It wouldn’t be New York City without our artists, and the organizations that support them and showcase their work are vital to their livelihoods.
But the impact of COVID-19 on the arts and culture sector was severe. Income for creators dried up, and some cultural organizations permanently closed.
If we want this sector to come back — more equitably and sustainably than before the pandemic — then generous New Yorkers who value the arts need to step up. While government has provided critical funding to help some organizations navigate COVID-19, public support brings administrative burdens and does not reach every organization that needs it.
The good news is there are many ways to help. As program officer for arts and culture at The New York Community Trust, I talk every day with artists and cultural workers who are navigating the challenges caused by COVID-19. Here are five things they’ve told me they need:
1. Donate even when it is “free.” Many artists have taken to the outdoors, seeking alternative streams of income until venues fully reopen. If you are enjoying an artistic performance in a park, plaza, garden, or street, consider paying the artists, or the organizations that produce or present their work, as much as you would if you were in a concert hall. Many artists or arts groups will have a sign with their Venmo handles or other cashless options via their websites or social media pages.
2. Give cash assistance to artists. Artists have been hit on all sides economically during the pandemic. Their performance venues were shuttered. They lost opportunities to sell their work. And those who turned to jobs in the service industry to help pay the bills were left without positions to supplement their income. The following funds provide cash assistance to local artists. While some of them are national funds, a significant number of NYC artists apply to them: Actors Fund Emergency Financial Assistance; Artist Relief; Indie Theater Fund; The Barbara and Carl Zydney Grant for Artists with Disabilities.
3. Strengthen groups that serve arts organizations. If you appreciate what goes on behind the scenes, consider giving to nonprofits that support the arts in ways the audience never sees. The following groups provide crucial back-office support, legal and real estate assistance, audio-visual services, and much more: ArtsPool, BRIC, The Field, IndieSpace, and Pentacle.
4. Build a more equitable arts sector. Support local organizations led by African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American (ALAANA) people. You can join The Trust in supporting ALAANA groups locally by contributing to the Mosaic Network & Fund, which provides flexible funding, strategic support, and a learning community to arts funders and practitioners dedicated to helping ALAANA arts organizations thrive.
5. Support local venues. Are there theaters, galleries, or other venues in your neighborhood that you’ve walked by but never checked out? As they reopen, take the plunge and explore their work! Sign up for e-updates and plan your next night out. You won’t even have to spring for cab fare.
As always, we welcome inquiries from donors looking to make a bigger impact with their charitable giving. Please contact us at nycommunitytrust.org if you’d like to take advantage of our philanthropic advising services.
Salem Tsegaye is the program officer for arts and culture at The New York Community Trust, New York’s community foundation.