Closed and ignored: Local arts community says health officials haven't returned emails
VANCOUVER -- When the owner of Vancouver's Rio Theatre tuned in to watch a briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Health Minister Dix earlier this week, the words that floated off the screen left her feeling defeated.
"I was shocked to see her admit that she meets regularly with the restaurant association when myself and other theatres throughout the province can't even get a response to our emails," Corinne Lea told CTV News. "We're just asking to be heard."
On Monday, Henry was asked about how officials will ensure there will be better communication with the restaurant industry after businesses were left scrambling by the early nightcap rule for New Year's Eve.
"I've committed, as well, to having a discussion with them about coming events over the next coming month, to again look to them about ideas to make things safer for people and to make sure that we're doing everything we can to just support the industry," Henry said.
Lea said she's frustrated that the arts community has been largely ignored.
She has launched a petition asking provincial officials to treat cinemas the same as restaurants and bars.
"We feel like we have been miscategorized. They keeping lumping us in with these one-time events and social gatherings – and that's not what we are," she said. "People do not attend the movies in groups, they attend in one, two, three-people groups, just like restaurants."
Theatres were allowed to re-open in early July but were forced to shut down again in November when restrictions began to tighten.
Since then, the shutdown has continued to get extended.
"We feel like there's no end in sight," Lea said. "The arts have been hit so hard and it needs to stop."
There is now a glimmer of hope.
The artistic director of the Firehall Arts Centre has asked for a meeting with Dr. Henry's office since November and on Tuesday, she learned that request will go to the top doctor.
Donna Spencer said she understands the ministry was dealing with the vaccination rollout and ensuring people stayed safe during the holidays, and doesn't blame it for the delay.
But she is frustrated that theatres were ordered to close without any consultation.
"Questioning what we were doing without ever seeing what we were doing, is not a fair way to go forward," she said.
She is spearheading the idea of forming a task force of B.C. arts leaders, but she said that may not be necessary if they are still able to get a seat at the table and join the discussions.
She said it is important to ensure their industry is safe, while also helping health officials gain a better understanding of what they do.
"It's not like we're just getting together and putting on a play in somebody's barn. We're ongoing businesses that happen to be not-for-profit arts groups," Spencer said.
The Firehall Arts Centre was supposed to debut a performance called Chapter 21 on Wednesday, but the premiere has now been moved to March.
Spencer hopes theatres will be allowed to reopen by then.
In an emailed statement B.C.'s health ministry said public health orders aren't implemented lightly.
"We recognize the limitations put on many industries, including the arts, theatres and live performances, present further challenges to industries already greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic," the statement said.
"Right now, we need to continue to keep the risk of transmission in our communities down. We need to focus on the essentials, like keeping our health care system from getting overwhelmed, keeping children in schools and stopping this virus from spreading through the province."
The ministry also said it will continue to listen to community feedback and adjust its COVID-19 response as needed.
Lea's petition, which now has more than 6,000 signatures, argues theatres can't open or close on short notice due to film licensing and financial reasons.
She believes the extended closure may put the Rio at risk for permanent closure.