Artists Hit by Rains and Flooding Look to Emergency Relief Funds

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Red flowers out of focus in foreground, downtown San Francisco in background under gray skies
Storm clouds hover over the San Francisco skyline during a lull in the rain on Jan. 10, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Jump to: A list of emergency relief funds for artists and venues

When the first wave of storms hit the Bay Area on Dec. 31, Avi Ehrlich, owner of the indie comics shop Silver Sprocket, believed a minor ceiling leak was the worst of it.

“We thought that was a big problem and we took like two hours to deal with that,” says Ehrlich. “And then we went downstairs into the basement and we’re like ‘Oh, holy shit.’”

Silver Sprocket’s entire Valencia Street basement was flooded, ruining some of the shop’s inventory and putting the rest of it at risk. In a video Ehrlich posted to Twitter Dec. 31, water freely pours down a basement wall. Neighbors and friends rallied to help move boxes of books to higher ground, but Ehrlich says even now there is still water coming into the basement; permanent fixes won’t be possible until it stops raining.

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Meanwhile, mold is forming where the murky rainwater once pooled. “We definitely lost a significant amount of inventory,” says Ehrlich, who threw their back out in the scramble. And sales are less than half of what they would normally be, but the shop is hesitant to do any marketing because half its space has been given over to storage; finding items is a struggle.

“We don’t want to leave our customers waiting for weeks to get the comics that they ordered,” Ehrlich says. “Our customers are extremely kind and patient, but there’s limits to it.”

Silver Sprocket is hardly the only arts venue affected by leaks and flooding — though the full extent of damaged artwork and spaces may only come to light when the storms die down, as forecasted, after Jan. 19. Artists in the Islais Creek Studios lost work on Dec. 31, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, and spaces like New Conservatory Theater, Z Below and Oakland’s Lower Grand Radio are all dealing with the aftermath of invasive waters.

Two people in rain gear with sticks stand in ankle-deep water on city street corner
Two Mission District residents work to open a clogged drain on Mission and 21st Streets in San Francisco on Jan. 10, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

As the storms continue to wreak havoc across the Bay Area, only one local arts funder has emerged to offer dedicated grants to affected artists. On Jan. 6, the Minnesota Street Project Foundation (the nonprofit arm of the gallery, studio and art storage complex) launched an emergency relief grant to provide immediate assistance to visual artists impacted by the rains and flooding.

“We went basically from idea stage to launch within about 72 hours,” says Rachel Sample, director of the foundation. “Then applications opened and within 24 hours we had over 30 applications.” Seeded with an initial amount of $20,000, the relief fund is offering grants of up to $1,000 to cover expenses related to restoration, storage and temporary studio space.

The fund has already contacted its first round of grantees, and hoped to distribute funds starting Jan. 11. Sample says they welcome more applications (they’ve received about 70 already), but they are also seeking additional funding. “We’re trying our very best to roll with the immediacy, but are also hoping that we will have some folks join us,” she says. “The more that we have, the more of these applications we can service.”

One of those initial applicants was Alex Shen, Lower Grand Radio’s founder and station manager, whose studio partner, Jeff Chung of Unity Press, discovered the flooding at their storefront on Dec. 31. “Jeff called me while I was at work like twice in a row and I was like, ‘Uh oh, something’s up,’” Shen remembers. When Chung arrived at 4124 Broadway Ave., Shen says, water came out the front doors “like a lake.”

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“It had basically just been free flowing from a clogged drain in the backyard,” Shen says. “Luckily, nothing majorly structurally was damaged other than a lot of printing paper and some outlets and extension cords in our radio studio.” He estimates between Unity and the station, they suffered around $500–$1,000 worth of damage.

“If it had happened for another hour or something, it could have been a lot worse,” he says. Friends and fans posted Lower Grand’s Venmo accounts on videos of the flooding, eliciting mutual aid that helped Shen deal with immediate damage control.

For businesses like Silver Sprocket, the long term financial effects of the storms are still unknown. Right now, it’s frustrating to be unable to move forward. “Our crew is amazing,” Ehrlich says, “but morale is definitely taking a hit of us just feeling like we’re not able to do our jobs.”

