AWG Performers get more than Northern exposure

by Samantha McKay- January 12, 2018

Performers at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games (AWG) will now be compensated for their work.

Opening ceremony performers won’t be the only artists being compensated for their talents at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games after Northern artists voiced their concerns about the AWG’s call for unpaid performers. NNSL file photo

A call for performers on the AWG website stated they were looking for singers, musicians, instrumental performers, and storytellers to perform for 30-40 minutes, but they would not be paid for their services in money, only “exposure.” The post also said performer’s accommodations and travel costs would not be reimbursed by the AWG.

Todd Shafer, general manager of the AWG, said the initial call for performers has been withdrawn due to backlash from the community. He said the AWG will be paying performers and an updated call for artists offering compensation will be put up on their website in coming weeks.

Shafer said he does not know how much the performers will be compensated until they consult with the NWT Arts Council.

“All of the artists that are selected to perform will be compensated,” Shafer said. “We will reach out to the NWT Arts Council to figure out what fair compensation would look like within our budget.”

Northern artists and Music NWT, a Yellowknife-based not-for-profit that supports the music industry in the Northwest Territories, took to Facebook to voice their concerns about the AWG’s call for unpaid performers.

“There is a saying in the music industry – ‘Artists die of exposure’ . . . Musicians and artists are faced with countless opportunities to “expose” themselves with no financial compensation, nor the acknowledgment that musicians are offering something worthy of financial compensation,” the Music NWT Facebook post reads in part. “In the Northwest Territories, a disproportionate amount of public and private funding is allocated to sports over the arts. While this is not a new phenomenon, it is not one that deserves reinforcement. The Arctic Winter Games has an opportunity to set an example for the North.”

Karen Novak, vice-president of Music NWT, said it is “fantastic” that the AWG is planning to pay its performers.

“This is all we’ve ever asked for,” Novak said.

Compensation is always negotiable depending on the level of experience and type of performer they are, Novak said, but what is important is performers now have the ability to go to the table and negotiate their payment with the AWG.

Shafer said the AWG apologizes for the initial call for unpaid performers.

“The intention was not to be disrespectful,” Shafer said. “We appreciate the feedback we received and it has impacted policy-level decisions.”

Novak said she hopes this will be a learning opportunity for other events and organizations to include performer’s compensation in their initial plans, instead of adding it in later.

“We don’t want this to happen again,” Novak said. “I’ve fought this my whole career. I feel very strongly about fair pay for artists. This is a great opportunity to educate people and remind people to think about this in the planning process.”

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