Memphis Business Journal, Corey Davis —
A brush of uncertainty still surrounds the local arts community, despite some improvement from the pandemic's effects.
ArtsMemphis — the Mid-South’s main arts funder, supporting both artists and local arts organizations — is set to launch another round of its Artist Emergency Fund.
Elizabeth Rouse, president and CEO of ArtsMemphis, said the organization will start distributing funds to all types of artists on Sept. 27.
Artists in need, including those who have continued to experience income loss due to the ongoing pandemic, can receive up to $750 of unrestricted grant dollars. Currently, ArtsMemphis has an initial total of $150,000 of funding to share with artists, but is constantly looking to raise funds.
ArtsMemphis is administering the artist emergency funds through a partnership with Music Export Memphis. Rouse said close to 70% of the emergency fund applicants in 2020 were in the music industry. Overall, ArtsMemphis distributed a total of $487,000 of emergency funding last year to more than 640 local artists.
“We are working to raise dollars to provide ongoing support to organizations and artists and to provide some additional relief over the next several years as the arts sector builds back," Rouse said. To apply for for the artist emergency fund, click here. The deadline is Oct. 15.
In total, ArtsMemphis granted $2.2 million to 64 arts organizations and hundreds of artists over the last year. Of that total, operating support grants of $900,000 were awarded to 45 organizations — 40% of which are led by a person of color and 58% serve participants who are majority people of color.
Data from those 45 grantees illustrates the dramatic effect COVID has had on arts organizations locally.
“The reality is arts organizations have a long road ahead to being fully open,” Rouse said. “We know since the start of the pandemic that arts organizations had to reduce their staff collectively by more than 50%. We have seen most of those part- and full-time employees who were laid off or furloughed restored. It's contract positions that still haven’t been brought back."
Rouse noted that arts organizations that received ArtsMemphis grants experienced a collective revenue decline of more than $24 million since the pandemic began.
The rise of the Delta variant of COVID put once promising plans for late summer and fall in question.
"[The Delta variant] has had a very significant impact because at one point many art groups were hopeful at planning for a full season to kick off in August or September,” Rouse said. “It wasn’t going to look like pre-pandemic seasons, but did look much more active than they had been in 2020. Unfortunately, those had to scale back drastically. It’s just not safe for tons of people to be gathering together in indoor spaces."
Rouse noted that there are many safe art experiences happening in Memphis, including programming or shows at the Levitt Shell, Playhouse on the Square, Hattiloo Theatre, and other places around the city. Next month the RiverArtsFest will return Oct. 23-24 at the Renasant Convention Center, while the Indie Memphis Film Festival will also take place in October.
“Most theaters in town are open right now and masks are required since that is the mandate from the Shelby County Health Department,” Rouse said. “All of the theaters have various capacity restrictions in place based on size and the layout of their theaters. Most of the performing groups are full speed ahead with in-person options and still some virtual options as well. All our museums are open and have the option for coming to see an exhibition in person, but also doing virtual programs. That seems to be the future of the art sector and will forever change, having both in-person and virtual options.”