The Artist Relief Fund helped artists through Covid
When COVID-19 shut down the economy, artists lost steady streams of income and required financial assistance.
The Artist Relief Fund, a collective of grantmakers including the Hostetler/Wrigley Foundation, distributed $5,000 grants to artists in need.
Artists produce brilliant, inspiring, vibrant work that’s vital to examining, interrogating, and understanding the world. The vast majority of artists, however, do not exist in financially stable positions. (There is, of course, a reason struggling artists are a common trope throughout literary and cinematic history.) The COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down museums, galleries, universities, and the United States economy, exacerbated the issue. According to a survey from Americans for the Arts 63% of artists were fully unemployed and 94% of artists reported a loss of income as a result of the pandemic. In many cases, government assistance came too slowly.
Through the Artist Relief Fund, the Hostetler/Wrigley Foundation was able to help provide financial assistance. “One of our central pillars at the Hostetler/Wrigley Foundation is supporting artists,” foundation president Sue Hostetler says. “The Artist Relief Fund was a quick and effective way to get money in the hands of artists who needed it.”
A collective of mid-sized national arts grantmakers—the Academy of American Poets, Artadia, Creative Capital, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, MAP Fund, National YoungArts Foundation, and United States Artists (USA)—launched the Artists Relief Fund with a simple goal: to give artists who needed it a quick infusion of cash during the pandemic. The Fund, which launched in April 2020, provided $5,000 grants. The initiative came together in just three weeks, faster than any government assistance programs, demonstrating how nimble the private and non-profit sector can be during an emergency.
Between the launch of the fund and the end of the year, Artist Relief raised nearly $21 million from a diverse coalition of organizations including Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It distributed 3,916 grants to artists in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and other territories. The Fund distributed a second round of grants between March 8 and June 23, 2021.
“The fund provided relief to grantees who faced housing insecurity and homelessness, struggled to provide care to children and elders, and lost access to food and medicine as a result of the pandemic,” Lee Heinemann, USA’s Initiatives Manager, says. “By delivering payments to grantees within weeks of their application, Artist Relief reached artists as they were recovering from COVID-19 illness, facing the threat of eviction, and rebuilding from natural disaster compounded by the pandemic.”
The Hostetler/Wrigley Foundation’s donation made 15 of the $5,000 grants possible, reflecting the Foundation’s mission to effect change within the art world, as well as its ability and willingness to work with other partners to solve some of the most pressing global issues.
The Artist Relief Fund helped give thousands of artists financial flexibility, allowing them to experiment in their chosen mediums during a period of global uncertainty. Many artists used the pandemic as a time to reset. They spent more time in their studios and learned the benefits of social distancing and the digital realm. “While some artists are burning out on screens, others have found there are some advantages unique to digital, socially-distant projects,” Wired reported. “For one, the internet is far more accessible than a SoHo gallery; for another, it’s a live canvas”
The innovation of the non-profit sector proved to be an effective rapid response during an emergency. “United States Artist’s committed funding partners, skilled financial oversight, knowledge of the cultural landscape, and staff capacity allow it to remain flexible and nimble,” Lisa Feingold, USA’s Development Director, says. “The relief fund was well-suited to understand and respond quickly to the challenges artists face.”