Conversations between the Academy of American Poets—the United States’ leading champion of poets and poetry with supporters in all fifty states—and a few other national arts organizations, along with the input of a few key foundations, organically turned toward relief efforts in mid-March, just as we were beginning to feel the impact of COVID-19 in our respective creative communities. We all recognized a lack of support and infrastructure in place for artists across the board and were determined to act, knowing they would be facing not only a potentially fatal virus, but also catastrophic financial losses in the months ahead. We rallied additional organizations to create the multidisciplinary coalition called Artist Relief, consisting of seven orgs total (the Academy of American Poets, Creative Capital, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the MAP Fund, United States Artists, and the National YoungArts Foundation), with the goal of awarding $5,000 grants to 100 artists each over the course of five cycles, or twenty weeks. With this proposal in mind, we were able to secure an initial $5-million donation from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which in turn helped us elicit other substantial donations from L.A.’s Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, and others.
All of this came together in a matter of weeks: we officially announced Artist Relief on April 8, 2020.
To date, Artist Relief has raised almost $15 million total and has been able to support more than 2,000 artists across the country who are facing dire financial circumstances as a result of the ongoing pandemic. We have also donated directly to mutual aid funds run by artists who are working tirelessly to help their struggling communities.
Knowing how important data would be to convey to representatives just how dire the situation for artists continues to be, we teamed up with a research partner, Americans for the Arts, in launching the COVID-19 Impact Survey for Artists and Creative Workers. The information gathered here has been crucial to telling the story of artists and creative workers and making sure that they are supported during this ongoing crisis and the eventual recovery. The survey was designed to assess the creative, social, financial, and professional impacts of COVID-19 on artists across disciplines in the U.S.
Because quarantine—especially when experienced alongside other profound losses—can have a drastic effect on mental health and well-being, we also knew it was important to offer other resources to creative workers. We launched a series of weekly wellness videos for and by artists, as well as a conversation series reflecting on the arts world at large, and compiled a list of mental health resources.
The work of Artist Relief continues, and we hope to be able to sustain this crucial relief effort beyond the initially anticipated end-date of August 26. It will depend entirely on our ability to raise more funds, which we’re working around the clock to do.
Being a part of Artist Relief also motivated us, as an institution working to support our community, to recognize that it isn’t just individual poets, writers, and artists experiencing significant financial hardship right now; literary organizations, magazines, and presses of all sizes are struggling and need relief as well.
In looking closely at the results of that same Americans for the Arts’ survey on the economic impact of COVID-19, we saw that 253 literary organizations reported over $7.2 million total losses to date. With this knowledge we reached out to two other national nonprofit literary arts organizations that support different groups within the literary landscape—the National Book Foundation and the Community of Literary Magazine and Presses (CLMP)—to forge another alliance. Working together, we secured a new $3.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, officially establishing The Literary Arts Emergency Fund and allowing us to offer one-time emergency regrants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to literary arts organizations, magazines, and presses by September 15, 2020. Like Artist Relief, The Literary Arts Emergency Fund came together within several weeks in order to meet the urgency of our present moment.
One lesson we’ve learned as a U.S. cultural institution is that collaboration and adaptability are essential for ensuring the survival of our creative communities, especially as we face the reality of a global health crisis and an uncertain future. It has been inspiring to remember that, as poet and President of the Mellon Foundation Elizabeth Alexander has made clear, “Writers create humanity’s vast and intricate record— they are the chroniclers of our joys and fears, our varied inner lives, our humor, anguish, and determination…. [We must] ensure their written work remains accessible to enrich and deepen our collective engagement with a diverse, inclusive American culture.