Portland Creative Laureate, Oregon Poet Laureate launch crowdfunding campaign to support artists affected by COVID-19

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Emergency relief fund for artists receives more than $65,000 in donations, 250 applications for support in first two days

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From large organizations like the Oregon Symphony to painters who sell their wares at Saturday Market, the Portland arts community is reeling from the global coronavirus pandemic.

Shows are canceled. Galleries are closed. Classes are called off. And income is lost.

Emergency relief fund for artists

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But a new crowdfunding campaign is providing hope for local artists and a way for supporters to take action. Portland’s Creative Laureate, Subashini “Suba” Ganesan, and Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford have teamed up to launch an emergency relief fund for independent and freelance artists in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.

In less than 48 hours, their campaign had already raised more than $65,000 and attracted applications from 250 local artists who are seeking assistance. The first batch of grants will be awarded next week – and the program will continue as long as artists need support.

“There is no safety net,” Ganesan said. “Every sector of the arts community, just like every sector of every community in our country and the world, has been affected.”

Appointed by the Portland arts commissioner, the city’s creative laureate serves as an ambassador to the arts community. Ganesan has attended hundreds of community events and been an outspoken advocate since accepting the position two years ago, while continuing to run her own nonprofit: New Expressive Works, which supports independent multicultural artists.

Ganesan says the idea for the crowdfunding campaign took root last month, when she watched a video rallying the arts community to respond to COVID-19 in Singapore, where she grew up. “That was my first spark of, ‘Uh oh.’ Then when it started hitting home, I saw, ‘This is just going down.’ I started calling people and emailing people.”

One of those people was Stafford, who serves as Oregon’s poet laureate. The two had often talked about collaborating, but they never found the perfect project. Until now.

“The beauty of our positions is, this is a role we can play,” Ganesan said. “We have a certain freedom that allows us to act on behalf of civic needs, through the artistic lens.”

They decided to focus on independent artists, who are struggling to cover basic bills and meet health care needs due to lost income. Over the past week, dozens of people came together to create the campaign and provide seed donations before the official launch on Wednesday. Supporters span the local arts community, including Dance Wire, the Independent Publishing Resource Center, the Portland Art Museum, Shaking the Tree Theatre and the Regional Arts & Culture Council, the City’s primary nonprofit arts partner.

Helping develop the campaign was an easy decision, says Chris Ayzoukian, general manager of the new Patricia Reser Center for the Arts in Beaverton, which is under construction. He helped generate ideas and enthusiasm for the relief fund, as well as securing a donation from his organization’s fundraising arm, the Beaverton Arts Foundation.  

“I’m hoping we, as an arts community, can weather the storm through coordinated efforts to advocate,” Ayzoukian said. “It’s our job to relay just how bad It is. To do that, we’re going to have to band together across disciplines and across organizations.”

Supporting the arts community will be critical as Portland rebounds from COVID-19, says Giyen Kim, who oversees the City Arts Program for the City of Portland. She calls Ganesan “a force of nature” and “a really special human being” for her leadership in supporting independent and freelance artists.

The crowdfunding campaign is one piece of the puzzle, Kim says. She predicts that, without intervention, Portland will lose arts venues, organizations and artists who can no longer afford to live here.

“I moved to this city because I thought it was a gritty, creative, artistic, independent place to be,” Kim said. “Without our artists, we would lose part of the fabric of this town.”