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Emergency Funds for Freelancers, Creatives Losing Income During Coronavirus

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This story was originally published on March 18, 2020 and updated on April 17 and May 18.

For many, slowing the spread of coronavirus means stopping work entirely—and losing months of income.

Livelihoods on the line

With the passing of AB 5, California moved to extend employee protections to freelancers this year, but many creative professionals still work for themselves and don’t have typical salaried-worker safety nets like extended sick leave. Some self-employed people will not qualify for unemployment insurance, particularly artists who rely on informal, direct cash payments or practice without a business license.

With those challenges in mind, we’ve rounded up a list of mutual aid funds that distribute emergency grants to artists, creative professionals and freelancers facing financial hardships.

Most of these funds also accept donations—many of which are tax deductible—from those among us who are more fortunate and looking to help. We also encourage you to donate directly to the low-income artists, service workers and freelancers in your community via PayPal, Cash App or Venmo.

Funds for Creatives of All Disciplines

East Bay/Oakland Relief Fund for Individuals in the Arts
The City of Oakland and several private funders have partnered on a relief fund for artists and cultural and nonprofit workers living in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. The fund, totaling $625,000, distributes individual grants of up to $2,000. The Center for Cultural Innovation is administering the grants. To be eligible, individuals most not receive state unemployment insurance and cannot have a conflict of interest (familial or financial) with the Center for Cultural Innovation or any funders. Black, Indigenous, Latinx, immigrant and trans people and those with disabilities will be prioritized for the distribution of funds. Applications are due on June 5.

COVID-19 Relief for Bay Area Artists
The art space 2727 California Street and The Hellerstein Foundation are giving out a limited number of $1,500 grants to Bay Area artists who’ve lost significant income due to the pandemic. People who’ve been sick with COVID-19, are caregivers, are ineligible for government benefits or are part of minority communities disproportionately impacted by the virus are prioritized. The Hellerstein Foundation is matching community contributions to the fund, which is accepting donations. Grant applications are due May 22.

Berkeley Relief Fund
Open to Berkeley residents, the Berkeley Relief Fund gives out grants of $10,000 to small businesses, $25,000 to arts nonprofits and up to $15,000 to individuals and families in danger of losing their permanent housing. There is no specific grant for artists, but those who are renters may qualify for the housing retention grant. The City of Berkeley allocated $3 million for these grants and is hoping to match that amount with donations from the community.

The San Francisco Arts & Artists Relief Fund
The San Francisco Arts Commission and Grants for the Arts launched a $1.5 million relief fund for individual artists and small arts organizations. It is not limited by artistic discipline, and individuals who are full-time residents of San Francisco and not eligible for unemployment can qualify. San Francisco-based organizations with operating budgets of under $2 million can also apply.

The Safety Net Fund
The Safety Net Fund is offering financial support to artists who typically make their living offline, at in-person events and performances. To qualify, you must reside in the Bay Area (or near it, as some San Joaquin and Santa Cruz county zip codes are eligible), must provide proof of an artistic endeavor in the last six months, cannot be eligible for unemployment insurance from the state, and must have earned less than $1,000 of income in the last 30 days.

The Creator Fund
The Creator Fund from the email marketing company ConvertKit is offering financial assistance of up to $500 for artists and small business owners—the term “creator” is loosely defined. The mini grants can be used for groceries, childcare, rent, mortgage or medical expenses. On its website, the Creator Fund is realistic about its limitations to meet everyone’s needs, but still encourages people to apply.

Bay Area Emergency Fund: Artists/Event Production
This fund for artists and event producers who make their living from live events is accepting donations, but so far doesn’t have an application process available. When the application goes live, it will require bank statements and proof of an event cancellation that resulted in loss of income. This is a need-based grant; those who need help with rent, medical care, utility bills and childcare will be prioritized.

Funds for Performing Artists, Film and Television

COVID-19 Performing Arts Worker Relief Fund
Theatre Bay Area organized a fund for theater workers facing a sudden loss of income due to coronavirus. While its website doesn’t specify how much aid is available, they encourage those seeking support to email to apply.

The Actors Fund’s Entertainment Assistance Program
Any performing artist or entertainment industry professional is eligible for financial assistance from the Actors Fund as long as they either have a minimum of five years of industry experience (while making over $6,500 a year from their creative pursuit for three of those years), or 20 years of industry employment while earning at least $5,000 from it for 10 of those years. In addition to helping with rent or medical expenses, the Actors Fund offers information on affordable housing, health care services, landlord-tenant issues and more. Those interested must contact the Actors Fund directly to apply.

