For three decades, Karen Novak has paid her bills by singing in bars. Now, the NWT’s new pandemic recovery plan specifically bans singing in bars.
Novak, who fronts stalwart NWT band Welders Daughter, says that has caused “total devastation” to her livelihood and she is now selling what she can to raise money.
Speaking to Cabin Radio, Novak said she is worried for her future when federal emergency benefits dry up.
“I’ve got a special needs child to raise. I’m selling everything I own just to cover my bills,” she said. “You want to buy a nice purple Jeep?”
Novak wants some form of continuing allowance for arts professionals left unable to do their jobs by the territory’s pandemic-related restrictions.
“I don’t think they’re actually addressing the arts community at all. I don’t think they’re addressing the entire entertainment community at all,” she said.
“I’m not the only one in this situation. This has been my only source of income for decades – and it’s gone.
“All of a sudden, one night, two hours’ notice, I’m done. That’s it.”
‘A long ways away’
Novak and her husband earn money primarily through Welders Daughter’s live performances. The band plays across the NWT but is best known for its residency at the Gold Range bar in downtown Yellowknife.
Bars like the Gold Range won’t be allowed to open until phase three of the territory’s pandemic recovery, which is defined as the period after an expected second wave of Covid-19 has been and gone in southern Canada.
At the moment, that is forecast to be this fall at the absolute earliest.
Even when the Gold Range opens, an appendix to the territory’s plan makes clear that singing will remain banned.
The appendix lists measures bars must take in order to be granted permission to open in phase three. Those measures include “electronic pre-ordering, touch-free payment, no communal self-serve food, no waiting area, no singing.”
“We’re patiently waiting – ‘OK, when is it going to lift up again, maybe it’ll lighten up by September’ – and then we get these notices like ‘no singing in phase three,'” said Novak.
“That’s still phase three, no singing. That’s a long ways away, yet, for me. What do I do?
“Our life has been completely pulled from us. My husband and I are both in the band, our complete household income is gone. It’s gone.”
Last week, the territorial government created a fund worth a total of $250,000 to help “professional artists recovering from the impacts of Covid-19.”
Individuals who have lost revenue to the pandemic can get up to $3,000 for projects related to visual arts, music, books, plays, dance, movies and TV, photography, or other marketing and training activities.
Businesses and not-for-profits in the same fields can access up to $5,000 for projects that use art and culture to act “as a means of uniting and responding to crises.”
Katrina Nokleby, the industry minister, said in a news release that the grants would help individuals “contribute to and benefit from the restoration of economic activities.”
Nokleby said: “Our economic recovery will need to begin within our territory’s borders and it will depend greatly on what we can do together and for each other.”
Novak acknowledges the grants have inspired conversations with different organizations, but she says the process of applying for projects like these usually means the money ultimately ends up in someone else’s bank account.
“OK, here’s $3,000, do a project. Basically the money goes through my hands and to somebody else,” she said. “It doesn’t stay where I need it. It’s not helping me to pay my bills or feed my children.”
While she will explore the availability of grants, Novak really wants to find a solution that simply involves her band being able to play again.
The territory’s chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola, has said she is open to businesses and groups pitching ideas for creative ways to open up that ensure restrictions are observed and people protected. It’s not clear how that would apply to singing and live entertainment.
“First of all it was like, ‘OK, we’ll do something live behind closed doors.’ The next day it was shut down, no more getting together with people. OK, that’s gone. So what else can we do?” said Novak.
“It’s just frustrating because there’s not really too much that we can do. And every time we try to do something, there’s another block that comes into place.
“They’re not giving me any options. This is what I’ve been doing my whole life. What, am I going to get retraining at this point in my life? Give me something I can hang on to, you know?”
Nevertheless, she insists Welders Daughter will emerge on the other side of the pandemic, sooner or later.
“Things will turn around,” she said. “I’m a believer in figuring out: what can I do? Not what can’t I do.
“We’ve always been the little band that can, so we will find a way – one way or the other.
“Yellowknife, have no fear, we will be together one day somehow. Even if it has got to be on a big screen in the middle of Somba K’e Park, I don’t care. We’ll make it happen.”