Austin Creative Alliance's Artists Emergency Relief Fund
ACA provides pandemic assistance, one artist at a time
By Robert Faires,
12:50PM, Thu. Apr. 9, 2020
Amy Diane Morrow was struggling even before the pandemic hit Austin.
Just the month before, she'd lost her partner, her home, and, thanks to dental surgery and a prolonged recovery period, all her arts-related income. The COVID-19 shutdown meant dance studios had to close, forcing Morrow to cancel classes she'd have been paid for teaching.
The outlook was not good. Then an email arrived from the Austin Creative Alliance, announcing a new project: the Artists Emergency Relief Fund.
The membership service organization for all of the city's creatives was offering local artists, musicians, performers, and other creatives the opportunity to replace up to $500 in verifiable lost income due to a specific, scheduled gig or project being canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recipients of relief funds wouldn't be required to repay them, but they would be expected to show some support for ACA by contributing volunteer time or their creative work or services to the organization.
"We were already working on an emergency fund, before COVID, to help artists facing the loss of work or interruption in practice due to housing, food, or transportation insecurity," says organization CEO John Riedie. The widespread loss of jobs and work over the pandemic, though, provided an urgency that spurred ACA to activate the plan now. The fund was started with $10,000 in cash reserves – enough to support a minimum of 20 artists – and requests for donations were set up on the ACA website. Then March 18, a fundraiser on Facebook kicked off with a goal of $10,000 in 30 days.
People were paying attention. Within five hours, the Facebook campaign had raised its first $1,000. Two days later, the amount was up to $4,000. In four days, it was at $8,000, and the goal was reached in just 10 days. As of April 7, an additional $1,000 had been collected, and combined with more than $4,500 donated through the website and the original cash reserves, the total three weeks in was $25,600.
But at the same time that generous Austinites were hearing about the fund and adding to it, artists in need were also hearing about the fund and submitting their requests for help. In less than a week, close to 250 applications had been submitted, and the number has continued to rise in the weeks since. The ACA has been reviewing applications and selecting recipients along the way so as to get money in artists' hands as soon as possible. From the money raised to date, the fund has provided assistance to 51 artists, and Riedie reports that there is enough left to fund a few more requests. But since there are still more than 300 unfunded applicants, ACA is "checking so see who faces the most immediate needs." The organization is continuing to welcome donations at its website, but it's also actively applying for grants to boost the fund.
As for Morrow, the choreographer, teacher, and founder of the Theorists was among the first applicants for help from the fund and among the first to be selected for assistance. But she was also one of the first contributors to the fund. “I think it is great that communities are choosing generosity over scarcity," she says. "I received support when I applied and also decided to donate myself.” That attitude is a reflection of her feelings about what happened to her before the COVID-19 shutdown and what's happened since. "All the loss I experienced in the months and weeks leading up to the pandemic gave me a perspective through the trauma. I’ve been feeling many things but fear hasn’t been one of them." Rather, she's been feeling a "delicate optimism," informed by the connection she's made with people she didn't know before this, people she's met from teaching – how else now? – online.
"I’m supported by strangers," Morrow says. "I’ve never taught strangers a dance class from my living room before. They tune in from Austin all the way to Paraguay and Melbourne to Athens. People say they would never step foot into a dance studio, but they feel so free dancing alone in the safety of their home. They are 11 years old and 84, but somehow we all connect in the same moment, same movement, completely unique experience."