June 1, 2020
Volume 1 Issue 2
By: Edward McNally
Most artists in Atlanta live on a paycheck-to-paycheck or gig-to-gig basis. They have to supplement their artmaking income with a second or even third part-time job. And just like their fellow artists in theater and visual arts, most members of the professional dance community: variety performers, film/TV or production professionals, have been out of work for up to three months. Most dancers have no idea when they will get their next paying gig. The Atlanta Artist Relief Fund (AARF) was created by and for Atlanta artists to help our community weather this long struggle.
AARF’s core mission is delivering free home-cooked, nutritious, mostly vegan meals to the doorsteps of artists who are unable to leave their homes or are out of work. Since mid-March, AARF has raised over $23,000 for those in need, cooked over 500 meals and delivered them to more than 200 homebound, out-of-work, or chronically ill artists. The core team of 10 volunteers has grown to a 100% volunteer network of over 2,600 arts community members of all ages and art disciplines. They are cooking healthy food and delivering dozens of meals and supplies on a daily basis and serving as community support ambassadors around the clock, either online or by phone.
“I think artists are uniquely suited to fight this crisis as we have to stay emotionally checked in for our livelihood,” says AARF founder Rob Brooksher, a professional sound engineer who found himself out of work in March. “I love to see people get the help they need from people who earnestly care about how their life is going, instead of another online form to fill out and a robocall. This kind of empathy, love and light has been amazing to see radiate out from our volunteers.
“We are here to fill in the gaps of our already strained social safety net in any way we can,” says Brooksher. “We have artist volunteers like Bridget McCarthey who can guide someone with a year’s worth of 1099 Forms through the many hoops required to apply for unemployment insurance. Dozens of other volunteers are picking up pre-paid medical supplies or medicines and bringing them to artists’ homes. And every day at 5:00 p.m., we host Storytimes for Children on our Facebook page, all led by Atlanta artists.”
AARF is also using Facebook groups to connect artists across the greater metro area for social bonding and daily mental wellness updates and sharing announcements about job opportunities. This can even include connecting artists looking for work with folks that need small projects done around the house. The Fund’s website, www.ArtsRelief.org, offers super useful easy-to-read, step-by-step guides and a fabulous list of national and local resources for working artists in financial, medical or emotional need.
Brooksher says, “Lots of folks are stuck home alone right now, and I can’t imagine how lonely that must feel. Our volunteers are reaching out to say we’re here for you: to talk, to discuss art and to be our empathetic, creative selves with no shame or stigma attached.”
Looking forward, Brooksher says, “We are operating on the CDC’s estimates that this disease will have waves of outbreaks for at least the next 12 to 18 months. We’ve already raised enough funds to provide meals to hundreds of artists in need well into the future. But since we’re 100% volunteer and have very low overhead costs, we are planning on the group existing indefinitely.” Brooksher adds, “Even after the pandemic, any Atlanta artist working long hours for weeks on end might really need a home-cooked nutritious meal delivered to their door, especially on a Monday night.”
Beyond the meals and the errands and the check-ins, what moves Brooksher most in all of this is seeing people’s faith in their arts community restored and strengthened. “Prior to this crisis, your only reference for someone might have been, ‘I saw them on stage once.’ Now that touchpoint has changed to ‘They brought me food when I needed it most. They walked my dog when I was too overwhelmed to leave my house.’
“Imagine walking into an audition room when all of this is over,” says Brooksher. “As you look around, you see the faces of folks who lifted each other up through the worst of this crisis. You feel the pride of knowing that here in Atlanta, we did our absolute best to make sure that no one got left behind — that no one felt alone.”
“I never expected this kind of response from the community,” says Brooksher, “but it goes to show that the arts community will always step up to help each other out. If any good has come out of this crisis, it has reminded folks that their community will have their back and they will come together to pick up the pieces.”
Rob Brooksher and the scores of artist volunteers at AARF are donating their time and talents because they believe that the performing and visual arts are an essential force for spreading good in the world. That this is a force for opening hearts that have been closed for too long and for radiating empathy and compassion to those who need it most.
If you or an artist you know is in need or wants to volunteer to help, please visit https://www.atlartsrelief.org/.
Also, if you have the means, please consider donating to AARF’s GoFundMe account:
https://www.gofundme.com/f/atlartsrelief — A donation of just $10 creates 10 nutritious meals for artists in need. One hundred percent of all donations support AARF’s grassroots effort to fight for artists’ mental, physical, spiritual and emotional well-being.
Edward McNally is a lifelong patron of the dance and theatre arts in Atlanta, having served as an advisor or boardmember for Fly On A Wall, Zoetic Dance Ensemble, 7 Stages Theatre, PushPush Theatre and the Atlanta Fringe Festival, among others. “Scenes & Motions”, his regular podcast / monthly column about the performing arts appears in Creative Loafing. Edward has also appeared on stage as one of the dancers in gloATL’s “Cloth/Tower” featuring ASO Artistic Director Robert Spano.
More from Edward:
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