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San Francisco Launches $2.5 Million Initiative to Support the Arts

March 24, 2020

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, perhaps the first to order shelter-in-place for a city in the country, has now also taken the lead to support artists and performing-arts organizations.

On Monday, she announced a relief fund to provide grants and low-interest loans to artists and arts organizations impacted by COVID-19. Funded by an initial $2.5 million from the city, the Arts Relief Program aims to offset the economic toll on the cultural sector.

Breed was also the first mayor of a major city to close museums, galleries, and performing arts venues, thus shutting down all performances effective March 7. “We need to do everything we can to stabilize our arts community now,” Breed said.

“Our artists and cultural institutions are at the heart of who we are as a city and a community,” Breed said. “This community is also getting hit hard right now as people are suffering from job loss, business closures, and economic disruption during the COVID-19 outbreak. We need to do everything we can to stabilize our arts community now. I hope our public investment will encourage private donors to join us in supporting our vulnerable artists during this challenging time.”

City Administrator Naomi M. Kelly, who administers Grants for the Arts, added: “San Francisco is defined by our vibrant arts and culture and we need to support this sector now more than ever. 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.”

The program consists of two options, a grants program and low-interest loans, that will allow artists and organizations to choose what best meets their needs. The philanthropic community is invited to contribute to these programs to expand impact.

“I hope our public investment will encourage private donors to join us in supporting our vulnerable artists during this challenging time.”

The program offers grants of up to $2,000 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.

“In this unprecedented moment, we share Mayor Breed’s deep concern for those who are most vulnerable,” responded Deborah M. Cullinan, CEO of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and co-chair of the SF Arts Alliance. “We are buoyed by her commitment to the essential role of art and culture in defining and inspiring our city.

“We look forward to continuing to work with our Mayor and city leadership to assure that those who are most vulnerable are prioritized and we look for avenues to support nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and others who are impacted.”

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.

Many arts organizations, such as SF Ballet, have launched intensive fundraising drives, seeking support at the time of lacking revenues. For a powerful overview of the crisis’s impact on the music world, see Oisin Lunny’s article in Forbes Magazine, “The Heartbreaking Cost For Musicians As COVID-19 Stops The Music.”

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].

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