SF Pledges $2.5 Million to New Arts Relief Program

The Golden Gate Theatre, on March 14, 2020. Also run by Broadway SF, the Golden Gate canceled musicals 'The Last Ship' and 'The Book of Mormon' through April 30.  (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

San Francisco on Monday launched a relief fund to provide grants and low-interest loans to artists and arts organizations impacted by the novel coronavirus. Funded by an initial $2.5 million from the city, the Arts Relief Program aims to offset the economic toll of a cultural sector with next to no revenue for the foreseeable future due to a statewide shelter-in-place order.

“We need to do everything we can to stabilize our arts community now,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement, acknowledging the loss of jobs as museums, galleries and performing arts venues shut down indefinitely. “I hope our public investment will encourage private donors to join us in supporting our vulnerable artists during this challenging time.”

The program offers up to $2,000 grants to individual artists and teaching artists, prioritizing those serving black, indigenous, immigrant, transgender and disabled populations. Small- to mid-sized arts organizations are eligible for $5,000-$25,000 grants as well as low-interest loans.

No limits appear to be set on uses of individual grants. The organization grants, administered by the Center for Cultural Innovation, may be used to pay rent and salaries, retain employees and “to help keep artists and organizations in San Francisco,” according to the announcement. The loans will be administered by the extant Arts Loan Fund of Northern California Grantmakers.

The city is contributing $1.5 million to the grants category, and $1 million to the loan category. The announcement encourages philanthropies to donate to the fund to expand its impact.

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The Arts Relief Program adds to a range of fundraisers and emergency grants for arts and nightlife figures. Musicians, dancers, actors and the many on-call or freelance workers who support the performing arts have found themselves out of work for practically an entire season. Many communities, such as classical musicians, are crowdsourcing donations themselves.

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Small- to mid-sized arts organizations, meanwhile, are grappling with lost income from rentals and ticket sales, and they’re anticipating reduced donations. Some are beginning to lay off employees. SOMArts, for example, has lost some $20,000 in rental revenue, and expects the number to climb to $100,000, 30 percent of its projected 2020 rental revenue, within months.

Gabriel Nunez de Arco, a lighting designer and sound engineer, is disappointed the individual artist category doesn’t appear to have been created with freelance technical workers in mind. “We don’t get healthcare, we don’t get sick time and we don’t have anything to burn to make up for all of the lost gigs,” said de Arco, 26, who worked events regularly at venues such as Joe Goode Annex and Counterpulse. “It’s not obvious to me how we can access these funds.”

“San Francisco is defined by our vibrant arts and culture and we need to support this sector now more than ever,” Naomi Kelly, who runs SF’s Grants for the Arts agency, said in a statement. “Although this emergency has paused many live performances, we will do all we can to provide support to the artists and organizations who make them possible during this trying time.”

San Francisco also has a Give2SF Fund. Tax-deductible monetary contributions can be spent on various public efforts to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. As the Arts Relief Program announcement notes, the city is also soliciting donations of personal protective equipment for frontline health workers, cleaning supplies and technical equipment for telecommuting.