Just over a year ago, a groundbreaking partnership between Show One Productions (founded by Svetlana Dvoretsky) and Starvox Entertainment (founded by Corey Ross) created Lighthouse Immersive to bring you the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit. The world has changed significantly since Svetlana and Corey combined their efforts to create a permanent arts space in downtown Toronto, but Lighthouse Immersive perseveres as one of the only exhibits in Canada working on opening its doors this summer while meeting social distancing standards. As we get closer to the opening of the Drive-In experience, Svetlana takes a movement to reflect on how the partnership came about, and share some candid thoughts on how the performing arts industry can be better positioned for the rest of the lockdown.
How did the partnership between Show One Productions and Starvox Entertainments come about?
SD: We’ve known each other for almost 15 years, and have been in close communication throughout: sharing ideas, updating each other on projects, going to each other’s opening nights, producing some shows together and so on. When I saw this exhibit in Paris, I thought it would be a really good idea to bring something like this to Toronto, especially because we have a lack of museum-type space. I was very excited when I shared the idea with Corey and I’m very glad that he got excited as well. Here we are, it’s been a tough road but we’ve been working really hard on this for almost a year and getting very close to opening our doors.
What are some of the unique challenges that you anticipate this exhibit will face in the coming months?
SD: The fact is that this is not the way we originally envisioned opening this exhibit. It was never meant to be observed from a car, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So we are going to be experimenting, together with our audiences, on how this is going to work. I anticipate that it will be a challenge, and of course with everything else that comes with the social distancing restrictions, it’s something new that we will have to learn how to live with. Hopefully not for a long time.
What are some of the good things that you’ve seen some arts organizations doing during this time? And how is Lighthouse Immersive emulating them?
SD: The whole Performing Arts industry is in a really tough position right now because nobody is able to open their doors. And when it becomes possible to open the doors again, there will be very little options (financially speaking) that will allow an audience of 300 people to watch a performance in a venue that usually seats 3000 people.
Everyone is moving into digital broadcasting and trying it out.
We are slightly in a more fortunate position that we found a way to be operational at this time. While I applaud all of our colleagues in the industry who are moving all of their content into the digital format right now, I’m sure that the moment it’s possible, everybody will go back to the LIVE experiences because that’s where the real energy is.
What do you think are some of the ways the local/Ontario government could better assist production companies in Toronto during this difficult time?
SD: Probably close to 98% of the organizations that work in the arts sector are non-for-profit or charitable organizations. They receive help from the local and provincial governments. However, there are still a number of companies, including ours, that are not under the umbrella of the organizations that receive funding from the government. So we never relied on the government’s support, never really asked for anything. But right now I think we are all in the same vulnerable position as everyone else.
We’ve always had to survive being a commercial enterprise without relying on grants or government assistance. However, we are pivoting away from that right now, trying our best to remind the government that we exist, we provide employment, we pay taxes and so forth. There should be some government support at least for the expenses that we could not have accounted for, like the personal protective equipment we have to provide at our venues that was never in the budget. Whether it’s from the provincial or local or federal government, companies like ours should be getting assistance right now.
What excites you the most about presenting the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibition during this difficult time?
SD: When I saw it for the first time I was very impressed artistically and thought that our city deserved to have something like this. There aren’t a lot of places where people can go that are specifically related to the arts, and is not a restaurant or club or something of the like. The difference between this project and other projects that I’ve done in the past is that regardless of the level of the artists that we’ve presented, the span of the performances has always been between one night and a week. With this project, we are planning for it to be a permanent place for people to come. We are also planning to expand the current exhibition, all of which would have been in place by now, but of course we were interrupted by the current situation. However, I strongly believe that our plans will come to fruition. What actually excites me the most in this particular venture is that we are building a place. This is not just about Van Gogh Immersive, this is a place where people can come and have a fantastic time and be able to return to again and again.
What can we learn about the value of art at a moment of crisis like this?
SD: People turn to art not just for pleasure but for comfort and the current crisis proves that. I really hope that the problem of the government cutting funding for the arts will be revisited once and for all after this pandemic. For me personally, coming from St. Petersburg, Russia where approximately 80% of the arts are funded by the government, for better or worse, it’s something that allows for much more creative processes and new ideas to be born. Which is quite difficult if you have to struggle for every dollar. We have to make sure that the arts are accessible, and for that we do need help.
Looking further into the future, what are some exciting projects/ideas that you’d like to explore post-pandemic?
SD: I’d love to have a big huge party when this is over!
Speaking of parties, our space allows for absolutely unique experiences. Not just exhibits, but also lectures, movie screenings, perhaps TIFF could screen some of their films by projecting them on four walls for a truly unique experience. This is definitely something that we’d like to see in our venue, we’d love to welcome other interesting and cutting-edge arts exhibits as well, because we do have a fantastic space for it. Perhaps we could have an interesting pop-up restaurant space and invite different celebrity chefs on occasion. These are some of the ideas I’d love to explore as soon as we get through this moment in our lives.