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Art Funders Join Forces to Distribute $10 Million to Individual Artists

Organizations including the Joan Mitchell Foundation and the Ford Foundation came together to match $5 million in seed funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and will distribute $5,000 unrestricted grants.

A view from one of Artist Relief’s many Zoom conferences over the past few weeks (courtesy of Artist Relief)

One lesson the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has already taught us is about the power of collective action. Examples of mutual aid in the arts community over the last few weeks abound, from museums donating art handling supplies to hospitals to galleries uniting in support of rent freezes. Further illustrating strength in numbers, seven major arts funders have banded together to create the first multi-disciplinary and direct-to-artist relief fund in the US.

Raising a total of $10 million in just over 10 days, the Academy of American Poets, Artadia, Creative Capital, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, MAP Fund, National YoungArts Foundation, and United States Artists will distribute the funds to artists in the form of unrestricted, $5,000 grants.

“Being able to work in partnership with cultural leaders toward the shared goal of helping artists and writers in need has been uplifting,” Jennifer Benka, president and executive director of the Academy of American Poets and Poets.org, told Hyperallergic. “It’s been a powerful and hope-giving reminder of what we can build when we come together.”

An initial $5 million in seed funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation was matched by organizations dedicated to supporting artists across all sectors. Donors to the fund run the gamut from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, known for its grants in the performance arts, to prominent funders of both arts and human rights causes, like the Ford Foundation.

“A crisis of this magnitude doesn’t observe the boundaries of genre,” said Creative Capital president and executive director Suzy Delvalle. Visual artists, performers, filmmakers, writers, musicians — all sorts of artists are facing tremendous challenges right now, so it is vital that we provide support regardless of discipline.”

Artist Relief’s website, artistrelief.org, will also host a survey about the pandemic’s economic impact on the cultural sphere, designed by Americans for the Arts. That data is sorely needed to substantiate requests for aid and grasp the scope of the financial fallout.

With its cross-disciplinary and collaborative nature, the relief fund traverses the sometimes ossified borders erected between the arts. The hope is that it will also serve as a call to action, paving the way for other specialized organizations to come together.

“This is no time for predictions, but there’s no question that this model of setting aside institutional boundaries and philanthropic partiality — which may have their uses under certain circumstances — is the only way we’ll survive,” said Moira Brennan, executive director of the Multi-Arts Production (MAP) Fund.

But Artist Relief, she says, is only a start. The public health crisis has thrown economic disparities in the arts into sharp relief, pointing to a larger lack of sustainability in the industry.

“What’s true for individual artists is also true for arts educators, creative producers, curators, editors, and a long list of others. The infrastructure of the cultural sector rests on the personal devotion of its workers, and that doesn’t pay the rent,” added Brennan.

“Crises always reveal our interdependence. And I think we’d be wise to let that revelation lead all our relief and recovery efforts moving forward.”

Professional artists of any discipline living in the 50 US states, territories, and Tribal Nations are eligible to apply (undocumented artists can apply if they possess an ITIN number). Applicants must be 21 or older, and priority will be given to those experiencing severe financial hardship.

You can apply for a grant or make a tax-deductible donation to the fund at artistrelief.org.

Additional contributors to the fund include the 7G Foundation, Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Arison Arts Foundation, Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation COVID-19 Relief Effort, Jerome Foundation, Joan Mitchell Foundation, Kraus Family Foundation, LeRoy Neiman and Janet Byrne Neiman Foundation, Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation, Richard Salomon Family Foundation, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Sue Hostetler and Beau Wrigley Family Foundation, Teiger Foundation, Wallace Foundation, and Willem de Kooning Foundation.

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