Erie Arts & Culture Offers Artists Emergency Financial Assistance Fund
A Q&A with Executive Director Patrick Fisher regarding their local stimulus effort
So many people have been disrupted but the recent business closures and the temporarily altered lifestyle surrounding the COVID-19 epidemic. Amidst a growing national conversation regarding a federal stimulus package, on Wednesday, March 18, Erie Arts & Culture announced that they would be launching an Emergency Financial Assistance Fund, which would essentially give impacted artists and creative professionals of different disciplines $500 in assistance.
We talked (on the phone, of course) with Erie Arts & Culture's Executive Director, Patrick Fisher about this effort and more.
Nick Warren: For the new Emergency Financial Assistance Fund, can you tell us what inspired you to do that?
Patrick Fisher: So navigating a career in a cultural or creative sector can certainly be fraught with a lot of challenges. I think it's particularly really challenging when you're emerging in your career, or even once you kind of hit that mid-career status. I think a lot of the challenge arises from the fact that everyone is more or less operating within the gig economy, meaning how strong their "hustle" is and the connections they're making. And the opportunities that are present are really different, meaning what their income stream looks like. Because of that, many in that sector tend to live from paycheck to paycheck, and there's not always a financial safety net that exists whenever an emergency arises, or a crisis ensues.
Compound that with the fact that our sector is probably one of the quickest impacted during times of economic downturn or financial concerns. You see that even the Scholastic level, when budgets are tight, often the arts are what gets cut. Within our region, I would say we have a fairly high number of individuals that work within their creative or cultural sector, especially when it comes to live musicians.
Within our region, free live music is something that can be experienced on many evenings throughout the week, and that's particularly true during the summer months, which we're heading into right now. So, in situations like this, you know, when crises arise, there are a lot of organizations that are quick to mobilize and exhibit the generosity that exists in our community. When you think of United Way that you're a Community Foundation, extra, they're all really doing tremendous things to leverage their position in the community to really respond to a present community need. But Erie Arts & Culture wanted to make sure that the individuals that operate within our sector didn't fall through the cracks.
NW: And what did the organization decide?
PF: We had an emergency meeting and about two days ago, and discuss what we could potentially do to support our sector in this trying time. What we decided to do was take a fund that has existed for a while now, but hasn't necessarily been drawn from in any meaningful way, which was previously called a "Special Project Fund" and rename it an "Emergency Financial Assistance Fund." A lot of this arose as a result of our 2019 strategic planning process. One of the things that we discussed with our consultants during that planning process was how do we make sure that we're aligning our resources with our priorities and values as an agency? Coincidentally, prior to all of this and the pandemic, Our grant-making committee was scheduled to have a mini-retreat this upcoming weekend, talking about things such as our grant-making programs and things like the special projects, how do we make that more available for the community and how do we make sure that it's serving the community in a meaningful way? So, when the
when the crisis struck, it seemed like a logical thing to do was to discuss how we could use the funds that are in that, which totaled $39,600, to respond to and pressing community need, and we decided to do the financial assistance Emergency Financial Assistance Fund. Programs like this, other Arts Councils have had in the past. Pittsburgh is a great example. There Arts Alliance has actually long-standing had an assistance fund for artists that provide up to $500 in moments of crisis or emergency. So it's one of those things where you never necessarily need to reinvent the wheel. There are others in the industry and in the sector that have been doing it. So, how could we look at what existed and then modify it as necessary to meet the needs of our community?
NW: The simplicity of the application is noticeable, what drove that?
PF: In particular, we really wanted to make the application as unencumbered as possible, and accessible as possible, because we do recognize the fact that oftentimes with grant funding that application and then the reporting serves as a barrier to participation, and we wanted to make sure that we removed that with this particular funding.
NW: How has the response been within the nearly 24-hour period?
