Dr. Art on Emergency Support Organizations

Courtesy of New York Foundation for the Arts

in 2002, the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and the Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) co-hosted a roundtable in New York City of emergency funding and service organizations from across the United States.  Following is a discussion of the issue, as well as a list of organizations that offer emergency assistance for artists.

Organizations in attendance at the unprecedented gathering included Artist Trust, Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Jazz Foundation of America, Urban Institute, and the Consortium for Worker Education. The roundtable was the outgrowth of multiple efforts to assist artists and arts organizations affected by September 11, and its purpose was to bring together a broad community of emergency organizations concerned with individual artists and their needs in times of crises. This installment of Ask Dr. Art is intended to help shed some light on emergency organizations and what you can do when an emergency arises.

Crises Big and Small

Generally speaking, artists can be subjected to two kinds of emergencies. On the one hand, there are the large-scale disasters—something like Hurricane Floyd hitting the eastern seaboard of the United States in October 1999; the Nisqually earthquake in Washington State in February 2001; or the tragedy of September 11 in New York City. These disasters affect thousands of people in an instant, destroying livelihoods and uprooting communities, and it often takes many years for these communities to recover. On the other hand, there are personal emergencies, such as sudden illnesses, physical injuries from accidents, house or studio fires, etc. Sometimes, an artist may be unfortunate enough to be afflicted simultaneously with a personal emergency during a large-scale disaster (NYFA’s Visual Artist Information Hotline has worked with several artists in this situation over the past couple of years). Fortunately for artists, though, there is a safety net of emergency support programs out there to help in a time of need. One of the biggest problems, however, which the NYFA/CERF roundtable was quick to point out, is that there is a substantial lack of comprehensive information about them. At best, this information is a patchwork affair, a situation NYFA and CERF are working to change. But more on that in a moment.

About Emergency Support Organizations

On the national level, there are several dozen organizations that provide emergency support to individual artists. Some of those organizations serve a specific discipline (Musicares), while others serve a particular ethnic group (International Association of Blacks in Dance) or geographic region (Montana Arts Council). Certainly, there are many holes in the support network, particularly in specific disciplines and certain areas of the country, and the grant monies awarded by these organizations are generally very modest (usually a couple of hundred dollars). However, most emergency organizations are private non-profits started by artists for artists (within this are foundations, charities, guilds, and unions), and very few programs receive money from state or local governments. It is also clear from the NYFA/CERF roundtable that most emergency organizations function in a constant crisis-mode. This means they constantly have to work reactively in response to a never-ending influx of crisis calls. What makes their job even more difficult is the fact that these organizations have been subjected to the same downturn in the economy as artists, who are hit especially hard during these times. The need is greater now, and there is just less money to go around.

In the case of September 11, for instance, the mounting US recession suddenly became a whole lot worse after the attack, thereby exacerbating many of these organizations’ financial woes, while at the same time making artists’ needs for emergency assistance that much more acute. Artists, who saw their annual income reduced within an economy gone south (performances cancelled, artwork not selling), didn’t have anywhere to turn after September 11. Unlike arts organizations, which at the very least have access to governmental, foundation, and corporate support, artists are usually forced to survive by their wits. Fortunately, in the wake of September 11, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, along with a host of other funders, stepped forward with major emergency donations to support both artists and organizations. The New York Arts Recovery Fund was created with these funds, components of which were administered by the American Music Center, Artist Resource Trust/New York, and NYFA.

Learning from Others

It’s crazy to think that in the future all emergency situations can be avoided. However, the devastating impact that many of them will cause could at least be tempered or reduced. Consider, for instance, the aftermath of the Nisqually earthquake in Washington State in February 2001, from which Washington artists (mostly visual artists) reported $1.3 million in losses, including $890,000 in inventory. Luckily, the Seattle-based arts service organization Artist Trust, in collaboration with the King County Arts Commission, Seattle Art Commission, Washington State Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts, quickly set up an emergency support program called Artists’ Quake Aid (AQUA). Through AQUA, Artist Trust was able within weeks to distribute $40,000 in aid (grant amounts ranged from $250 to $1,500) to artists suffering the greatest losses. Reported losses included damage to artwork and equipment, workspace, work time, emotional trauma, and the breakup of artist communities. In the AQUA Final Report, Artist Trust points out several important findings about the ways in which many artists organize their lives and maintain their artistic production, all of which are applicable to most emergency situations, regardless of the type of emergency or the scale of it:

• Many artists live so close to the edge financially that they cannot sustain a disaster of any kind.

