Artists and arts & cultural organizations play an important role in the long-term recovery efforts of their communities. However, while the robust response from artists and arts organizations is significant and well-documented, these same individuals and nonprofits are also vulnerable to the impact of disasters.

  • Visual and performing artists, playwrights and poets, musicians and singer/songwriters, and teaching artists of all disciplines have a long history of creating work both for and with disaster victims.
  • Arts and culture activities can help a community process the overwhelming feelings of loss, grief, anger and fear that are associated with major disasters.
  • Artists and arts & cultural organizations have a strong relationship with the communities they serve and, therefore, are in a unique position to work in cooperation with philanthropy, local government, social services and education in responding to disasters. The social capital that they provide is an essential ingredient in disaster relief and recovery efforts.
  • Artists and arts organizations are often under-capitalized and do more with less as a matter of regular business. As such, when impacted by a disaster, the shockwaves can be severe because their infrastructure and financial footing is compromised.
  • Loss of valuable artwork and national treasures, destruction of facilities, damage to supplies and materials, loss of musical instruments and theatrical design elements, and loss of earned revenue due to an interruption of operations can be devastating to artists and arts organizations.

Innovative Practices

Arts funders—including philanthropic organizations, state arts agencies, arts service organizations, corporate grantmakers, and individual donors—can make significant contributions to protecting, preserving, recovering, and mitigating loss in the field of arts and culture by creating and/or supporting:

  • the development and production of original works created in response to a disaster and in an effort to help community members make sense of the devastation and destruction;
  • artists-in-the-schools programs where teaching artists work with children to help them to creatively express their feelings about the disaster in a structured, supported and artistic environment;
  • immediate mini-grant programs that provide arts and cultural organizations with funding to support their own recovery and programming that serves their community;
  • workshops and training modules that educate artists and organizations on how to develop preparedness plans that incorporate both internal readiness approaches and external response strategies for serving their community;
  • Field-wide and region-wide assessments of damage and support needed in the wake of a disaster.

What Funders Are Doing

The following are examples of innovative practices and grants that philanthropic organizations have supported, developed and/or implemented regarding arts and culture.

  • In 2020, the Lilly Endowment partnered with the Arts Council of Indianapolis to provide $10.2 million to create the Indy Arts and Culture Restart & Resilience Fund. The Arts Council will administer the funds provided by the Endowment. It will provide grants ranging from $5,000 to $500,000 to support the arts and cultural scene in Indianapolis, Indiana, as they recover from the effects of COVID-19. These grants will go to support a wide variety of needs, including capital and operating costs associated with necessary adaptations required to reopen after COVID-19.
  • The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland donated $11,404 in 2020 towards the continuation of online theatre and performance classes for isolated children and young people in West Belfast through Brassneck Youth.
  • The Paul Getty Trust provided a $17,200 grant to Getty Scholar Nazar Kovak from Ukraine. This grant supported Mr. Kozak’s research and analysis of the artistic response to the Chernobyl disaster. With the support of this grant, Mr. Kozak spent a semester at the Getty Research Institute located at the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2019. This grant included a free lecture at UCLA summarizing Mr. Kozak’s work entitled “Surmounting Chernobyl: Artistic Responses to Ecological Disaster.”
  • The Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation of Melbourne, Australia, granted the Bundanon Trust $26,694 in 2018 towards the Riversdale Masterplan and a new art gallery to showcase the Boyd collection. This project will create a permanent home for the retention, conservation and exhibition of the Boyd Collection in a new fireproof subterranean facility. This facility will allow access to the Boyd collection on a year-round basis. It will include a research center, a café, a performance and lecture space and an enhanced interpretation of the collection.
  • Houston Texas’ Theatre Under the Stars received a $300,000 grant to support multiple projects in 2018, including their Tommy Tune Awards, the 50th Annual Free Show at Miller Outdoor Theatre, Children’s Musical at Miller Outdoor Theatre and the River Performing & Visual Arts Center. The grant from the Brown Foundation also included $100,000 for Hurricane Harvey Relief.
  • The Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal donated $3,652 to the Bobin School of Arts Hall so that they could upgrade kitchen equipment. This upgrade increased the capacity of the school to cater during disaster events – increasing the resilience of the community. During non-disaster times, this increased capacity will allow the school to cater for community functions, an important fundraising and community-building activity for the school. After the devastating brushfires of 2019-2020, the hall became an important community facility, allowing people whose houses had been destroyed to have access to showers and the internet, along with enabling them to continue working and teaching through COVID-19.

Key Takeaways

  1. In the aftermath of a disaster, artists and arts organizations support their communities by creating work for and with victims, which helps citizens to process feelings of loss, grief, anger and fear.
  2. Artists and arts organizations often operate within razor-thin margins, which make them less likely to withstand and bounce-back from disasters.
  3. Loss and destruction from disaster is a double-loss for the community—not just in terms of tangible items, but the intangible, social capital that is weakened when artists and arts organizations are hurt and unable to recover or contribute to recovery efforts.

Further Reading