How to Help Local Artists Stay Afloat

Paul Kotapish on April 7, 2020
A donation to one of these local relief funds might save an artists career — or life.

There are artist-overboard alarms going off all over the country, as cancellations from the coronavirus pandemic leave performers and presenters in sinking ships with no sign of secure incomes on the horizon. As we are reporting each week, there are loads of creative efforts to provide new ways of delivering music and dance to audiences by way of livestreaming and archived video concerts, but the revenue stream from these efforts is a figurative drop in the bucket.

And while kudos are due to enlightened leaders like Mayor London Breed for championing public grants that recognize the value of culture in hard times, many of our cherished artists and organizations are in real danger of going down.

Want to help?

Consider acting locally and directly supporting Bay Area musicians and arts organizations that desperately need our generosity. You won’t go wrong donating to your favorite arts organization, presenter, or ensemble via their regular website donation portals. Each and every one of them has seen their projected revenues for the year ravaged by cancellations. And don’t forget that music and arts journalism has taken a real hit, too, as advertising for the foreseeable feature evaporated with each event canceled. If getting music news and insights from SFCV is important to you, consider dropping by our own donation page.

The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra has set up a COVID-19 relief fund for its members.| Credit: Mark Kitaoka

Those facing the biggest existential threat at this time might well be the numerous freelance artists comprising the bulk of our performers in the Bay Area — instrumentalists, singers, dancers, composers, choreographers, and conductors. Many of these artists have already seen half or more of their annual income vanish overnight. With no green pastures visible ahead, they desperately need our help. 

The following links will take you to donation sites set up specifically to aid individual musicians and arts-support workers whose livelihoods have been savagely disrupted during the COVID-19 crisis. We will update this list as new fund drives and initiatives are announced.

Bay Area Emergency Fund: Artists/Event Production — Lydia Harutoonian and Polly Bates set up this grass-roots fund to be distributed to those in the events industry in critical need of living expenses: rent, medication coverage, power and water bills, and other acute needs like childcare.

Cantata Collective Coronavirus Relief Fund
The Cantata Collective
— Seeded by a matching grant from Katrine and Harry Gray, founders of the fund, and by Camille Reed, this fund compensates musicians who had been hired for the Collective’s March and May concerts. With the canceling of the Berkeley Festival and Exhibition, the Cantata Collective will also not perform Bach’s B-Minor Mass, which was to headline the Festival’s opening day.

Early Music Freelancers’ Relief Fund — San Francisco Early Music Society’s board set up a $10,000 short-term relief fund for local early music freelancers. This fund will provide one-time, first-come first-served $250 grants to musicians in need, and will do so until funds run out.

Fund for Freight Folks — The Freight & Salvage won SFCV’s 2019 Best of the Bay award for best small venue, and with the doors shuttered during the pandemic, its team of sound techs, event managers, concessions crew, box officers, and instructors are in sudden need.

Merola Artists Emergency Fund — The Merola Opera Program has this fund available to help its alumni who have suffered financial hardships brought on by COVID-19. Open to Merola participants from the past five years (2015–2019), the fund is intended to assist young opera singers, conductors, and directors who are in the early stages of establishing their careers and may be hardest hit by canceled performances in recent and coming months.

Merola participants in 2018: Patricia Westley in front of fellow Merolini Zhengyi Bai, Jacob Scharfman, Ted Allen Pickell, Megan Grey, Alexandra Urquiola, Brian Michael Moore, Simone McIntosh, Kendra Berentsen | Credit: Kristen Loken

Music Relief Project — The Jazz Mafia and digital music label Motherwold join forces with Jazz in the Neighborhood and Intersection for the Arts to collect funds and “bring financial relief to musicians in the SF Bay Area who need it most and share music that brings emotional relief to the world.”

Musicians Union Local 6 Emergency Relief Fund — All proceeds collected will be given over to Local 6 for the support of their members. The union represents some 2,000 musicians with 50 symphony and chamber orchestras and other arts organizations in the greater Bay Area.

Opera San José — OSJ was one of the first organizations to establish a fund for its artists, and you can read about this project in our interview with its general director, Khori Dastoor.

Performing Arts Worker Relief Fund — Theatre Bay Area launched this fund to support “performing arts workers,” including actors, administrators, box office/event staff, carpenters, dancers, designers, directors, dramaturgs, musicians, playwrights, production staff, singers, teaching artists, technicians, etc.

Safety Net Fund — This fund will offer grants to Bay Area artists, with no expectation of repayment, to help provide direct monetary support through this crisis. This money is offered with the intent of helping artists survive and continue to create despite the maelstrom.

Santa Cruz Symphony Musician Relief Fund — This fund was established to raise money for SCS musicians hit hard by the lack of work during the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. The goal is to raise enough money to pay them in full or in part for the concerts the symphony had to cancel.

SF Chamber Orchestra COVID-19 Musician Relief Fund — Dubbed “Shield Our All-Stars,” money from this fund will go directly to help SFCO musicians and their families who are experiencing financial distress. SFCO asks that, “in lieu of a gala donation this season or an in-concert contribution, please click the link below to help our wonderful musicians in their time of need.”

Sweet Relief San Francisco Bay Area Musicans Fund — Sweet Relief supports career musicians, singers, composers, and arrangers in any genre throughout the U.S. and Canada. Their regional funds focus resources locally. Their mission is to provide financial assistance to musicians and music industry workers who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems.