The Issue with New Artist Grants
- Author: Mary Singleton
- Posted: 2023-01-10
Ever since the global pandemic hit America hard dating back to March earlier this year, there have thankfully been hundreds upon hundreds of charitable organizations stepping up and stepping in with grants and other forms of funding for people who are suffering from the virus. Millions of people found themselves out of work and unable to pay their bills, though at least most of these people were able to draw unemployment. The artist community is rarely spoken about on news networks and by politicians, but they were hit harder than almost anyone else, which is why foundations like Artist Relief came along.
Artist Relief is an organization that gives out $5,000 grants to qualified artists. They serve songwriters and poets and other musicians, artists and sculptors, and other sorts of artists. Their application process is pretty simplistic. Just tell them if you're over 18, a legal citizen with a tax ID, and then tell them about your hardships. If you can link out to somewhere your art can be found, then you will be considered for this grant.
Their heart seems to be in the right place. After all, the vast majority of these sorts of artists live piece by piece and don't receive a paycheck, and so they're receiving no refunds at the end of the fiscal year. This also means, in most states, they're also ineligible for unemployment, because even though they're not making much money, they're still technically self-employed. So people who lost their jobs were eligible for state unemployment, and then $500 of federal unemployment. But artists qualified for neither. So, yes, they were suffering a lot more than most demographics. Artist Relief stepping in with grants as a great idea. It's just really poor execution.
We did a little bit of digging around social media and artist circles to find out who's getting this money and who isn't. As it turns out, qualified artists are rarely receiving this money. Singer-songwriters, painters, sculptors, etc; very few individuals speak about having received this grant, with most claiming to have been denied. On the Artist Relief website, they speak about being low on funds and packed to the rafters with applications, so they preemptively apologize about the long wait and make it clear that most people are going to be denied.
Though they had millions upon millions of dollars of funding to give out these $5,000 grants. To whom did they go? Why is the fund now struggling so much?
As it turns out, it appears as if a little bit of social justice got tied up in the approval process, which was not at all spoken about as a qualifying criterion for receiving the grants. The bulk of the grant money has gone not to qualified artists who are struggling, but rather minorities who claim general hardship.
Minorities should in no way be disqualified from any sort of grant program. However, it's important to remember that Artist Relief is supposed to be granting applicants funds based on the fact that they're artists, not the fact that they can claim minority status. Something seems very amiss with this program.
What Can Be Done to Help Real Artists Get the Funds
The fix for this type of stuff is simplistic. If you want to award grants to a certain racial or ethnic demographic, that is perfectly acceptable in America, and you should feel free to set up a grant program and accept those applications. Though to claim that you're handing out grants to one specific group, only to start handing them out to another, is more than a bit dishonest. So, to fix this, just create a separate category.
Another issue with the Artist Relief fund is that they seem to be granting money to people who tell stories of extreme hardships yet might not actually be artists. A link to a drawing on Instagram or one time you wrote a poem in class doesn't make one an artist. They claim to be after real artists, who have dedicated their lives and careers to their art, and can demonstrate this. Though try as we might, we cannot seem to locate the real artists who actually received any of this money.
We're all thankful for large grant programs like Artist Relief, though at the same time we can criticize them for being a little wishy-washy in their approval process and allowing themselves to be bogged down by other qualifying criteria of applicants.