• Many artists live and work in unsafe conditions.

• Most artists do not carry . . . insurance for their artwork as this insurance is difficult to find, very expensive, and has high deductibles. Furthermore, the value of artwork is hard to determine.

• Many galleries do not carry . . . insurance for artwork on exhibition or in storage, for the same reasons artists do not carry it.

• Government resources are often unattainable to artists who are not viewed as having a "business."

Additionally, the NYFA/CERF roundtable identified another important attitudinal issue: artists don’t feel they are part of the general public (they tend to marginalize themselves). They therefore don’t tend to utilize the existing emergency support infrastructure offered to them by social service organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), American Red Cross, and the Salvation Army. However, the reverse is also true. Many social service organizations don’t quite know how to handle artists and their specific needs. What is important here is to think outside the box. In emergency situations, in particular, artists should also pursue programs for the general public. This includes community programs, support groups, programs serving students, faith-based programs, etc.

What Situations Are Eligible for Emergency Support?

When struck by an emergency, what should you do? Before applying to an emergency organization, it is important to understand the distinction between what they term valid emergencies and avoidable ones. The majority of emergency support organizations draw a clear line between the two. Valid emergencies can be characterized as absolutely unavoidable. They are life-and-death situations such as medical emergencies, fires, floods, natural disasters, etc. Emergency situations of one’s own making, although difficult, are not eligible for emergency support. This category includes circumstances such as bad financial planning, credit card debt, child support, defaults on student or other loans, eviction because of refusing to pay rent, etc. Emergency organizations are also not set up to assist with special opportunities such as sudden and unexpected performance/exhibitions overseas, residencies, and professional conferences (although there are many programs nationwide, similar to NYFA’s Special Opportunity Stipends, that support special opportunities). None of these situations constitute unavoidable, life-and-death emergencies.

Types of Emergency Support

Emergency organizations generally provide one or more of the following areas of support: emergency grants, emergency low-interest loans (these have to be repaid), and emergency assistance. Emergency grants can range from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars. Emergency loans come in the same amounts, and are usually accompanied by a grace period of about a year to give artists time to get back on their feet before the repayments start. Lastly, many emergency organizations (and non-emergency organizations, too) give artists technical assistance concerning how to pick up the pieces and proceed with their lives, and some will work with other social service organizations on an artist’s behalf. Whatever the form of support, responsiveness (i.e., a quick turnaround time) and access to information and resources are rules by which these organizations live and breathe.

It’s also good to know that most organizations don’t prioritize artistic merit. Generally, an organization will review an artist’s résumé accompanying her or his application to verify she or he is a "professional" working artist, but that’s it. The organization will also weigh the need and the degree of crisis. Lastly, artists stricken with multiple emergencies over the course of several years may reapply to many emergency organizations for help.

Emergency Support Organizations

In addition to hosting further roundtables, creating partnerships among emergency organizations, and advocating for greater emergency relief, NYFA is planning to launch a brand new database on its website in the fall of 2002. The database, developed in partnership with the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, builds upon NYFA’s Visual Artist Information Hotline, a clearinghouse of information on more than 2,000 support programs for visual artists. In a matter of months, it will make comprehensive, up-to-the-minute information available on nearly 5,000 support programs for artists working in all disciplines: visual arts, media arts, design arts, dance, music, theater, performance art, and literature. The database will be searchable, and it will be available free 24/7 on NYFA’s new website.

List of Emergency Organizations

The following is an extensive, though by no means definitive, working list of emergency organizations. Please call or check the organizations’ websites to get the latest programmatic information and eligibility requirements.


