RAPID CITY S.D. – In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rapid City-based First Peoples Fund has stepped in to help Native American artists. In addition to shifting funding from canceled events and programs, the organization is launching a fundraising effort called the Resilience Fund. The Resilience Fund is an emergency relief fund for grassroots artists and culture bearers whose income has been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and provides support to artists who have lost income during the pandemic.
First Peoples Fund Vice President of Advancement and Communications, Sonya Gavin, says “Our data affirms what we already expected. 97% of the artists that we surveyed had already experienced income loss ranging from $3,000 to $20,000-plus since March 1st, with much more anticipated loss due to the cancellation of upcoming art markets, cultural gatherings, and performances.”
First Peoples Fund is focusing their relief efforts on those they’ve worked with in the past. This includes prior Community Spirit Award honorees, Artist in Business Leadership & Cultural Capital Fellows, Rolling Rez Arts instructors, and current Native Artist Professional Development trainers. The first round of these relief funds (up to $1,000 per artist) was sent out in mid-April and the second round is being awarded this week.
One artist receiving this relief funding is Rolling Rez Art instructor Verola Spider (Lakota). Spider’s artwork includes beadwork, quillwork, and star quilting. Business has become more difficult for artists like her. “Between the lockdowns, cancellations, and social distancing, I can’t go anywhere to sell my work right now,” said Spider. “Even if I could go out, I’d rather stay home. I have three grandchildren I’m raising that I need to keep safe.” The aid from the First Peoples Fund Resilience Fund will help Spider immensely. “I’m getting my material out to make star quilts, so when everything is over I can get out and sell again. Because of the funding, I can now pay my electric bill so I can keep running my sewing machine,” said Spider. “It uplifts my spirit to see how First Peoples Fund takes care of us. They make me proud to be Lakota.”
With the virus limiting the time people spend outside of their homes, people worldwide have started turning to the internet now more than ever, seeking out the arts for solace, entertainment, and cultural expression. However, according to Gavin, “What’s really unfortunate is some Native artists do not have access to the internet or the hardware and software they need. As a result, those artists are really struggling because they don’t have that avenue to fall back on. We’re hopeful that by providing them with emergency monetary relief, they can focus their other efforts on purchasing supplies and materials for their artforms, as well as technical set-ups and internet access (where the infrastructure is in place) to help move them toward being able to participate in the virtual economy.”
After having to cancel or postponed their upcoming events and programs with artists around the country to comply with social distancing requirements and help prevent the spread of the disease, First Peoples Fund is also providing training and technical assistance to help artists move toward being able to participate in the online market and share their art forms virtually. They just launched a Resilience Webinar Series that will provide weekly values-based workshops online to enhance business and entrepreneurial skills.
For Native American artists who still find themselves struggling, First Peoples Fund continues to compile a list of resources on their website. Gavin wants them to understand that they are not alone. “If they’re struggling financially, we have a list of other relief funds that they can apply for. Also, we have resources to help them continue to be productive and successful in these unprecedented times. We’re trying to get this information out there and let them know that we’re here for them,” said Gavin.
Despite the problems that have come from this situation, Gavin is optimistic, “I think artists, in general, are very resilient because it’s a very up and down career field. And as Native peoples with a long history of oppression, we have proven to be extremely strong and resilient. There’s going to be a lot of amazing creativity and expression that comes out of this. Hopefully, it’ll help people heal too, because generally people turn to arts, culture, and music when times get tough. I feel that this chapter in our lives will underscore the need for our artists and culture bearers. They play an important role in our communities and society at large,” said Gavin.
You can help by donating to the Resilience Fund on First Peoples Fund’s website. Every dollar you contribute will be matched up to $100,000.