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Photo courtesy of the Leimay Foundation.

How Cultural Solidarity Fund Got $1 Million Covid Relief to NYC Arts Workers

A new report details the efforts of 20-plus artists, administrators, and organizations to join forces and give microgrants to colleagues impacted by the pandemic and its effects.

NEW YORK CITY: New York City artists and cultural workers were hit especially hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns it required, but they would have been even worse off without the more than $1 million in relief grants distributed by the Cultural Solidarity Fund (CSF), according to a new report titled “From Regranting to Redistribution: How the Cultural Solidarity Fund Moved Money & Why We Need Community-Centered Coalitions.” Written by Sruti Suryanarayanan with Emma Werowinski, the report explains how the CSF—an initiative administered by Indiespace, with leadership by LEIMAY, alongside a coalition of organizations and administrators—dispensed $500 microgrants to 2,030 individual artists and cultural workers across New York City. The report, supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation as part of Gonzalo Casals’s two-year fellowship on Research and Policy with the foundation, is part of a cohort of research projects that investigate alternative ways in which government and private philanthropy can support individual artists and small-budget organizations.

The nearly two dozen arts administrators and cultural workers who organized the Cultural Solidarity Fund translated their lived experiences into a model, the Money Moving Coalition, designed to “challenge economic inequality across times of crisis.” Though the fund is no longer accepting applications, it is still raising money to process grants for a remaining 204 applicants, with 42 percent of them self-reporting an urgency level of four on a scale of one to five, and all of them facing childcare, financial, food, housing, and/or medical insecurity.

Many of the organizers of CSF had no previous experience in fundraising or grant distribution, but all of them had lived experience as artists and knew what it was like to be in need of financial support. According to the report, they built “a responsive, equitable, and reproducible process for redistributing money.” In documenting the Fund’s work, the report is designed to offer a toolkit to aid other individuals or organizations interested in building their own coalitions.

“We are thrilled to finally share this important report, and we hope it provides practical, time-saving tools to other organizers and compels people to act,” said CSF Research Guides and Founding Organizers Haley Andres, Michelle Amador, Randi Berry, and Ximena Garnica in a statement. “Ultimately, our hope with this report is to engage readers in helping us close the remaining gap in funding our applicants and achieve the cultural solidarity that inspired us to organize initially. We hope every person reading this report sees the opportunity within themselves, against all odds, against a scarcity mindset, to get involved.”

“The Cultural Solidarity Fund exemplifies how we can approach things differently,” said Gonzalo Casals, senior research and policy fellow for Arts and Culture at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and recently the commissioner for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in a statement. “Programs informed by solidarity, mutual aid, equity, and collective leadership not only work, but also significantly impact the way we support and resource the sector. At a time when the lasting effects of the pandemic on how we live, work, and relate to one another are becoming apparent, it feels as though we have lost our way out of this crisis.” He added that he hopes the new report “will guide us toward a model where trust, care, and selflessness are at the heart of our decision-making.”

Among the folks to whom CSF gave microgrants were individual artists, administrators, production staff, custodians, art educators, ushers, guards, and more. The Fund has made a point of prioritizing Black, Indigenous, people of color, immigrant, disabled, d/Deaf, and trans and gender-nonconforming individuals who have been most severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The CSF organizing group included Dancewave; Nicole Touzien, Dance Parade; DJ McDonald, Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute; Melody Capote, Elevator Repair Service; Mark Rossier, HERE; Meredith Lynsey Schade, Hi-ARTS; Hanna Stubblefield-Tave, Limón Dance Company, National Dance Institute; Juan José Escalante, LEIMAY; Ximena Garnica, Mark Morris Dance Group; Michelle Amador and Haley Mason Andres, NYC & Company; Carianne Carleo-Evangelist, New Yorkers for Culture and Arts; Laurie Berg and Lucy Sexton, Performance Space New York; Paula Bennett, Ted Berger, Theater for a New Audience; Dorothy Ryan, the Bushwick Starr; Lauren Miller, the Indie Theater Fund/IndieSpace; and Randi Berry. Additional early support came from ADVANCE/MORE Opera; Cheryl Warfield, Bronx Arts Ensemble; and Ellen Pollan.

The report can be found here.

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