‘We can’t let them fall’: Relief fund for marginalized artists overwhelmed by applications

Local arts non-profit Studio Two Three is one of the partners of the CultureWorks art coalition that have organized a relief fund to benefit artists affected by COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Ashley Hawkins

Aerin Fortes, Contributing Writer

A relief fund of more than $48,000 for local artists in need of financial assistance during the novel coronavirus outbreak has received three times the amount of applications it can cover, while Richmond arts and culture organizations look for new ways to help the community.

The COVID-19 Arts & Culture Relief Fund, created by the CultureWorks arts coalition, aims to assist marginalized artists in Richmond and surrounding areas, including Petersburg, Colonial Heights and Hopewell. Accepted applicants will receive a $500 grant to cover living expenses, job losses, mental health services and more.

The coalition has supported 97 individual artists in the region as of Thursday with grants totaling $48,500, according to CultureWorks’ website.

“The relief fund began as an idea the first week that social distancing became required,” said Scott Garka, president of CultureWorks. “Among all the other concerns caused by COVID-19, the main question was ‘What is going to happen to all of these artists and organizations? What can we do?’” 

According to the relief fund’s website, CultureWorks prioritizes applications from underrepresented individuals based on race and ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or socioeconomic status.

“An overwhelming majority of applications have been from those underrepresented communities,” Garka said. “So we are very excited that we are able to focus on and prioritize those communities.” 

As part of its annual grant program, CultureWorks provides funds to organizations, nonprofits and artists in the Richmond area for events, programming and infrastructure. 

“We all see the need among the art organizations and the funders to ensure that our artists continue to thrive, because they are a huge part of what makes Richmond so wonderful,” Garka said. “We can’t let them fall.”

Studio Two Three, which is part of the CultureWorks art coalition, has closed public spaces and canceled its events. Private studios remain open to one person at a time. 

Local arts non-profit Studio Two Three is one of the partners of the CultureWorks art coalition. They are currently producing face masks for essential workers during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Studio Two Three.

Ashley Hawkins, executive director of Studio Two Three, said event spaces are being used to sew masks for essential workers employed at nonprofits in the Richmond area.

“We are able to have up to 10 people in a room sewing every day, and in two weeks we have made over 1,500 masks,” Hawkins said on April 22. “Today we made another 200, so we are feeling really heartened by that and really even more convinced of the importance of the ingenuity of artists.”

According to its website, Studio Two Three aims to empower artists to “make art and make change.” The non-profit art center typically allows 24/7 access to their studios, but Hawkins said communal studios and darkroom spaces are now closed.

“People who are practicing artists are depending on us for their space,” Hawkins said.

1708 Gallery on Broad Street has taken similar measures to support artists in the community through the CultureWorks coalition. 

The gallery has created a relief program for those who have lost access to regular studio spaces, allowing artists to access the building for studio use, documentation or exhibition in the storefront.

“We feel strongly that while we cannot currently be the hub for artistic engagement in person, we can still be the hub for artistic innovation,” stated a Facebook post from 1708 Gallery on April 16.

The gallery announced on its website that it aims to raise another $10,000 for the CultureWorks relief fund so that 20 additional artists may be assisted with the $500 grants. 

The COVID-19 Arts & Culture Relief Fund application is available in Spanish. Individuals without internet access can apply to the program through a phone tree at 804-353-0094.

“The demand has been really high,” Garka said. “Right now we have three times the applicants than we can fund, but we are hoping to grow that.”

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