The Chicago Artists Relief Fund was founded in response to the devastating impact of the quarantine on the performing arts community. Recent surveys have indicated 95% of artists have lost income due to the pandemic.
We didn’t need a poll to know that thousands of our peers, friends and collaborators lost their jobs and income overnight. The service industry jobs, the teaching artist jobs, and the wide variety of survival gigs artists rely on simply evaporated. The need is immediate and urgent. The founders of the Chicago Artists Relief Fund rose to the occasion.
Since March 15th The Fund has raised over $75,000 and distributed emergency grants to over 315 artists in need across a variety of disciplines. Today (May 4, 2020), they are announcing an updated goal of $150,000.
I caught up with two of the founders, Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel (Jeff Award Winner, one of my favorite Chicago actors and fellow theater mama) and Elle Riley-Condit (Co-Artistic Director of The Syndicate).
HALLIE: The speed with which this effort was organized is astounding.
ELLE: We came together really organically after our friend, Jessica [Kadish-Hernández], posted a note on Facebook about Ijeoma Oluo (author of So You Want to Talk About Race) who had founded a similar fund in Seattle. Jess posted, “Hey, is there one like this in Chicago? And if not, can we start it?” She posted on a Thursday or Friday and by Sunday it was going.
CRUZ: There was the social media chain, and then I called Jess and we had a conversation with Adelina, and that’s how she came on board. And then Jess and I pulled more people together. We very organically got together a group of nine volunteers. At first we met every day for an hour. It was a learning process for all of us. The nine of us had never worked together before this in any capacity. We had to get to know each other and find our group’s best practices. We’ve been learning together ever since. It’s a great group – multidisciplinary! We come from theater, dance, arts administration and more…it’s very balanced.
ELLE: There’s an equity lens to this fund. So we prioritize trans and nonbinary artists, black, indigenous, and POC artists, and disabled artists. No matter what we were doing before this, what type of art we were practicing, all of us were approaching our work through a healing lens, a community lens, or an equity lens. That’s a big part of all of us as individuals, so that just naturally helped us know the way we wanted to do this.
CRUZ: I feel like everyone wants to tackle the work through those lenses and that has informed our practices and how we move forward.
HALLIE: And how many grants have you made so far?
ELLE: We’ve reached 315 individual artists.
CRUZ: And we just passed our goal of $75,000! Today, Monday May 4th we are officially announcing that we have doubled our goal – to $150,000. The inspiration to double the goal came to us when the stay-at-home order was doubled. We know that, as it extends, so do the needs of our community. The fund is a lot of work. We all care a lot and take it very seriously. We put a lot of time and energy into it to try to make it the best it can be. We’re ready to tackle the challenge of doubling our fundraising goal so we can open up another round of applications to artists and continue to help our community heal.
ELLE: Our sibling funds in New York and Seattle have already doubled their original goals, they’re past that. And I know Chicago cares about its artists just as much as NYC and Seattle. And the volunteers running the funds in those cities do too.
CRUZ: We believe deeply in what we are doing. And we all love a challenge. Especially if it means bringing some relief to the most incredible artists’ community in the world.
HALLIE: Do you have plans to continue the fund after the pandemic?
ELLE: Yes. The reason this is a volunteer effort is so that we can evolve as a group of people to whatever needs there are. Before the pandemic there was already so much inequity in our industry. Those of us in theater know the statistics. We know how poorly artists of color and indigenous artists and trans and non-binary and disabled artists are represented, let alone how poorly they are paid. So this type of work has always needed to happen; it just became a more acute need.
As long as The Fund’s volunteers want to keep working on it, we can still be making an impact because we can shift to address the need that exists. Even if the virus went away magically, does that mean all the theaters are going to reopen tomorrow? Or all the performing arts centers? The places we all work to string together jobs as so many artists do? So the fund will last as long as we can keep it up. We’re all very determined people.
CRUZ: We’re all VERY determined and very committed to the work we’re doing. And we’re looking to make a positive impact in the community. And that’s not going to end when the virus ends. So as long as we’re all willing to volunteer our time and our efforts, we’re gonna keep going.
We’re learning a lot. We recently just brought in a not-for-profit partner, because we learned from the Seattle and New York efforts, that’s a step that needs to be taken.
HALLIE: Is that so you can be under the umbrella of their 501-c3?
CRUZ: Yes, our not-for-profit partner is Soham Dance Space. This gives people an opportunity to make larger, tax deductible donations. And we’ve been lucky to have so many partnerships to help us fundraise.
HALLIE: I know there have been a number of spontaneous fundraisers, including one I virtually attended in the early weeks of the fund by The New Colony, they put on a reading and encouraged people to donate to you.
CRUZ: Yes! And we have even more exciting partnerships soon to be announced.
HALLIE: Is there anything else you’d like community members to know about the fund?
CRUZ: They can support us, not just through monetary donations, but by spreading the word, elevating the work and getting people excited. Share about us on social media – you can find us on Facebook at Chicago Artists Relief Fund and Instagram @chicagoartistsrelief
INFO ABOUT THE CHICAGO ARTISTS RELIEF FUND:
Click here to apply for assistance if you are an artist in need. Applications for the next round of grants will reopen soon.
Donate to the Fund by clicking here.
The Chicago Artists Relief Fund is administered by:
The Chicago Artists Relief Fund logo was designed by Michelle Underwood.
You can contact the fund at firstname.lastname@example.org