Emerging artists pledge to buy each other’s work amid the coronavirus economic slowdown

Image: Reuters/Olivia Harris
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In the art market, Covid-19 has had the most immediate effect on emerging artists. Up-and-coming artists, who, even before the pandemic, were making very modest incomes, are now left without commercial outlets for their work, as many galleries, auction houses, and art fairs have shut down.

Now a new initiative called the Artist Support Pledge is aimed at alleviating some of the economic strain from the coronavirus cancellations, and foster a sense of solidarity within the art community. Conceived by British painter Matthew Burrows, the scheme works on the principle of generosity.

Here’s how it works: Participating artists post a work on Instagram that they wish to sell, tagged with #artistsupportpledge. Each work is priced modestly—no more than £200 ($230)—to make the act “infectious,” as Burrows explained to ArtNet. Transactions are conducted via each artist’s e-commerce platform, and if their total sales reach £1,000 ($1,155), they vow to spend £200 on a fellow artist’s work.

“As the pandemic progressed it’s become increasingly difficult to focus on my own work,” Burrows, who’s currently staying isolated in his countryside home-studio in East Sussex, tells Quartz. “Developing a creative strategy to survive the next few months took centre stage.”

Within days of its launch, Artist Support Pledge has over a hundred entries, ranging from small paintings, prints, sculpture, textiles, crafts, and ceramics. Burrows tells Quartz that he’s buoyed by the deluge of letters from fellow artists. “I’ve had thousands of messages of thanks from people who lost incomes and a sense of purpose,” he says. “This has given them a window into a global culture of hope.”

Apart from the sales platform, Burrows says he’s working on establishing a virtual gallery and and an online art school to allow teachers and mentors to conduct classes and earn income during the pandemic. “The breakdown of our normal structures of security left an opening and vacuum,” he explains. “You can choose to let fear fill that space, or do something that generates opportunity and unity.”

Artist Support Pledge is just one of programs designed to alleviate economic hardship and collective ennui within early-career artist communities. Fundraising campaigns, solidarity funds, Google spreadsheets for available work-for-hire artists, and a peer-to-peer “wealth distribution scheme” also all launched this week. Emergency grants from institutions like the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Creator Fund, and the Vermont-based non-profit Cerf+ are available for artists impacted by Covid-19.