Spring is usually a busy time for artists. When cultural institutions began canceling concerts, plays and other events to combat the spread of the coronavirus, artists lost income immediately and now they face an uncertain financial future. The Dallas Artist Relief Fund is designed to help artists with immediate financial needs and provide other resources during this pandemic.
Darryl Ratcliff is an award-winning artist and poet based in Dallas as well as a curator and arts writer who contributes to The Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, and Dallas Observer. He is also a co-founder of Creating Our Future, a group of artists and advocates who have advocated on behalf of individual artists since 2014.
Creating Our Future organized the Dallas Artist Relief Fund as the coronavirus outbreak intensified. “I really started having serious conversations with people on Thursday afternoon, theater directors wrestling with having sunk $25,000 into a play that won't happen any time soon. DJs and photographers losing tens of thousands of dollars in event cancellations. Teaching artists having workshops and classes canceled. Musicians who were going to tour, artists and galleries who were counting on selling work at art fairs, all of those opportunities disappeared overnight,” Ratcliff said. “I think first there was some shock at how serious this situation was and how quickly it was developing. As you know, the saying in the arts is the show must go on. However, it soon became clear that in the interest of the safety of ourselves and the communities we serve, the show couldn't go on - or at least not in the way we were accustomed to.”
Artists live on the edge financially, even when the economy is flourishing. “Most artists are independent contractors or small business owners or freelancers - so even during good times, it is a population that doesn't have easy access to health insurance, or benefits, or even the security of a weekly paycheck that many workers take for granted. There are periods of time where many artists make the majority of their income for a year and we were entering that time with Dallas Arts Month, which was supposed to take place in April. So, artists and cultural workers aren't just missing one month's worth of income. For many, it will be more akin to losing 30-50% of their yearly income due to the timing of everything shutting down,” Ratcliff said.
Modeled on the NYC Artist Relief Fund, the Dallas Artist Relief Fund aims to provide artists $200 in immediate gap funding to help them buy the basics: groceries, phone bills or gas for the car. Ratcliff hopes the funds will give some relief until more significant resources become available. “And to be clear the average amount of money these artists actually need is more like $700 per artist and if we are able to raise that level of assistance, we would gladly give it,” Ratcliff said. Creating Our Future is also monitoring the Seattle Artist Relief Fund and the Fort Worth Artist Relief Fund.
Artists go through an application process and Ratcliff hopes to distribute funds within days. “So far there have been 88 applications, and there is a survey to fill out that asks about your residence, how they were affected by the pandemic, what was their loss of income, what is their current need, what their income range is, and if they are black, indigenous, a person of color, queer, or disabled. We will give $200 to each artist until we run out of money. Currently, we don't have enough money to give to every applicant, but we are raising around $1,000 a day which helps us help an additional five artists,” Ratcliff said.
In the short-term, the money will give artists confidence to continue contributing to the community. “Many applicants are struggling to figure out how to pay rent at the end of the month. Many are struggling with groceries, with gas, with medical expenses,” Ratcliff said. “Having some of these needs met will help these artists do what they do best - be creative, help their families and their communities, and be the sources of inspiration that all of us need right now. Very few people give back to their communities the way artists do.”
As the crisis deepens, artists will need more than financial help. The Dallas Artist Relief Fund has established a form for non-monetary help (https://forms.gle/nHMJ1iVG8Ppma4B39) , including navigating government paperwork, technical assistance and job opportunities.
Ratcliff expects difficult times to come and yet he remains hopeful. “There will be galleries, artists, small and midsize nonprofits - who were doing stellar work - who won't be around a year from now. However, there will also be opportunities for the artistic community to work together and think of systemic solutions and be innovative and become even more engaged in serving the least privileged and most vulnerable,” Ratcliff said. “Also, there will hopefully be more awareness that the current system left artists and cultural workers in a very precarious situation, and there will be more attention and resources devoted to fundamentally changing how artists and cultural workers are compensated for their work.”
Learn more about Dallas Artist Relief Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/dallas-low-income-artistfreelancer-relief-fund
more about Fort Worth Artist Relief Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/fort-worth-relief-fund