Academy of American Poets
Tel (212) 274-0343
Web www.poets.org
American Poets Fund (for poets with illness or emergency)

American Society of Journalists and Authors Charitable Trust
Tel (212) 997-0947
Llewellyn Miller Fund (for writers who are unable to work)

Authors League of America
Tel (212) 564-8350
Authors League Fund (interest free loans for emergencies)

Carnegie Fund for Authors
Tel (516) 877-2141
Grants-in-Aid (for commercially published book authors)

Human Rights Watch
Tel (212) 290-4700
Web www.hrw.org
Hellman-Hammett Grants (for writers internationally who are victims of political persecution)

Pen American Center
Tel (212) 334-1660
Web www.pen.org
PEN Fund for Writers and Editors with HIV/AIDS (for HIV/AIDS-related illness)
PEN Writers Fund (for published or produced writers)

Media Arts

Motion Picture and Television Fund
Tel (800) 448-8844
Web www.mptvfund.org
Motion Picture and Television Fund (for members in emergency situations)


Commonwealth Council for Arts and Culture (Northern Mariana Islands)
Tel (670) 322-9982
Web www.nasaa-arts.org/new/nasaa/gateway/NorthernM.htm
Grants-in-Aid Program (no description available)

Herbert and Irene Wheeler Foundation
Tel (718) 951-0581
Emergency Grants to Artists of Color (for housing, medical, fires, floods)

J. Happy-Delpech Foundation
Tel (312) 342-1359
Grants to Midwest Artists with AIDS or Serious Illnesses (for medical emergencies)

Louisiana Division of the Arts
Tel (225) 342-8180
Web www.crt.state.la.us/arts
Director’s Grant-in-Aid Program (for special opportunities and/or emergency situations)

Montana Arts Council
Tel (406) 444-6430
Web www.state.mt.us/art
Opportunity Grant (for special opportunities and/or emergency situations)

Performing Arts

Actors’ Fund of America
Tel (212) 221-7300
Web www.actorsfund.org
Conrad Cantzen Shoe Fund (funds up to $80 per year to purchase one new pair of shoes)
Entertainment Industry Assistance Program (EIAP) (for counseling, advocacy and aid)
Senior and Disabled Program (for the disabled or age 62 or older)
AIDS Initiative (for AIDS counseling, support groups, emergency aid, and housing)
Mental Health Services (for treatment, housing, rehabilitation, and funding)

American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA)
Tel (212) 265-3687
Web www.musicalartists.org
AGMA Emergency Relief Fund (for AGMA members)

American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA)
Tel (212) 675-1003
General Sick and Relief Fund (for illness and emergencies)

Associated Musicians of Greater New York Local 802
Tel (212) 245-4802
Web www.local802afm.org
Lester Petrillo Memorial Fund for Disabled Musicians (for disabled AFM members)
Local 802 Emergency Relief Fund (for eviction, disconnection of utilities, medical assistance)

Dancer’s Group Studio Theater
Tel (415) 920-9181
Web www.dancersgroup.org
Parachute Fund (for San Francisco-area dance community for HIV/AIDS or illness)

Episcopal Actors Guild of America
Tel (212) 685-2927
Web www.actorsguild.org
HIV/AIDS Relief Program (for actors with HIV/AIDS)
Emergency Aid and Relief Program (no description available)

International Association of Blacks in Dance
Tel (215) 713-0692
Web http://iabdconference.com
Emergency Fund (for IABD members)

Jazz Foundation of America
Tel (212) 245-3999
Web www.jazzfoundation.org
Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund (for jazz musicians)

Music Maker Relief Foundation
Tel (919) 643-2456
Web www.musicmaker.org
Emergency Relief Program (for medical, fire, theft)

Tel (212) 245-7840
Web www.grammy.com
Musicares Program (for artists nationally in emergency situations)

Musicians’ Assistance Program
Tel (888) 627-6271
Web www.map2000.org
Musicians’ Assistance Program (for drug and alcohol treatment and recovery)

Musicians Foundation
Tel (212) 239-9137
Web www.musiciansfoundation.org
Emergency Assistance Grants (for professional musicians)

