“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Arts & Health at Duke is working remotely so you can reach us by email. Our Music at Bedside program is on hold until further noticeDurham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) has suspended all performances through June 1… The American Dance Festival (ADF) announced today that due to the current situation with the coronavirus (COVID-19), ADF will cancel the 2020 season.”

One by one theaters closed. Galleries locked their doors. Performances cancelled. When the COVID crisis hit in March 2020, every aspect of arts in the public arena came to a screeching halt.

By May, the financial impact to artists and arts organizations had reached nearly $33 million in North Carolina alone and almost $5 billion in the United States.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Local arts nonprofits, themselves impacted deeply, didn’t wait for a rescue. Instead they put their creativity to work in some of the most imaginative ways…pulling together and lifting one another up.

For Brandon Cordrey, Executive Director of Visual Art Exchange-Raleigh (VAE), and Jamie Katz Court, manager of communications at PineCone, collaboration started with a simple social media tag. They’ve since joined forces and partnered with Artspace, Theatre Raleigh, and the United Arts Council. Together, through the NC Artist Relief Fund, a huge fundraising campaign with over 630 individuals, foundations, and businesses contributing, they have sent $142,597 in relief funds to 597 artists residing in 188 cities and towns across North Carolina.

In neighboring Orange County, Arts Commission Director Katie Murray was having similar conversations. She says, “As soon as all this started happening, it became abundantly clear that the arts would be one of the hardest hit industries. For so many of us, our immediate thoughts were, ‘What can we do to help?’”

Thinking a short-term fund would be enough, Murray says the initial goal of the Orange County Arts Support Fund was just $20,000. But the need has stretched far beyond that goal and continues to grow. By mid-May the Commission had raised more than double that amount, and the fund was still growing.

To get the word out, the organization has designed a challenge where artists use the hashtag #IsolateAndCreateNC when sharing their work on social media and then tag @OCNCarts and three friends to pass the challenge along to others. Murray anticipates continuing to raise funds throughout 2020, as long as artists are feeling the impact.

Sherry DeVries, Executive Director of Durham Arts Council, says they’ll also keep making an effort to bring in emergency resources. DeVries anticipates the creative sector will be one of the last to recover because it typically involves larger groups of people. She says, “Whether it's a jazz club or a restaurant with a chamber orchestra, Carolina Theater or DPAC, it involves more than 10 people. That tells me this is going to be a long, slow recovery.”

In response, Durham Arts Council launched the Arts Recovery Fund to provide emergency resources to individual artists and arts organizations impacted by the crisis. The fund was made possible with generous donations from PNC, Duke University, The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, Triangle Community Foundation, the Manbites Dog Theater Fund, and many other individual and corporate donors.

In addition to providing relief directly to those in need, the Arts Recovery Fund—in partnership with the Durham Artist Relief Fund established by Northstar Church of the Arts—adds the unique benefit of expanding emergency resources by attracting and administering donations on behalf of public and private funders who cannot use a GoFundMe platform.

Emergency resources are also available to artists and arts-workers in Chatham County with the help of Chatham Arts Council’s Chatham Artists and Arts-Worker Relief Effort (CAARE). Funded in part by the Manbites Dog Theater Fund, “CAARE seeks to help with basic financial needs for artists and arts-workers who are dealing with widespread cancellations of concerts, plays, events, and art shows.”

The need resulting from the economic impact of COVID on the arts cannot be overstated. DeVries reminds us that the nonprofit arts sector alone generates $154.2 million annually in economic activity in Durham, NC. Many whose livelihoods depend on it have had every revenue stream dry up at once.

At the same time, many who recognize the significance of the arts for the flourishing of communities have generously responded to the creative fundraising efforts of local nonprofits. Cordrey mentions how fast interest in the NC Artist Relief Fund has grown, allowing them to provide relief to artists almost immediately. Murray says the response has been overwhelmingly positive, and DeVries sums it up, “I feel very heartened and encouraged by the generosity we’re seeing.” Both Murray and DeVries noted that new donors are finding them and contributing while regular contributors continue to give as well.

Early on, Triangle Community Foundation had mobilized their Fund for the Triangle, and disbursed a total of $25,000 to the organizations mentioned above, and is now gearing up for their next arts funding cycle. Foundation President and CEO, Lori O’Keefe says, “Artists and arts organizations are truly the heart of our community. As we’ve been experiencing this crisis, we’ve turned to them daily through videos, virtual tours, and Facebook live concerts to sooth our souls and give us an outlet in this crisis. Many arts organizations are less suited to sustain during a crisis because, unlike a food pantry or a health clinic, they derive revenue from ticket sales and related income. The demands on all of us to keep our region strong are significant right now. We must continue to support the talent and creativity that exists here in the Triangle now more than ever, because we’re going to need them more than ever.”

Murray wholeheartedly agrees. She can't imagine a world without art. “Art is so important all the time, but especially in times of crisis. It helps us get through it,” she says. The innovation that arts organizations are using to lift one another up and the generosity of funders who champion the arts in our community will indeed ensure we stay the course until we can meet at that concert, gallery opening, or festival once again.