Portland Opera Puccini

Friday coronavirus arts news roundup

Relief efforts for artists affected by income loss from the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting crash of the economy continue. More is needed.


The country’s chief executive revels in the ratings for his crazy coronavirus briefings in D.C. Meanwhile, the rest of us deal with the pandemic itself, trying to protect our health and scrape together enough money for the culture to keep from falling into a deep state of dormancy. Sorry, but that’s about as jolly as this roundup of arts news in Oregon is likely to get. Well, maybe there ARE some glimmers.

In case you missed it, yesterday I talked to Brian Rogers, the director of the Oregon Cultural Trust and the Oregon Arts Commission, about what he was seeing out there and the status of the emergency fund the Cultural Trust is assembling. Not to mention how much of that woefully inadequate $75 million the Congress allocated for the National Endowment for the Arts is coming to Oregon. The short answers: “pretty grim,” waiting for approval from the next session of the Oregon legislature, and not much.

Subashini Ganesan and Kim Stafford, the city’s Creative Laureate and the state’s Poet Laureate, started a relief fund for artists, as you probably already know. In the early days of the lockdown they raised $95,000, which they have distributed to 245 artists in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, mostly in $400-$500 increments. Ganesan reports that MRG Foundation and a few other independent donors have donated an additional $40,000. “Kim and I are reading through a little over 250 applications (that were received through March 29th) to pull together the next round of recipients,” she wrote.

Ganesan and Stafford are hoping to raise another $25,000 so they can get something to applicants who didn’t receive anything in the first round. Her email continued: “Can you help make one more strong push to get donors to help our fund be as robust as possible so that we can send a second round of checks starting next week?” Sure we can! If you have the means and inclination to help local artists, who will be on the fringes (if not on the outside looking in) of government relief efforts, head over to the site. We’ll wait!

Subashini Ganesan, the city’s Creative Laureate/Photo by K.B. Dixon

Ganesan attached some of the responses she and Stafford received from the artists who already received a check. This one is from a dancer, dance instructor, DJ (in the gig economy we wear many hats):

“Thank you for providing not only funding but a resource of hope! No matter the amount, you put either a plate of food in front of someone or a roof over someone’s head. I can say personally that this is going to help me keep moving forward. I deeply appreciate everyone involved for putting in the work when times have gotten hard!”

We’ll just jump on this thank-you ourselves: Thanks to Ganesan and Stafford for addressing the problem with the needed sense of urgency. And thank you to everyone who donated.


Portland Opera Puccini

The MRG Foundation, which was started in 1976 to inspire and work for social change, has also started a relief fund with $300,000 from its operating reserves. The money will be directed to its partners to help the underserved communities they reach, including healthcare and gig economy workers.

The deadline for applications to RACC’s Emergency Fund for Artists and Creative Workers is 5 pm Monday, April 13.

“RACC’s Emergency Fund for Individual Artists supports creative professionals who have experienced a financial loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund is open to artists at all levels of their careers, in a broad variety of disciplines. Applicants will be asked to submit evidence of their artistic practice, household income, and financial loss in the application. RACC will make awards up to $500 in order to support as many individual artists as possible, prioritizing those without access to other COVID-19 relief funds.”

You can donate or apply right here. I hope that money starts rolling out as close to immediately as it possibly can.

In case you’re wondering what world-class cultural cities are doing about their artists and creative economy freelancers, I’ll leave you with this New York Times story from a week ago. Here’s a snippet:

“…just five days after the application process opened, Berlin’s government said it had already paid out more than $1.4 billion to more than 150,000 self-employed individuals or businesses with fewer than five employees.”

The story leads with a Berlin photographer who had received 5,000 euros, or about $5,400, three days after he’d submitted an application. And that was just the city-state of Berlin’s response: The national response to the situation of gig economy workers has been of a similar magnitude.


Seattle Repertory Theatre Fat Ham

For dismal comparison’s sake, the City of Portland and Prosper Portland cobbled together a $2 million small business relief fund a couple of weeks ago, half of it direct grants and the other half no-interest loans.

The Lane Arts Council has created the Lane County Artist Relief Fund to aid individual artists who have lost work during the pandemic. It is seeking donations for the fund, which will be distributed to as many qualifying artists as possible—visual artists, performing artists, literary artists, and event production workers. You can donate to help artists in Lane County on the council’s website. The council hopes to raise $50,000. As of noon today, it had raised $6,780. Let’s go, Lane County!

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Barry Johnson has written about and edited arts and culture stories of various sorts since 1978, when he started writing about dance for the Seattle Sun. He edited the arts section of Willamette Week and wrote a general culture column in the  early 1980s and started at The Oregonian as arts editor in 1983, moving between editing and writing (visual arts, movies, theater, dance) until leaving in 2009. Since then, he's been thinking about new ideas to help make arts and culture journalism ever more useful and engaged. Oregon ArtsWatch is one of those ideas.

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