We are in the throes of a dramatic realignment of life as we know it. As we struggle to orient ourselves in relation to a global pandemic, as we feel it reverberate through all areas of daily existence, we do know one thing for certain: it is having a particularly devastating impact on the lives of artists. In the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak, two developments paved the way for very tough times: the experience economy was canceled, and cultural institutions were shuttered. Suddenly, there were no more exhibition openings, performances, or concerts; no touring programs, no lectures. While it has saved countless lives, social distancing has put the arts—at least as we traditionally experience them—on hold.
Artists who are able to monetize their practice saw their contracts, work opportunities, and paychecks vanish. Those who work other jobs to support their art—often in the service industry, retail, or an art-adjacent field—were similarly out of work. The nexus of these two things makes it near impossible for any artist to survive.
For arts philanthropists to help, we must adapt to the urgency the situation demands. We must reconsider how we do business, in real time, and be prepared for that to continue to change. In order to do so, we must create a nimble, responsive network of grassroots organizations attuned to the needs of their constituencies. By combining these efforts and scaling up, we can help artists nationwide.
That’s why the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has embarked on several simultaneous efforts to provide emergency relief to artists. It has mobilized its Regional Re-granting network to make emergency grants in 16 cities across the country, and it has dedicated support to both the Foundation for Contemporary Arts’ Emergency Grant Covid-19 Fund and to Artist Relief, a new coalition of national grant-makers offering emergency resources to artists in need. As an artist-endowed foundation, we know that the arts begin with artists themselves. And if we don’t work fast to protect them by pooling resources, it will be too late.
The economic fallout of Covid-19 has been unprecedented. Everything stopped overnight, and it’s unclear how long the closures will last. And while the CARES Act extended unemployment benefits to 1099 freelancers, the rollout has been spotty at best. One thing is for certain: a dire situation worsens with each passing day.
Artist Relief developed as a coalition because no one organization could go it alone. The Academy of American Poets, Artadia, Creative Capital, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, MAP Fund, the National YoungArts Foundation, and United States Artists understand that to mount a national, multi-disciplinary relief campaign at the level of urgency that this situation demands requires grassroots responsiveness and the ability to adjust course. We’re grateful to them for this foresight, and are excited to see the outpouring of support from across the philanthropic community. We’re particularly grateful to see this generous support—from the artist endowed foundations especially—doubled by a $5 million contribution from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The initial $10 million fund will be enough to fund 100 artists per week from now through September. That is roughly 2,000 artists. While valiant, that effort will only help a mere fraction of the community—a recent survey by the National Endowment for the Arts found that there are 2.5 million artists living and working in the United States.
The task at hand is emergency relief—to help as many artists as possible, as quickly as we can. That is why the $10 million fund is only the beginning. As the effort grows, we hope to fund far more than the initial 2,000. I’m calling on my colleagues in philanthropy to join in this effort, to consider each artist as the namesake of a future foundation, and to stake our own livelihoods—as well as the country’s cultural wellbeing—on the ability of each and every artist to secure food, housing, medicine, and childcare.
Throughout history, artists have helped us through dark times. They’re our soothsayers, our guides, our organizers, and our truthtellers. But how can they be any of these things if they’re not alive and well? It’s our job to ensure that they’re taken care of, so that we come out of this the way we went in: together. We hope you’ll join us.
Please go to artistrelief.org for more information.
Joel Wachs is president of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.