PF: Between 4 p.m. yesterday and 8 a.m. this morning, we had about 40 folks already apply. Many of these individuals are applying with a real need, you know, their revenue stream and their projected revenue stream had been put on hold not just for the weekend, not just for next week, but some of them everything they had booked up through May and June has already been postponed or canceled. And when that occurs, when you don't know when the end is, and when you can't see the bottom, that that can be very nerve-racking and that can really trigger. I think for many of us, food security and financial security tend to trigger a lot of these anxieties, especially when you have dependents in your life.
So, you know, we recognize that the funding we have right now is limited. We hope that we can leverage what we have as well as capitalize on the generosity of our community to grow the fund. Because with what we have, the amount that we've already seen apply within, you know, essentially an 18 hour period. Yeah. If each person that is applying is awarded, and they're awarded the full 500, it won't take long before the funding we have the beacon completely consider themselves Yes.
We have a panel that's going to be looking at all of the applicants and really looking at it based on a need and an emergency. A lot of the grants that we do are project-based in spirit. This one is not about taking $500 and feeding it back into your creative business. It's not about buying paint. It's not about buying a new piece of equipment. It's not about entering into a juried show. It's really about, "Hey, I need this money because if I don't have this money, I don't know if I'll be able to buy groceries. I don't know if I'll be able to buy diapers. I don't know if I'll be able to pay my rent." You know, we're really looking at a prudent need to be perfectly honest.
NW: Do you have a timeline of when the applicants will know when they've been selected and then when they'll receive the funds?
PF: So we have said online that we will respond to all applicants with an update within a 72-hour period. But I think that again, based on what we've seen as an initial response, the decision making is going to be easy, because there's a high degree of need that's present in our community. But we are already launching some other tools within our toolbox to try to assist artists and creative and cultural professionals. So that the donation platform we use is called Donately. It allows for peer to peer fundraising campaigns, similar to GoFundMe and Kickstarter, etc. So we've already started to reach out to everybody who is applied and offered to assist them in building a peer to peer campaign through our platform, which they could then share through their networks to try to obtain donation and with those donations, You know, they would be tax-deductible because they're coming through Erie Arts & Culture as a nonprofit agency.
NW: You had mentioned the previous conversation the PRO Network for Erie Arts & Culture, can you speak briefly about that? Will that tie into your increasing network of artists?
PF: Yes. So as an agency, we believe that creative and cultural professionals can be leaders in the community so long as they're provided access to professional development, resources, and opportunities, which is where the word "PRO" comes from in the PRO Network name. So with that, we're looking to consistently put in front of people, opportunities that are not just in our local region, but throughout the nation that artists in your area in northwest Pennsylvania could be eligible to apply to whether that's for exhibitions, touring performances, grants, commissions, fellowships, residences, etc. But in addition to that, actually building out a suite of professional development workshops, discussions, and symposiums. We're starting to do that we actually had our first one scheduled for a week and a half from now, and it was going to focus on intellectual property within the creative sector, with Jonathan DiSilva is going to lead that discussion from MMI intellectual property. We've had to postpone that for right now. We're talking with others about how do we teach financial literacy to those in the creative and cultural sector. You know, how do we teach what to look for when reading and reviewing a contract? How do we discuss time management and goal setting and how to not feel overwhelmed or wait till the last minute of a deadline. So if you go to the PRO Network page, we have a survey on there, where we're asking individuals in our region and to let us know: What opportunities are you most interested in? And then beyond that, what are the areas of professional development that you think would most immediately benefit you in your growth and your career?
NW: It's kind of like "left-brain thinking, in a right-brain world."
PF: Yes, absolutely. You know, many in our community have had access to education as far as arts degrees, but there's also probably an equal, if not larger number that hasn't that are still operating in this sector. And they're self-taught, but either way, most that are pursuing degrees in the arts aren't being taught the business side of being either a small business or at the very least, a freelancer or independent contractor. Right. And those are the things that we're trying to address through this arm of our capacity-building efforts.
Nick Warren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org