The Rio Theatre’s operators don’t believe it’s at risk of losing a city-funded arts grant because it pivoted to temporarily open as a sports bar during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the Rio’s Rachel Fox told Daily Hive that the perspective misses the larger point — that the City of Vancouver, the Rio, and many Vancouverites want to see the independent theatre continue to exist after the pandemic.
“We’re not doing this as a stunt,” she said. “We’re doing this to ensure some kind of longevity.”
Current public health orders prohibit cinemas and other arts venues from operating, grouping them in the same category as events. However, bars and restaurants can still welcome patrons provided they follow certain precautions.
Earlier this month, the Rio began showing sports games and welcoming spectators in a move that drew attention to a bureaucratic distinction that deemed bars safer than movie theatres.
“We hope people understand the performance art aspect of this whole thing,” Fox said, joking that “we should have hoops at the front door and everybody should jump through them to come in.”
She added the Rio does not want to be a sports bar. It wants to be a cinema. But it’s doing what it can to scrape together some revenue during a year when the pandemic has decimated local businesses.
“We are fighting for the survival of the arts. That’s why we’re doing this,” she said.
She doesn’t believe the City will come after them for trying to find a solution during a government-mandated shutdown.
City of Vancouver spokesperson, Ellie Lambert, told Daily Hive via email that staff are still reviewing the Rio’s situation.
“We recognize the significant impact COVID has had on the arts and culture sector, including private operators like the Rio,” she said.
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The Rio is lucky that it has a liquor license, which enabled it to make this pivot, Fox said. Other arts organizations in the city aren’t as fortunate.
Rio Theatre CEO, Corinne Lea, likens the cinema to a “frontline soldier,” hoping it garners attention for the discrepancies between how the arts sector and the hospitality sector are treated during the pandemic.
“Everyone in the arts feels that sports, as well as restaurants and bars, are getting favouritism,” Fox said. “We get told that Bonnie Henry meets with the restaurant association on the regular. But our industry? Nobody in the theatre industry has been consulted.”
The province’s current set of public health restrictions are set to expire on February 5. It’s not yet known if they’ll be extended.