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Arts organizations helped raise $10 million for artists and writers impacted by COVID-19.

Aaron Robertson

April 8, 2020, 10:00am

Though it may be too early to tell how the coronavirus will affect arts-related philanthropy in the US after the crisis, for at least seven major arts organizations this moment has created an opportunity to rally in support of artists and writers across the country.

Today, a coalition of grantmakers announced the Artist Relief initiative, which will provide immediate, no-strings-attached relief grants of $5,000 to artists facing financial emergencies as a result of the pandemic. Grant applications open today.

The organizations include the Academy of American Poets, Artadia, Creative Capital, Foundation for Contemporary Arts (an organization that I interned for some years ago), MAP Fund, National YoungArts Foundation, and United States Artists.

In addition to providing grants, Artist Relief will offer informational resources and launch the COVID-19 Impact Survey for Artists and Creative Workers to help identify artist needs in the coming months.

Organizers of the initiative have called it an unprecedented collaboration of arts foundations and grantmakers: after pulling together an initial $5 million in contributions from donors in under two weeks, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation matched this amount, bringing the total to $10 million. This number is expected to rise as the coalition broadens its fundraising efforts.

A 2019 study published by the National Endowment for the Arts showed that there are approximately 2.5 million working artists in the US. Artists working in any genre who are at least 21 years old and live in any of the fifty states, US territories, or Tribal Nations can apply for a grant.

For Jennifer Benka, Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets, Artist Relief came as a welcome development during an especially difficult time for writers.

“I think in the literary community there’s been a lot of activity that’s been extremely positive towards mutual aid, towards survival, toward resilience,” Benka said. “As we are isolated, so many people have been turning to reading. There are folks who are reading the same book. There are folks who are attending virtual book launches.”

Though the speed and scale of these efforts impressed Benka, she said the years of collective experience the organizers brought to the table made a behemoth project much more manageable. Friendships forming between the organizers are added benefits that Benka believes can only help arts philanthropy post-pandemic.

“I can say that some fast lessons learned over the past two, three weeks are that when push comes to shove, the arts and culture community will come together. And I know that I’m bonded with these other leaders. That will change the way that we work together moving forward. Visual arts organizations aren’t usually in touch with poetry organizations. Well we will be going forward.”

Tax-deductible donations can be made at artistrelief.org and 100 percent of donations will be applied directly to aid.

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