One thing artists do is respond to the times. But what happens when the times threaten to keep artists from doing that? Locally, visual artists have long had Big Medium in their corner, providing exposure and support through a host of programs, the best known being the annual East and West Austin Studio Tours. At first, 2020 looked to be taking the nonprofit down, along with everything else. In March, Big Medium closed its office and gallery – the latter two weeks into its exhibition for Tito's Prize winner Betelhem Makonnen – canceled WEST for May, and postponed the Texas Biennial until 2021. But Big Medium wasn't that easily stopped and soon began responding to the times itself. It instituted a new online series, "Artist Features," that showcased two artists each week – each with images of the artist's work and comments about their process. (Initially intended to run a few months, the series was extended and has now featured 50 artists.) It launched an artist registry, an ongoing online space for area artists to exhibit their work. (Almost 250 have registered so far.) And most relevant to the pandemic year and its accompanying financial stress, it established an artist relief fund, distributing grants of $500, $1,000, and $1,500 to artists in need. (Through community partnerships and crowdfunding, Big Medium raised $53,000, which was paid out to 70 area artists.)
The times, they are a-changin' the kind of support visual artists need now. Big Medium gets that, and whether it's fusing EAST and WEST into a single virtual tour, devoting more space to the art and voices of the city's Black artists, or helping artists navigate a virtual world, the organization keeps adapting to its community's needs – so artists can keep doing what they do, despite 2020.
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