LA Might Turn Arts Event Funding Into Coronavirus Relief For Artists

Lula Washington dancers perform onstage at the 5th Annual Celebration of Dance Gala at Club Nokia on Aug 1, 2015 in Los Angeles. (Angela Weiss/Getty Images for Dizzy Feet Foundation)

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It's no surprise that L.A. arts festivals and other special events are either getting canceled or postponed thanks to coronavirus. And it's no surprise that, like many people currently out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic, many artists are struggling to make ends meet.

That's what has Councilmember David Ryu announcing plans to introduce a motion to repurpose money raised from his district's Arts Development Fee into an Artist Relief Fund. Its purpose: To provide small grants to artists and arts nonprofits in Council District 4 as a response to COVID-19.

Here's why: Out of 294 arts projects currently slated for funding, only 25 of them appear unaffected by the pandemic, according to Ryu's office.

WHERE THE MONEY WOULD COME FROM

The district has $1.2 million in its Arts Development Fund. That money is raised through developers fees for commercial projects costing more than $500,000. Ryu wants to convert it to fund online performances and artwork during this time.

The motion calls for a report from the city's Department of Cultural Affairs on how the program could potentially be expanded to other districts. The development fee funds are tied to each district — there are $10.9 million available citywide, according to Ryu's office.

"Obviously that can't all be used for emergency funding, but we hope a sizable amount of it will be converted to support creative workers," nonprofit advocacy group Arts for L.A.'s Aubrey Farkas Harris told LAist.

HOW CORONAVIRUS HAS HIT LOCAL ARTISTS

A lot of artists make ends meet by working multiple jobs — even "full-time" artists often work another gig to make ends meet, Farkas Harris noted. Those jobs include ones in the service industry, in schools, and in other areas impacted by COVID-19.

Ryu's proposal to redirect existing funds is backed by 147 arts organizations that have so far signed a letter of support. The letter was drafted by Arts for L.A. and encourages other council districts to join in redirecting their arts development funds, noting that arts organizations often get cut from government budgets during economic downturns.

Farkas Harris said that the need to help the arts is urgent, saying that community arts organizations are in danger of closing permanently. She cited Lula Washington Dance Theatre in South L.A. as one organization in peril, with the largest source of their funding being lost thanks to the shutdown. Northeast L.A.'s Avenue 50 art gallery had to lay off its entire staff, Farkas Harris said, and won't be able to pay rent or utilities by summer.

She noted that dozens of arts organizations aren't eligible for federal assistance but are still in need at this time.

Ryu is also looking to amend city law to make it easier to take those development funds and repurpose them into additional emergency relief funds for the arts community.

"Our creatives are suffering right now," Ryu said in a press release. "The economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic has put thousands out of work and arts nonprofits at risk of permanent closure — all while we have arts funds sitting idle. We are in an economic emergency, and we need to repurpose these funds now to save our creative economy from permanent, lasting damage."

Artists and arts organizations interested in the fund can sign up here to be notified when funding becomes available.

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