Funds for Musicians and Nightlife Workers

The Lewis Prize COVID-19 Community Response Fund
Music organizations that mentor young people may be eligible for the Lewis Prize COVID-19 Community Response Fund, which is giving out 20 grants of $25,000–$50,000 to organizations that offer what it calls “creative youth development music programs.” Grant applications open on April 20 and close on May 8, and funds will be distributed on June 16.

The SF Queer Nightlife Fund
Nightlife is a cornerstone of the LGBTQ+ community, so what happens when the dancers, drag queens, DJs, musicians and bartenders who rely on in-person work can no longer do that labor? Workers in the queer nightlife scene experiencing financial hardship can apply for help with food, rent, PG&E, phone, internet and medical expenses. Applications are due March 31.

Musicians’ Foundation Grant
If you’ve been a working musician in the United States for the last five years, the Musicians’ Foundation Grant offers grants for emergency situations like medical care or personal or family crisis. The foundation will pay recipients’ expenses directly rather than writing them a check, and grants range between $500 and $3,000.

MusiCares Emergency Financial Assistance
Musicians and music industry professionals experiencing unexpected financial hardships can apply to the Recording Academy’s MusiCares program. To be eligible, you must have a documented history as an industry professional for at least five years, or have contributed to six commercially released recordings or videos. MusiCares can fund medical costs, addiction recovery treatment, psychotherapy and basic living expenses such as rent and utilities.

The Blues Foundation HART Fund
This one is specific to blues musicians. The HART Fund offers financial assistance for health-related expenses, and artists need to call or email directly to apply.

Funds for Visual Artists

The Adolph & Esther Gottlieb Emergency Grant
If you’re a sculptor, printmaker or painter with over ten years of experience, the Adolph & Esther Gottlieb Emergency Grant program offers larger grants of up to $15,000 for unforeseen expenses. The application specifies that it’s a one-time grant related to a specific emergency, such as fire, flood or medical needs.

Rauschenberg Emergency Grants
Professional visual artists, media artists and choreographers living anywhere in the United States can apply for Rauschenberg Emergency Grants of up to $5,000 to cover unforeseen expenses. Please note that a panel reviewing the applications will begin to meet in May and June, so this program isn’t the one for those with pressing, short-term needs.

CERF+ Artists’ Safety Net
Artists working in craft disciplines—including but not limited to clay, fiber, metal, wood, glass, concrete, plastic, synthetic fibers or recycled materials—can apply for emergency grants of up to $3,000 from the Craft Emergency Relief Fund. They must demonstrate that they’ve been making a sizable portion of their living from their craft for three years, or that they’ve been involved in traditional or folk art on an ongoing basis. Artists are asked to submit an inquiry form before they can apply.

Untitled, Art Emergency Fund
Artists who either graduated from a Bay Area institution or have been working in the region for at least two years can apply to the Untitled, Art Emergency Fund, which gives out $250 grants to freelance, hourly and wage-working artists. The mini grants cover basic expenses such as rent, childcare and healthcare costs, and applications are due March 31.

Funds for Writers and Authors

Authors League Fund
Journalists, playwrights, poets and authors facing sudden loss of income or unforeseen medical expenses in the United States can apply for emergency grants from the Authors League Fund. The grants, however, prioritize experienced professionals who’ve either been published by traditional publishing houses or publications with national circulation, or have had their work produced by mid-sized or large theaters. The amount of the grant is not specified, and depends on the severity of the emergency.

PEN America Writers’ Emergency Fund
PEN America gives out need-based grants of up to $2,000 for emergency expenses to writers and journalists, and has an additional program for those who are HIV positive. The organization expanded these programs because of coronavirus, and is giving out grants of $500–$1,000 to writers and authors who lost income due to the pandemic.

Additional Funds

Sex Worker ER Grant Fund
Sex workers who rely on in-person business can apply for $50–$200 microgrants to cover short-term expenses from Bay Area Workers Support (BAWS), a grassroots advocacy organization. BAWS also uses its social media profiles to amplify sex workers’ GoFundMe and other crowdfunding campaigns, and is accepting donations from allies.

COVID-19 Mutual Aid Fund for LGBTQI+ BIPOC Folks
This fundraiser on GoFundMe has a goal of $250,000, and organizers Amita Swadhin, Treva Ellison, Natalie Havlin, Carrie Hawks, Ren-yo Hwang and Alisa Zipursky are distributing the funds through $100 microgrants to black, indigenous and people of color in the LGBTQ+ community. The fund was created especially to help cover the living expenses of self-employed people and service workers, and isn’t limited by geographic location. Although applications for aid are closed, allies can still donate to provide additional support for grantees who have already been accepted.



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