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The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Photo: Wikipedia.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Photo: Wikipedia.

US Cultural Sector Mobilizes to Provide Coronavirus Relief to Artists and Arts Institutions

As millions of Americans attempt to cope with social and financial hardships during the coronavirus pandemic—more than ten million people filed for unemployment benefits over the last two weeks alone—philanthropists, foundations, and other organizations are stepping forward to help with COVID-19 relief efforts. While the global health crisis has impacted every facet of the job market, due to the cancelation of fairs, exhibitions, and other art-world events and the closure of galleries and museums, artists are especially vulnerable.

The latest organizations to answer the collective call for aid are the Getty Trust, which launched a $10 million relief fund benefiting Los Angeles County earlier today, and the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, which has committed to giving $5 million to artists and small arts organizations affected by COVID-19 over the next three years. The pledge is the largest amount the foundation has ever devoted to a single cause. The Getty Trust will award individual grants ranging from $25,000 to $200,000 to institutions in LA, and the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation will give $500,000 to the Foundation for Contemporary Arts for emergency grants to artists to offset income losses; $500,000 to the Artist Relief Fund, a new initiative that will also provide grants directly to artists; and $250,000 for the operating costs of a consortium of organizations comprising Artists Space, Creative Time, the Drawing Center, the Kitchen, the Laundromat Project, Printed Matter, and the Swiss Institute, among others.

“None of us could ever have imagined the far-reaching medical and financial disaster that has engulfed us as a result of this pandemic,” said Clifford Ross, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation’s board chair. “Helen would have given full-throated support to the board of her foundation making a major effort to aid the creative community. The art world must galvanize to support both its artists and those that work every day at its museums and cultural institutions. We believe this is the moment to step up.”

Earlier this week, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts promised to grant $1.6 million to artists across sixteen cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, and Anonymous Was A Woman (AWAW) has introduced an initiative that will distribute $250,000 in grants, of up to $2,500 apiece, to those struggling to get by. The funds can be used to cover basic necessities such as food, rent, childcare, and medical costs. Beginning in late May, or early June, one-time grants of up to $5,000 will be made available for visual and media artists and choreographers by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, which will administer the grants in partnership with the New York Foundation for the Arts.

As the United States—which has more than 235,000 confirmed cases—works to flatten the curve of the virus, a number of institutions are also working to support artists’ practices. Hauser & Wirth is donating 10 percent of the proceeds made from its online sales to the World Health Organization, and David Zwirner is inviting smaller galleries to share its digital platform to sell works. The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit partnered with the City of Detroit to roll out a similar initiative—it set up an online marketplace where local artists can upload and sell works.  

Arts institutions may also benefit from regional initiatives such as the $75 million NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund as well as federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which received $75 million from the government’s $2 trillion federal stimulus package—the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The NEA will award the monies to arts nonprofits “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus domestically or internationally” and can be used for general operating expenses—a departure from the agency’s standard of distributing funds on a project basis.