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How the Arts Club and Vancouver Opera are responding to the COVID-19 crisis

Two of Vancouver’s largest arts organizations have pivoted to help the community in powerful ways
Vancouver Opera is joining the COVID-19 response effort by creating non-surgical-grade masks in its costume shop. The masks are being donated to community groups. Photo courtesy Vancouver Opera

Two of Vancouver’s largest arts organizations are joining the fight against COVID-19.

In recent days, both the Arts Club Theatre Company and Vancouver Opera have announced efforts to help out through the pandemic crisis.

Arts Club Theatre Company, which temporarily closed its doors on March 17, has announced that it’s repurposing its spaces at the BMO Theatre Centre to aid in the COVID-19 response efforts.

The rehearsal studio space is being turned over to the Vancouver-based open-source medical technology initiative COSMIC (Collective Open Source Medical Innovations for COVID-19) Medical. COSMIC will be using a studio to build and showcase their novel design solutions, including ventilators and respiratory equipment.

The space is being loaned out free of charge.

“At this time, with the temporary closure of our theatres, we couldn’t think of a better use for our facility than to provide free space to the COSMIC team,” said artistic director Ashlie Corcoran in a press release. “As a Vancouver theatre company dedicated to the development of local storytelling and voices, collaborating with COSMIC to showcase their exciting medical innovations is a perfect way for us to continue to celebrate local talent.”

COSMIC sought out the Arts Club’s studio because of its capacity to support media and videography. The group aims to use the space to demonstrate the use of their products, which include a clinical respiratory support system that’s being developed as a low-cost approach to providing care for COVID-19 patients.

“When a crisis brings together collaboration, creativity and commitment at this speed, it brings out the best in us all,” said Dr. Christopher Nguan, co-founder of COSMIC Medical, in the release. “COSMIC not only has an overarching mission to prepare for COVID-19 and future pandemics, but we are challenging one another and collaborating with groups like the Arts Club to come up with creative solutions to improve health outcomes and, we hope, save lives.”

The venue’s costume shop has also been repurposed during the pandemic.

Staff from the Arts Club’s costume and production departments – some of whom were laid off due to COVID-19 and then rehired as a result of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy – go into the shop one by one to sew masks and scrub caps for a local initiative called Protect our Frontline Vancouver. The group is on a mission to build a supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line workers and health-care professionals.

So far, the Arts Club team has sewn 110 scrub caps and more than 300 masks, and recipients have included Vancouver General Hospital and East Vancouver’s Lakeview Care Home.

“With the ability to hire back most full-time employees through the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy program, it has been inspiring to see our staff come together for the good of our community and provide these services to care facilities in need,” said executive director Peter Cathie White.

A similar effort is underway at Vancouver Opera’s costume shop, which is also now working backstage to build masks for the community.

Tom Wright, Vancouver Opera’s general director, noted in a press release that Vancouver Opera was eager to find a way to help workers in essential and vulnerable positions who were unable to access masks.

“Our goal is to get these into the hands of those who need them as quickly as possible,” he said. “With the cancellation of our season, our employees began to research ways they could help, which include how to build non-surgical-grade masks. We found most of the resources needed were already here in our costume shop.”

The charitable program is being led by Autumn Coppaway, Vancouver Opera’s technical director, and Parvin Mirhady, head of costumes.

They work together to ensure all steps of the project are done with proper social distancing and hygiene. Once materials are dropped off to members of the sewing team, completed masks are picked up and delivered directly to organizations by Coppaway.

“We, as artists, are so diverse and passionate because we expose the greatest and weakest of humanity,” Coppaway said in the release. “In these moments of darkness, art reminds us that we each can be that light. Though our stages are dark, our hearts and spirits are not, and we still have stories to tell. And this is our story and Vancouver Opera’s small contribution.”

Vancouver Opera will be donating non-surgical-grade masks to community organizations including the Kettle Society.

It’s accepting donations to support the effort; they can be made online. Donations of $25 help provide five masks; $100 provides 25 masks.

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