As the coronavirus economic crisis deepens, local fundraising efforts for the arts-and-culture field — from city government to local foundations to quickly assembled GoFundMe campaigns — are in overdrive.
“This is 9/11 meets The Great Recession meets the snowstorm,” Randy Engstrom, director of the city’s Office of Arts and Culture (OAC), said during an online public meeting Tuesday afternoon. “We know we’re going to get through this together — and this is our time.”
While Engstrom was announcing a first wave of relief efforts — including a $1.1 million, arts-specific recovery package and rent suspension for cultural organizations — Tim Lennon, director of the nonprofit LANGSTON was already onto the next step, sitting in his office, furiously hand-writing checks. He was trying to get as many out the door as possible before the post office closed.
LANGSTON has offered administrative support to the Seattle Artists Relief Fund Amid COVID-19, a GoFundMe effort for cultural workers launched on March 9 by author Ijeoma Oluo, musician Gabriel Teodros and arts advocate Ebony Arunga.
“Right now,” Lennon said, “I’m just a human-checking-writing machine.”
While Lennon wrote, Oluo said the Seattle Artists Relief Fund had raised over $150,000 through 1,900 donations, and received over 700 applications for direct relief. (If you’d like to donate — or apply — visit gofundme.com/f/for-artists.)
Engstrom said the city would directly invest $50,000 in that fund, as part of its $1.1 million relief effort, and another $50,000 in a relief fund set up by the nonprofit Artist Trust. (You can donate to that at artisttrust.org.) The city will disperse the additional $1 million without asking for applications — instead, OAC spokesperson Erika Lindsay said, the agency will send a letter to every one of its 200-plus cultural partners across the city offering each a sum of money (based on its size, as well as other factors). The only thing each organization has to do is send an invoice for that amount.
Matthew Richter, cultural space liaison for OAC, announced that the city would suspend at least two months of rent (April and May) for all cultural organizations in city-owned buildings.
Additionally, Richter asked private-sector landlords to do the same — adding that, if cultural organizations asked, OAC would approach private landlords on their behalf, challenging them to join the city in a rent moratorium for cultural organizations.
This is just the first wave, Engstrom emphasized, with more to come for the arts-and-culture sector and beyond.
Domonique Meeker, from the city’s Office of Economic Development, also encouraged arts organizations affected by the coronavirus economic crisis to apply for the one-time, $1.5 million small-business stabilization fund — which is independent of OAC’s $1.1 million investment.
In a separate announcement, 4Culture, the county’s arts agency, pledged $1 million in relief, with details to come.
“We are talking about an economic reimagination that is unprecedented,” Engstrom said, adding that these measures are just a first step. “We’ve been talking about creative work and the creative economy for a while now — and that conversation just got turbocharged … this is not the last you’ll hear from us.”