Artists are some of the most active participants of the gig economy: many of them hold multiple part-time jobs, lacking the benefits of full-time employment and relying on unpredictable income from artwork sales or last-minute bookings. As fairs, festivals, concerts, and campuses shut down across the country in an effort to contain the coronavirus’s spread, artists are also among the hardest hit financially. To help meet their growing needs in the face of COVID-19, celebrated author and Seattle native Ijeoma Oluo has launched a relief fund to help her city’s art community.
Since going live on Monday, Seattle Artists Relief has raised more than $40,000 of its stated $100,000 goal. With the help of her partner Gabriel Teodros, a musician, and her assistant, Ebony, Oluo is reviewing the more than 70 applications received as of last night, with requests for amounts ranging from $50 to $7,000. This morning, they disbursed the first batch of funds to 17 artists, totaling $9,000.
When all of her public speaking engagements in the next month and a half were cancelled, Oluo said she couldn’t help but think of the artists in similar circumstances who might not have the financial cushion she has.
“I’m lucky enough to have savings. But most artists in Seattle don’t have that safety net,” said Oluo in an interview with Hyperallergic.
In Seattle, the largest city in Washington state and an epicenter of the outbreak in the US, the art industry has all but come to a halt. With more than 270 cases in the state so far, institutions like the Frye and the Seattle Art Museum have suspended public programs for the month of March. Emerald City Comic Con, the annual fan convention’s Seattle edition initially scheduled to open this week, moved the festival to the summer; the Seattle Young Artist Music Festival on the University of Washington campus has been canceled.
But Oluo believes the impact of the virus on the creative community extends far beyond these events. Her campaign is meant to address not only the direct hits, such as canceled art fairs, but the larger ripple effects of a public health crisis.
“Weddings have been canceled. Some people were hoping to pay the rent with that wedding, and have been left in the lurch,” said Oluo. “Many artists work service jobs to pay the bills, and those are also industries that are being hurt. Others are teaching artists, and that’s all gone, there are really no elective classes happening in the Seattle area.”
For those who can’t afford to donate to the fundraiser, Oluo says there are myriad other ways to help.
“Share this and encourage other people in other communities to start their own fundraisers, or just talk about the importance of direct funding right now. A lot of money is being given to large organizations that do great work and I’m very happy about that, but the time it takes that money to get into the hands of individuals, especially gig workers who expect to be paid the day they do an event and pay their bills that way, is going to be far too long for most of them.” (Money from her relief fund is usually disbursed via PayPal or Venmo to artists within one to two business days.)
“And ask people how else you can support them. If a friend is a musician whose gig has been cancelled but they have an album, can you share that album? Even if you can’t give money, give your patronage and your time,” adds Oluo.
Priority will be given to Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) artists, transgender and nonbinary artists, and disabled artists, but Oluo says they aim to help as many Seattle-based artists as possible.
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