US artists can now get $5,000 emergency grants without a tedious application process

The Artist Relief Fund is open to all sorts of creative types during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Artist Relief Fund is open to all sorts of creative types during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image: Reuters/Andrew Kelly
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In the US, artists can now get a $5,000 unrestricted grant—and they don’t even have to put on a dog-and-pony show to prove their talents.

Conceived by a consortium of nonprofits, the Artist Relief fund aims to quickly assist artists impacted by the Covid-19 economic downturn. The pandemic has been particularly devastating for the arts and culture sector, as a recent Americans for the Arts survey attests. Working as gig workers, freelancers, or small-business owners, many artists suddenly lost their sources of income as museums, concert halls, stores, and studios were forced to shut down last month.

The emergency package has an initial pot of $10 million for 2,000 grantees. The funds are culled from the operations budgets of the seven US-based organizations: Academy of American Poets, Artadia, Creative Capital, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, MAP Fund, National YoungArts Foundation, and United States Artists. With most of the arts programming cancelled, the grants-giving organizations formed a group to design a mechanism that will allow them to give money to artists directly.

In light of the emergency, says United States Artists CEO Deana Haggag, the fund’s application is purposely pared down. Compared to the onerous paperwork circus involved in traditional grants applications, applying to the Artist Relief fund involves answering on online questionnaire of 25 multiple-choice items and two open-ended prompts, a task that can typically be accomplished in about 30 minutes, according to Haggag.

“You do not have to upload anything—no paperwork, no work samples,” she explains, noting that the judging will be based on need instead of talent. “We are thinking critically about equity, access, geographical range, and discipline range…we needed enough information to be able to do that. But we didn’t want to burden artists to work too hard in a moment when frankly I have no idea how people are being productive.”

Artists practicing in the US, its territories, and tribal nations who are in the throes of “dire financial emergencies” due to the pandemic are eligible for the Artist Relief fund. It’s useful to note that the fund defines “artist”—an oft-debated title—broadly to include writers, architects, podcast producers, and other types of workers in the creative sector.

Craft (ceramics, fiber, glass, jewelry, metals, textiles, etc.)

Dance (dancers + choreographers; aerial, ballet, hip-hop, jazz, tap, etc.)

Design (fashion, graphic, industrial, object, all forms of architecture, etc.)

Film (animation, documentary, episodic, experimental, narrative, etc.)

Media (work that uses technology, aesthetics, storytelling, digital cultures, and so on; including but not limited to immersive design, interactive media, podcasts, virtual reality, web-based projects, etc.)

Music (composers + musicians; classical, contemporary, experimental, folk, instrumental, jazz, pop, world, etc.)

Theater & Performance (directing, experimental, live action, playwriting, puppetry, tactical and site performance, etc.)

Traditional Arts (work related to the continuity and evolution of a tradition and/or cultural heritage such as cultural dance, cultural music, oral expression, and traditional crafts, etc.)

Visual Art (installation, painting, performance art, photography, sculpture, sound art, video, etc.)

Writing (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, literature for children, criticism, graphic novels, journalism, arts writing, etc.)

screenshot of Artist Relief Fund meeting
Zooming and pooling resources: representatives from the seven nonprofits behind the Artist Relief fund.
Image: Courtesy of Artist Relief Fund

The $10 million is just the start, says Haggag. The consortium, which meets via video conference, plans to ratchet its fundraising efforts, with the goal of helping at least 100 artists every week until the end of federal fiscal year in September. Leading the group’s combined list of donors is the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which gave $5 million in seed funding.

The Artist Relief fund is one of several bailout programs geared for independent artists in the US. Similar Covid-19 emergency relief initiatives have also been established in parts of Europe. For instance, in the UK, where many up-and-coming artists are struggling, the Arts Council has a new program that offers grants of up to £2,500 ($4,000) for individuals. In Germany a program called Emergency Aid 2 provides €5,000 ($5,431) for freelance artists and workers in the culture sector.

Haggag stresses that the Artist Relief fund is for any struggling artist who can show proof that they can receive taxable income in the US, either through an individual tax payer ID number, a Social Security number, or a W-9 form. “We are hearing a lot about undocumented artists and immigrant artists who are wondering if they’re eligible,” she says. “Yes they are. Citizenship is not what we’re looking for here.”