“Before the coronavirus hit Nevada, Reno musician Colin Ross had a weekly casino gig, a weekly church gig, and steady bookings at Luciano’s restaurant and Shim’s speakeasy. He was teaching an online course at TMCC and playing music for patients at 12 different assisted living and memory care facilities. Altogether, he had eight to nine gigs each week.
In his 41 years as a professional musician, Ross has seen his share of ups and downs, but nothing like the sudden drop in business that March brought. He played a few shows during the first week of the month. His remaining 24 were canceled. Suddenly, the TMCC class and the church gig—now played via Skype—comprised his only business.
“In the month of March, I had just a little over $3,000 worth of cancellations,” Ross said. “It made me realize I have no desire to retire. I’m going to be 63 this year. This is not what I want.”
Relief fund for modest but urgent expenses
On March 19, two days after Nevada’s initial order to close most businesses, Sierra Arts launched an emergency relief fund for artists on Go Fund Me. It’s called the Washoe County Artist Relief Fund.
Long before the coronavirus reached Nevada, the non-profit’s staff members had already been considering such a fund. Director Tracey Oliver had been looking to a Minnesota arts group, Springboard for the Arts, as an example. Minnesota artists can apply for up to $500 for sudden occurrences such as medical emergencies, thefts or natural disasters. Oliver and the Sierra Arts staff had been considering how they might implement a similar fund.
“It’s been kind of boiling around with our staff,” said Oliver. “How do we fund this? How do we make it work? Then, when this happened, we just jumped in.”
She said that Sierra Arts designed the application and disbursal processes to be as fast and easy as possible. “Going through any agency that’s federally connected, there’s so much red tape,” Oliver said. (While a small portion of the federal government’s $2 trillion stimulus package is earmarked for Nevada’s arts community, it must first go through the National Endowment for the Arts, then the Nevada Arts Council. Details are pending. See “Federal stimulus funds expected to reach Nevada arts groups” on Double Scoop.)
As of today, community members have donated $6,514 to the fund. An anonymous donor pitched in an additional $5,000.
“We’ve had artists who said, ‘I need $50. I have to pay an electric bill,'” Oliver said. The funds are intended to cover immediate needs such as rent, food, utilities and medical expenses. Artists can apply for up to $500. The amounts disbursed so far have mostly been in the $50-$250 range.
As of today, Oliver said Sierra Arts had received 80 request for emergency funding from dancers, art teachers, and others. So far, the group has sent 60 checks to artists.
Colin Ross is among them. He said that the application form took him about five minutes to complete and that he received a check in the mail for $250 within a few days.
A future cushion?
“We write checks every day,” Oliver said. In addition to the funds collected on Go Fund Me, she continues to solicit donations from the region’s arts patrons. “If I think that your wallet can handle it, I’ve written you a letter,” she said.
“I intend for Sierra Arts to continue this,” said Oliver. Once Washoe County’s artists have recovered from coronavirus-related economic stress, she wants the organization to be able to offer artists emergency funding indefinitely.