Kathryn Fudge is up to her waist in boxes as she begins packing up the remnants of a once-bustling arts centre. The only things left in Coast Collective Art Centre in Colwood are disassembled shelves, a slew of mannequin torsos and every box size you can imagine.
The storefront on Wale Road is closed indefinitely due to the pandemic.
“We had just hired a new staff member when the lockdown came into effect,” said Fudge, the current president of the Society for Arts on the South Island (SASI). “It was such a difficult decision. It’s not just a business, it’s a community. Without any revenue, it’s been difficult to justify us going forward. We’ve had to write a lot of cheques.”
Fudge said their schedule for the arts centre was booked through the end of 2020 with galleries, day rentals and workshops. They even had an Australian artist set to fly in for a gallery show in July.
Due to their workshops bringing in a majority of the income for the collective, Fudge realized they wouldn’t be able to pay their staff of two part-timers and a new recruit for too long. With the collective not wanting to run into debt, they avoided applying for federal government COVID-19 benefits because every avenue only offered interest-free loans, which they couldn’t afford to repay in the long run.
Throw in the cost of monthly rent and the numbers didn’t add up. That’s when they sent out an email to their collective of nearly 80 artists to ask advice on the next steps.
“It was an overwhelming vote to keep the collective together,” said Fudge.
“We have a strong desire to start again, but it’s all in a matter of time. This space is so important for the community to experience local art. If you took away this place of expression and artistic learning, we’d be living in a dull place.”
Going forward, the collective will keep their online presence active and keep their ear to the ground for potential places to re-open when it’s more economically sensible.
“It’s tough because things were looking really good for us before everything shut down,” said Fudge. “We knew we had to close when we did or we’d go completely broke.”