are not new. An organization like En Piste exists to help bring awareness to the government funding bodies about the need for more recognition and support for this art form. La Presse finds “In a brief submitted to the Ministry of Culture and Communications in February, as part of the pre-budget consultations, En Piste already sounded the alarm about the “underfunding” of the circus community and its ‘vulnerability.'”
Bouchard explained, “You should know that 90% of the circus arts sector’s income comes from the export of shows abroad, so, with the closing of borders and theaters, it has been catastrophic for our environment, which is usually quite autonomous, which receives very few subsidies and which is somewhat a victim of its success. There is a false perception of the wealth of circus artists.”
According to Siag, the survey results bear that out…”one-third of 561 respondents (32%) reported annual incomes below $ 20,000; 40% had an annual income varying between $ 20,000 and $ 40,000; 16% were between $ 40,000 and $ 60,000; and only 12% had incomes over $ 60,000.” These results are particularly disheartening coming from Quebec, the region which houses several large circus companies and institutions, including the triad circus city of Cirque du Soleil headquarters, two professional circus schools and TOHU, a venue that hosts the annual Montreal Completmeent Cirque Festival.
“It’s very paradoxical,” notes Christine Bouchard, “because the circus has experienced phenomenal growth in recent years, Montreal is recognized as a city of circus, its artists are traveling around the world. They are a reference in circus arts, and there, overnight, the whole environment is weakened, because there is a challenge of public funding compared to other performing arts. We have always been an example of self-financing, but we need a safety net like the others.” Siag says Bouchard’s recommendation for recovery is for Canadian circus “to maintain creativity and innovation and better structure itself on its territory– the circus community needs specific government assistance.”
She laid out the strategy for her recommendations, “Beyond the aid programs such as the PCU or the wage subsidy, which are necessary at the moment and which we appreciate, it is necessary to review the public funding of the circus, at 12 million at the moment, for economic spinoffs ‘around 125 million [excluding Cirque du Soleil], to preserve this environment which is so creative.” Let’s hope that the Canadian government hears that call, and that the economy in Canada and beyond rebounds, convincing the 66% of disheartened circus artists of the potential success of their future prospects in circus.
Read the Full Article in French at La Presse