Rhythm and Blues Foundation
Tel (202) 588-5566
Web www.rhythm-n-blues.org
Gwendolyn B. Gordy Fuqua Fund (for R&B musicians who performed under Motown label during 1970s)

Santa Fe Jazz Foundation
110 Vuelta Chamisa
Santa Fe, NM 87501-8582
Grants for Emergency Medical Aid (for jazz musicians with medical needs)

Screen Actors Guild Foundation
Tel (323) 549-6708
Web www.sagfoundation.org
Emergency Assistance Grants (for needy, sick, indigent, and aged SAG members)
Catastrophic Health Fund (for SAG members with illness or injury)

Society of Singers
Tel (323) 651-1696
Web www.singers.org
Financial Assistance (for singers internationally)

Sweet Relief Musicians Fund
Web www.sweetrelief.org
Emergency Assistance (for medical, drug or alcohol dependency, and unemployment)

Theatre Bay Area
Tel (415) 430-1140
Web www.theatrebayarea.org
Mary Mason Memorial Lemonade Fund (for theater workers in San Francisco-area with illness)

Will Rogers Memorial Fund
Tel (877) 957-7575
Web www.wrinstitute.org
Financial Assistance (for medical expenses and disabilities)

Visual Arts

Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation
Tel (212) 226-0581
Web www.gottliebfoundation.org
Emergency Assistance Program (for catastrophic emergency)

Artists’ Fellowship
Tel (212) 255-7740
Emergency Funding Grant Program (for illness, disability, distress)

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation
Tel (800) 969-2823
Web www.berkshiretaconic.org
Artists Resource Trust (ART) (for mid-career artists in New England)

Change, Inc.
Tel (212) 473-3742
Emergency Grants (one-time only grants for artists anywhere in US)

Chicago Artist’s Coalition
Tel (312) 781-0040
Web www.caconline.org
Ruth Talaber Artists’ Emergency Fund (for emergency situations)

Craft Emergency Relief Fund
Tel (802) 229-2306
Web www.craftemergency.org
Emergency Grants, Loans and Services (for craftspeople anywhere in US)

Photographers + Friends United Against AIDS
Tel (212) 219-2672
Web www.icomm.ca/~pfcda
Critical Needs Fund (for photographers with HIV/AIDS)

Visual Aid
Tel (415) 777-8242
Web www.visualaid.org
Art Bank (makes available free art materials to Visual Aid artists)
Voucher Program (supply vouchers to Visual Aid artists for free art materials at local retailers)
Exhibition Program (plans, curates, and exhibits work by Visual Aid artists)

Visual Aids
Tel (212) 627-9855
Web www.visualaids.org
Visual AIDS Artists Materials Grant (for Visual Aids members with low income)

Other Emergency Services

American Red Cross
Web www.redcross.org

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Tel (202) 566-1600
Web www.fema.gov

Salvation Army
Tel (800) SAL-ARMY
Web www.salvationarmy.org

Small Business Administration (SBA)
Tel (800) 827-5722
Web www.sba.gov

Legal Resources

Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (VLA)
Tel (212) 319-2787 x9—Art Law Line
Web www.vlany.org

Legal Aid Society
Tel (212) 732-5000
Web www.legal-aid.org

Cornelia Carey is the Executive Director of the Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) in Montpelier, VT. CERF helps craftspeople sustain craftsmaking as a livelihood and, by doing so, enriches the cultural and economic vitality within communities in the US. When disaster strikes, CERF is there to help professional craftspeople get back on their feet and return to work as quickly as possible. Crises may take the form of illness, fire, accident, theft, or natural disaster, but the results are often similar: the artist’s livelihood is threatened. For further information, please contact the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, PO Box 838, Montpelier, VT 05601-0838; phone (802) 229-2306; fax (802) 223-6484; email info@craftemergency.org; or online at www.craftemergency.org.

This article originally appeared as part of the Dr. Art series, written by Matthew Deleget for the New York Foundation for the Arts.  www.nyfa.org.    It is for informational purposes only and should not be understood as business/legal counsel.   It is reprinted with permission.

Published by CAR_admin on Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:22am
Updated on Tue, 12/09/2014 - 10:50am