News > Untold Stories: COVID-19 and Artist Agents

Untold Stories: COVID-19 and Artist Agents

Silhouette of a woman's face
Photo credit: Engin Akyurt

“I don’t want to sugarcoat the truth; my business is very challenged at the moment.”

This is what Tara Bailey, an agent dedicated to youth and family programming and owner of the Bailiwick Booking Agency, said in response to my question regarding her agency’s current situation during the pandemic.

Artist Agencies were some of the hardest-hit sub-sectors of the performing arts ecosystem from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cancellations of concerts, performances and artist contracts, combined with the travel restrictions, have made an already difficult situation impossible for professionals in the commercial sector of the arts. 

“I love my job, and I’m not willing to give it up.”

“It’s been a tough nine months,” and yet, Ms. Bailey is not willing to give up. Even though she is an experienced agent who has been in the industry for over ten years, her young agency is in a challenging situation because it falls between the cracks for operational funding from Canada Council. 

“I believe in this company, and I believe in the arts. I have invested a lot in it and made a lot of sacrifices.  Currently, I’m just trying to think positive, which is a daily struggle.”

Ms. Bailey stops speaking as she gets interrupted by a loud noise from her phone: an emergency alert sent from Ontario’s government announced that a stay-at-home order is in effect. 

Operational funding for younger agencies

“Some agencies had to close down; a lot of arts professionals have moved on to different careers for the sake of having struggled for so long,” said Ms. Bailey. To her, the government needs to develop a funding program to help companies like hers, which fall between the black and white of the red tape.  They’re founded by people who have institutional knowledge and have been in the industry for so long, but their companies are too young to receive help. While funding programs were relevant for the pre-COVID era, Ms. Bailey thinks that they need to be adapted to today’s reality. This is why she is acting to underline what is going on.

 “We [agents] have been striving to unite our voice when we talk to the funding bodies, Canadian Heritage or Canada Council etc. So we’re aiming to create our own organization here in Canada so that we can have that voice that’s heard from all different disciplines of representation.”

Then and now

A large room full of people listening to a lecture
A professional development session at the Association of Performing Arts Professionals conference last year in New York. Photo credit: Adam Kissick.

In regular times, Tara Bailey would be in New York right now attending the Association of Performing Arts Professionals conference, which is the world’s premier gathering of the performing arts presenting, booking and touring industry. She would also have at least 50% of her season booked. This year, however, she is spending most of her time on the phone. 

“I anticipate being on the phone as much as possible over the next few months to reschedule all of the dates that fell off in earlier 2020 into the fall of 2021, into the spring of 2022. My days are pretty full right now. And that’s how I anticipate my next few months planning 21/22. Now the vaccine is getting rolled out; we need to pull up our socks and get back to work and stay positive.”

Beyond the pandemic

“I’d like to think we will all be a little more appreciative of and patient with each other.”, said Ms. Bailey in response to what changes she thinks will happen in the performing arts sector post-pandemic. As for her agency, she feels that the pandemic has brought unprecedented intimacy between her and the artists she represents. This is something she would love to keep beyond COVID. “Being a small agency, I want to give my artists the best service possible by focusing on each one and trying to provide them with the tools they need to navigate their careers.”

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