Sweet Relief

Funding the arts

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Back on March 9, which seems like it was about 100 million-hour days ago, when King County issued its first shutdown order pertaining to large gatherings, a group of Seattle creatives led by author (and WWU alum) Ijeoma Oluo mobilized while the rest of us were still trying to comprehend what was happening.

What Oluo—as well as her co-organizers Usiku Atieno, Gabriel Teodros, and Jazmyn Scott—understood instantly was that musicians, artists and other creative folk who live on the margins would feel the devastating economic impacts of COVID-19 almost immediately. They further realized that the traditional forms of relief contained within our social safety net would not catch this population of people.

They vowed to use their voices, platforms and labor to do something about it.

And so the Seattle Artist Relief Fund was born.

Under the official nonprofit umbrella of Langston Seattle—the organization formerly known as the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute—the quartet of community advocates launched a GoFundMe and started raising money to provide “musicians, DJs, independent chefs, caterers, actors, directors, writers, spoken-word artists, teaching artists” and other creatives with much-needed survival grants. To date, the fund has raised more than $300,000, which seems like a large sum—and it is—until you consider that the Seattle Artist Relief Fund has received nearly 2,000 grant applications and estimates they’ll need a cool million dollars to fulfill the need.

Inspired by the work being done by the Seattle activists, former Make.Shift Gallery Director Jessyca Murphy put a call out on Facebook to see if anyone in Bellingham was thinking of mounting a similar effort. Given her prior association with Make.Shift and their ability as a nonprofit to administer funds, they were the natural choice to spearhead something locally.

And so the Bellingham Arts Community Relief Fund was born.

Because Make.Shift is one of the arts organizations hard hit by the shutdown order, the first $3,000 raised by the fund will go toward making sure the nonprofit—and its gallery, radio station, venue and practice spaces—can cover its own overhead and make it to the other side of this economic crisis.

Once that goal is reached and Make.Shift has duly donned its own oxygen mask, it will get down to the business of providing necessary breathing room to other artists and organizations in need.

“I want to do everything I can to ensure this organization is still around on the other side of this pandemic. I also want to provide some relief for independent creators who have lost income due to venue closures, gigs cancelled, art sales declining, etc.,” says Make.Shift Executive Director Katie Gray in the verbiage that goes along with the GoFundMe she started.

Gray goes on to say, “Donations beyond the $3,000 marker will go toward an emergency fund to help artists in need with rent, food, utilities and medical costs. The Make.Shift board of directors, along with some caring volunteers, will review applications and determine how we can best distribute funds.”

Currently, the fund is sitting at just over $1,000, so it can use all the help it can get, whether that be a donation or, if you’re strapped and unable to donate during these trying times, a signal boost. More information, including how to apply for a grant if you’re in need, can be found at

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