artpreneur poster
The conference runs across several days at the end of November. Image: Artpreneur/Courtesy.
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The multi-day conference will feature talks, panels, and workshops for artists ranging from emerging to emerged

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has destabilized the arts sector. Artists of all disciplines have had to reckon with a daunting new reality of shrunk incomes, cancelled gigs, and online-only audiences. It’s been a steep learning curve, especially for the emerging artists who had just started their careers before the pandemic. 

Enter Artpreneur 2020, a multi-day online conference presented by Arts Network Ottawa. 

Artpreneur isn’t new, it’s just moved to a new digital space. Stretched across several days instead of just one “to mitigate Zoom fatigue,” the conference runs from Nov. 21-25. 

A networking hub for a range of artists to reflect on the ever-shifting cultural landscape, Artpreneur is centred around pervasive questions in the arts sector: how did we get here? How is this moment in time a quilting point for inequities in our respective disciplines? How do we meaningfully move forward in the arts sector?

“It’s less of a workshop, and more academic in nature,” said program manager, Alex Maltby.

One of the highly anticipated events of the conference is a panel entitled “Counting the Cost of COVID-19: Understanding the Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Ottawa-Gatineau Artists & Cultural Workers.” This panel will feature speakers from the City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Arts Council, and explore precisely how the pandemic has made its mark on Ottawa’s cultural output. 

It’s not likely to be all bad news, though: “we’re also learning how collectives are adapting and surviving,” said Maltby. This panel will centre around discussion of “creating that best-case scenario of the Ottawa arts community,” as well as financial projection data and its implications for the arts sector.

Another Artpreneur event to look out for, particularly for students: “Portfolio careers: How artists build and sustain their practice, and what a pandemic means for these multifaceted professionals.” Facilitated by Jenna Richards and featuring a panel of Jacqui Du Toit, Sarah Hopkin, and Claudia Gutierrez, this event will touch on hot topics for emerging artists: how do students transfer to professional life, and how is that different during a pandemic? How do we establish meaningful mentorships in portfolio-based careers? What even is an “emerging artist,” and what are we once we’ve “emerged”?

These questions and ideas coincide with the “weird capitalist undertones” of a present-day career in the arts, said Richards. “There’s a slow burn effect, in which it takes 5 to 10 years to establish yourself in a portfolio career, and then you’re also unpacking the identities that have been projected onto you — you’re figuring out who you are versus what you’ve been told you are.”

The panel will also touch on the applicability of post-secondary education in the arts sector, particularly the problematic tendency to favour a traditional art degree’s “relevancy” over self-education. This notion of self-education is particularly urgent in the time of COVID-19, which has given artists in Ottawa unexpected time to pick up new skills and refine existing ones.

Artpreneur 2020 looks to be a thought-provoking event for artists at all stages in their career. The digital conference will offer the rare chance for the arts community to come together and decide what the community “could and should look like moving forward,” said Maltby.

“There’s still work to do — work to do compounded by the pandemic. But you’re not alone: we’ll be doing that work as a community.”

For more information on Artpreneur 2020, you can visit Arts Network Ottawa’s website here.