Arts Fund launched to help struggling venues, artists
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J.R. Teeter figured challenging times lay ahead for arts groups when the novel coronavirus sent New York into virtual lockdown in March, with only businesses and institutions deemed essential by Albany allowed to open to the public.
And as the pandemic, and lockdown, continued — and with performing-arts venues remaining closed even as other spheres have reopened in stages — the artistic director of the Rochester-based Bread & Water Theatre saw that dispiriting prognosis play out. Performing arts and other cultural institutions have dealt with a potentially lethal combination: continued expenses (rent, mortgage, utilities, insurance, overhead) with no or few revenues. It’s affected arts and cultural institutions large and small: Major Rochester theater Geva announced furloughs, and then layoffs, this summer; while Baobab Cultural Center, which focuses on African culture, closed its University Avenue facility for good at the end of July. It’s been rough on nonprofits in general: The Out Alliance suspended its operations, for example.
It was time to do something.
“One of the things I was thinking about was, can we create a fund, a very basic grant program?” Teeter said.
And so they did. The Arts Fund, fiscally sponsored by Bread & Water, was created to provide grants to help cultural organizations — as well as individual artists — weather this time of caesura, helping them pay past or current debts and handle other expenses caused by the inability to work or operate.
As of last week, the fund had not received any grant applications, Teeter said, but it had received donations for the fund. Donations of any size are welcomed, he said.
Applicants requesting grants are asked to present a letter describing themselves and the type of arts activity in which they’re engaged, their connection to greater Rochester, and what circumstances have prompted the need for emergency funds, as well as how the funding will be applied. They’re also asked to answer a few other questions that may factor into the Arts Fund committee's decisions, including how accessible the applicant is to the community and whether they would be likely to contribute to the fund in the future once they’re on their feet — questions that aren’t necessarily deal-breakers but factor into the decision process, Teeter said: It’s understood that some won’t be in a spot right away that they’re able to donate, for instance.
In general, nonprofits will likely take priority over for-proft commercial enterprises, but that depends on the nature of the application. And accessibility to the greater community is another priority: “It’d be hard to give money to a high-end art gallery that the citizenry of Rochester don’t have access to,” Teeter said. “We want to do the most good with the money we have available.”
The committee reviewing the applications includes Teeter; Luane Davis Haggerty, who focuses on Deaf theatre, and is a principal lecturer at Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf; Eric Vaughn Johnson, founder of OFC Creations (and who also co-wrote and directed "Two Tickets to Paradise: The Eddie Money Musical" starring the late rock musician); Shawnda Urie, a teaching artist with Geva Theater Center and formerly the Rochester City School District who has directed and/or performed in numerous area productions and was an original member of Geva Comedy Improv; and Thomas Warfield, a dancer, senior lecturer at RIT/NTID and instrumental figure in establishing the ARTWalk project.
The Arts Fund joins various other endeavors locally, regionally and on state and national levels to help performing venues, such as two pieces of proposed federal legislation, the Save Our Stages Act and RESTART, both of which would provide funding for venues as part of any further federal coronavirus relief package. Save Our Stages would provide Small Business Administration grants of up to $18 million to eligible venue operators — as well as producers, promoters or talent representatives — to be used for anything from payroll or utility costs to investing in personal protective equipment, according to Sen. Charles Schumer's office, which released a list of 231 venues across the state that could be eligible. Most of the local venues on that list are music clubs and venues like The Bug Jar and Anthology, as well as multi-use performance venues like Fort Hill Performing Arts Center in Canandaigua, Smith Center for the Arts in Geneva and the Main Street Armory in Rochester.
Meanwhile, RESTART (Reviving the Economy Sustainably Towards a Recovery in Twenty-Twenty) would create a loan program to fund six months of payroll, benefits and fixed operating expenses for businesses, including theaters, that have lost substantial revenue due to the pandemic, according to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's office.
Those everyday expenses are no joke. Theater groups with permanent facilities have, depending on their situation, mortgage or lease payments, as well as utilities and general maintenance. Teeter goes in to Bread & Water's 172 W. Main St. location periodically to perform routine maintenance and check on things in general — he raised the theoretical scenario of a venue developing a plumbing issue undiscovered for several days because nobody's around to check.
This was to be Bread & Water’s 20th anniversary season; they were getting ready for auditions for Eugene O'Neill's "The Emperor Jones" — which was to have been performed last weekend and this one — when they had to cancel everything in March.
Everyone else is in the same boat — and realistically, Teeter sees a need for the fund for some time to come.
“Realitically, I think it’ll be at least about six months before we can have a chance to have an active theater,” Teeter said, “and have a crowd that believes they’re safe."
Until then, he's hoping to do at least a small part in helping his counterparts in the region weather this storm.
“For me the arts are my lifeline,” Teeter said. “It’s what keeps me going, it’s what keeps me moving forward. I want to be able to present as much of it as I can. So when this is over, we have these arts organizations that are around for the people.”
To donate to the Arts Fund, and for inforamtion about how to submit letters of application, go to breadandwatertheatre.org/artsfund.html.
‘Photo Challenge 2020’
Image City Photography Gallery in Rochester will feature an exhibit of 52 winning photographs from a recent online challenge from when the lockdown started toward the end of March. “Photo Challenge 2020” opens Sept. 8 and runs through Oct. 4 at the gallery at 722 University Ave.
Image City conducted 13 weekly online photo challenges from March through May, in such categories as B&W, low angle, selective focus, and motion. Partners selected three or four challenge winners each week, and the winners were invited to show their images at the gallery.
Participating photographers are Jason Abel, Dick Beery, Peter Blackwood, Louis Cardinale, Amy Carpenter, Bob Clemens, Clyde Comstock, Jack Connolly, Marie Costanza, Len Crellin, Christopher Cummings, Diane Dersch, Elena Dilai, Karl, Dueland, Lorin Easton, Patty Elliott, Lisa Enterline, Chip Evra, Steven Gall, Rick Garvia, Elizabeth Gordon, David Griffin, Karl Hamann, Mike Haugh, Sherman Henzel, Jeno Horvath, Norman Ishler, Nicholas Jospe, Andrew Jurman, Boris Keller, Tom Kredo, Steve Liguori, Joann Long, Richard Meade, Margaret Miyake, Deborah Nawoczenski, Patricia Overmeyer, Bob Pierce, Mike Putorti, Beth Quattrociocchi, Ronald Rank, Nancy Rice, Ann Rumrill, David Schroeder, Paul Shew, Robert Simon, Jim Smith, Jonathan Spurr, Loni Titus, Michelle Turner, Kathy Wahl, Matthew Weeg, and Robert Welch.
Gallery hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.
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FRONT-ROW SEAT is a column that showcases the area’s art, music, theater, film and general all-around creative scene. If you’re a musician (or venue) with an upcoming live (or online) performance or album release, or if you have any information in the arts/entertainment sphere to report, please send your information to L. David Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org