Impact of pandemic on Peterborough artists documented by photographer Julie Gagne

Commissioned by Electric City Culture Council, 'ESSENTIAL' photography project profiles 20 local artists and their pandemic experiences

This photograph of poet Elizabeth Jenkins is one of 17 photos of 20 local artists that are part of "ESSENTIAL", a new photography project by Julie Gagne commissioned by Peterborough's Electric City Culture Council to raise awareness of the precarious situation of local artists and arts organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gagne's photographs will be released weekly on EC3's website and kawarthaNOW's website over the coming weeks. (Photo: Julie Gagne)
This photograph of poet Elizabeth Jenkins is one of 17 photos of 20 local artists that are part of "ESSENTIAL", a new photography project by Julie Gagne commissioned by Peterborough's Electric City Culture Council to raise awareness of the precarious situation of local artists and arts organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gagne's photographs will be released weekly on EC3's website and kawarthaNOW's website over the coming weeks. (Photo: Julie Gagne)

A new photography project launched on Monday (August 31) by Peterborough’s Electric City Culture Council (EC3) is raising awareness of the precarious situation of local artists and arts organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part of EC3’s Peterborough Arts Alive initiative, “ESSENTIAL” is a series of photos by local photographer Julie Gagne that depicts 20 local artists during the pandemic.

Each of the 17 photos features an artist (or, in the case of four photos, two artists together) in their home or workplace, captured on rooftops, isolated behind windows, on balconies, or in doorways — all at a safe physical distance — and is accompanied by a statement from the artists about their experience of the pandemic.

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“Julie’s photos made us think,” says EC3 executive director Sue Ditta. “We have all benefited from the work of artists during the pandemic. We’ve listened to music, read books, watched films, toured virtual exhibitions, tuned in to living room concerts.”

Whatever their discipline, artists across Ontario have been inordinately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Performing artists, visual artists, and musicians have all had their options for live public performances and indoor events drastically curtailed. Many artists have lost fees, sales, and gigs, while arts organizations and facilities have lost revenue and face an uncertain future.

“What has it been like for the artists?” Ditta adds. “Will people remember how essential the arts were to getting through the pandemic when it comes to recovery funding and budget planning? Will arts organizations be supported in a robust recovery plan?”

ESSENTIAL was inspired by Julie Gagne’s “Within” series of photo portraits taken during the COVID-19 lockdown, similarly photographed from exteriors, including one of an artist.

Poet Elizabeth Jenkins from the Electric City Culture Council's ESSENTIAL project, with photography by Julie Gagne, curation and coordination by  Sarah McNeilly, and layout and design by Rob Wilkes. (Graphic courtesy of Electric City Culture Council)
Poet Elizabeth Jenkins from the Electric City Culture Council’s ESSENTIAL project, with photography by Julie Gagne, curation and coordination by Sarah McNeilly, and layout and design by Rob Wilkes. (Graphic courtesy of Electric City Culture Council)

When Ditta saw Gagne’s photos, she commissioned the photographer to do a similar series focusing exclusively on local artists.

Peterborough theatre artist Sarah McNeilly curated and coordinated the project, with Rob Wilkes of Big Sky Design in Peterborough responsible for the project’s layout and design.

“We are all pursuing art in the face of unprecedented challenges,” Gagne explains. “As restrictions continue to lift, most of Peterborough is able to return to work.”

“That is not the case for our local artists; they continue to experience limitations and face challenges. This series is a testament to their resilience.”

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The ESSENTIAL project is available to view on the EC3 web site at ecthree.org/program/essential-project/, and kawarthaNOW will also be releasing Gagne’s photos on its website every week over the next two months.

ESSENTIAL is the latest project in EC3’s Peterborough Arts Alive suite of COVID-19 response and recovery programs and services.

Other programs include the Peterborough Arts Alive Fund (a fundraising effort for strategic recovery grants for local arts organizations), Culturecast Reprise (a playlist of interviews with local artists pulled from EC3’s Trent Radio show and podcast The Electric City Culturecast), and Conversations on Art During a Pandemic (Peterborough Arts Alive on the Slack group-chat service, providing an online discussion space for and by artists).

Cellist Joy Simmonds and singer Colin McAdam from the Electric City Culture Council's ESSENTIAL project, with photography by Julie Gagne, curation and coordination by  Sarah McNeilly, and layout and design by Rob Wilkes. (Graphic courtesy of Electric City Culture Council)
Cellist Joy Simmonds and singer Colin McAdam from the Electric City Culture Council’s ESSENTIAL project, with photography by Julie Gagne, curation and coordination by Sarah McNeilly, and layout and design by Rob Wilkes. (Graphic courtesy of Electric City Culture Council)

There’s also Digital Uplift (which provided consultations on digital skills development for almost 20 local artists and arts, culture, and heritage organizations), and a series of micro subsistence grants for local professional artists.

EC3 is a not-for-profit, arts, culture, and heritage organization providing advocacy, programs and services that support the sector in Peterborough and the surrounding region.

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