As the Bay Area looks forward to drying out and taking stock, the storms have clearly disrupted an already fragile ecosystem. Sample says about a third of the people who’ve applied for emergency grants have upcoming exhibitions. “There are businesses that have been interrupted,” she says. “The galleries that [artists] are showing with have been interrupted. The museums that they’re showing with have been interrupted. And so the ripple of the investment in this relief fund could be quite large.”

After all, she emphasizes, “The point of this fund is to empty it.”


If you’re a Bay Area artist or venue that has experienced losses due to the storms, KQED has put together a list of emergency relief funds below. We will continue to add to this as opportunities emerge.

Nastia Voynovskaya contributed to this reporting.

Discipline Non-Specific

The Haven Foundation
This emergency grant for freelancers (founded by Stephen King!) seeks to aid “persons connected with the artistic or entertainment industries,” including authors, actors, singers, dancers, directors, producers, choreographers, musicians, artists and screenwriters. The current application window closes March 24, 2023.

For Visual Artists

Minnesota Street Project Foundation Artist Emergency Relief Grants
This emergency fund will provide grants of up to $1,000 to visual artists who suffered losses due to the Bay Area’s record-breaking rainfall and floods. Applications are being accepted on a rolling basis.

The Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Emergency Grant
This grant provides financial assistance to painters, printmakers and sculptors (with a minimum of 10 years of “mature” artmaking) who have experienced “an unforeseen, catastrophic incident” and do not have the resources to deal with the situation. Flooding is a specific emergency mentioned in the grant guidelines. The maximum amount that can be awarded is $15,000; a typical award is $5,000.

The Pollock-Krasner Foundation
While this is not an emergency grant, per se, the foundation looks at both artistic merit and financial need when making decisions. The awards are limited to painters, sculptors and artists who work on paper (including printmakers). Grant amounts can range up to $30,000.

CERF+ Emergency Assistance
CERF+ provides emergency grants of $3,000 to artists working in a craft discipline (including clay, glass, textiles, wood and metal) and folk/traditional artists who have experienced a “recent, career-threatening emergency,” which includes a natural disaster.

Foundation for Contemporary Arts
If you’re a visual or performing artist whose progress on an upcoming project was suddenly derailed by a natural disaster, this emergency grant distributed in amounts from $500 to $3,000 can help bring the work to completion.

For Writers and Authors

Carnegie Fund for Authors
American authors with at least one full-length work of fiction or nonfiction can apply for emergency grants with documentation of demonstrated need. Fires, floods and hurricanes are all expressly mentioned. In 2020, awards ranged from $500 to $3,000.

PEN America U.S. Writers’ Aid Initiative
This grant for fiction and nonfiction authors, poets, playwrights, screenwriters, translators and journalists facing a short-term emergency situation. The initiative gives out awards of $1,000–$3,500. The next deadline is April 1, 2023.

ASJA’s Writers Emergency Assistance Fund
This fund provides grants to professional nonfiction freelance writers who are unable to work “because of illness, disability, natural disaster or extraordinary professional crisis.” The fund distributes grants of up to $3,500.

For Musicians and Performers

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 basic living expenses like rent, utilities, car payments and insurance premiums.

Entertainment Assistance Program
Entertainment professionals with documented financial need and a track record of specific performing arts and entertainment earnings can apply for this grant to cover immediate basic living expenses such as housing, food, utility bills or health care.

For Venues

Performing Arts Readiness
The pandemic (and the recent flooding of local underground venues) has made it clear that performing arts venues are especially vulnerable during hard times. This site gathers a rich collection of disaster preparedness documents, case studies and loss calculators to help venues withstand emergencies and recover more quickly.

dPlan|ArtsReady
This online emergency preparedness and response tool helps arts and cultural organizations of any size minimize the risks of disaster and their own losses.

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The NCAPER Field Guide
This guide, published by the National Coalition for Arts’ Preparedness and Emergency Response, was created to “help demystify” the labyrinthine systems of federal disaster relief for the arts and culture sector.