Relief Funds Aim To Help Northeast Ohio Artists

A bespectacled Cindy Barber gives a hug to Cleveland blues legend "Crazy Marvin" Braxton in a big black fedora.
Beachland Ballroom's Cindy Barber with Cleveland bluesman "Crazy Marvin" Braxton [Kim Yanoshik]
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Many people are out of work right now and Northeast Ohio artists are among them. As shutdowns and layoffs continue, several local emergency arts funds are in the works. 

One of the first area efforts to get relief money into the hands of artists came in the wake of the first shutdowns. Cleveland Orchestra bassist Henry Peyrebrune saw the need for a quick response.

“I watched on Facebook as a lot of my friends who are freelancers saw all of their income evaporate in the space of a few days mid-March,” he said. “And we're suddenly facing the prospect of having not making any money for the months of March and April. And now, it looks like it could stretch into May.”  

Henry Peyrebrune saw fellow musicians' "income evaporate in the space of a few days." [Jacqueline Gerber / ideastream]

As board president of the NoteWorthy Federal Credit Union, Peyrebrune suggested marshalling some of his organization’s financial resources. NoteWorthy serves members of the local arts and entertainment industry, ranging from writers and performers to stagehands and recording technicians. It started in 1960 as a resource to help Cleveland-area musicians buy instruments.

“And, you know, they're fantastic about paying these loans,” Peyrebrune said. “I think a lot of these musicians pay their instrument loan and then they pay their rent.”

Recently, Noteworthy established a $250,000 emergency loan fund in partnership with the advocacy group Arts Cleveland and the Char and Chuck Fowler Family Foundation. Approved applicants will be eligible for a $2,500 interest-free loan with a one-year grace period to pay it back.

“It will put food on the tables,” Peyrebrune said. “And it's a time when people are facing a long period where we're simply not allowed to work.”

Some regional funders are changing previous support plans in order to quickly get money into the hands of area artists. For instance, the Pittsburgh-based Andy Warhol Foundation recently authorized Cleveland’s SPACES gallery to redirect funds originally designated for other purposes.

“Warhol contacted us and said that they were granting permission for us to repurpose these funds toward emergency grants,” said Megan Young, interim executive director of SPACES. “And this was an incredible offer.”

Artist Michelle Graves, artist-in-residence Paul Catanese and Megan Young at a 2019 SPACES opening reception [SPACES]

Last year, Warhol money funded 10 different artist projects in Cuyahoga County at $6,000 each. This year, the funding is for artists who have lost income due to the pandemic. Sixty local artists will receive emergency relief grants of $1,000 each. An independent jury will decide on the artistic merits of the applicants, and Megan Young anticipates the awards will be determined by a lottery.

“We don't want to compare one artist need against another, and we don't want to get into a situation where anyone is asked to do that,” she said. “We're expecting hundreds of applications, potentially.”

The Northeast Ohio Music Relief Fund is looking to put grant money in the pockets of musicians whose worlds were rocked when bars and clubs started closing down last month. The fund is a project of another music-oriented organization, Cleveland Rocks: Past Present and Future. Executive director Cindy Barber said the idea is to back performers who lost all of their income.

“I mean, they're eking out a living, but they don't work for anybody,” Barber said. “So we decided to try to find a way that we could help raise money for some of those people.”

Instead of a long-term loan, this fund plans to provide a musician a grant of up to $500. It’s the result of a partnership between Cuyahoga Arts and Culture and the crowdfunding site, "ioby," an acronym for “in our backyards.”

“There's plenty of sidemen out there that just play with, like, four or five different bands, and they haven't really put anything aside and they just need a little help to get through,” Barber said. “And we need to show them some love.”

Members of Northeast Ohio's arts family are showing some of that love as people wait for the day when they can go back out to theaters, museums and concert venues.

ideastream receives support from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.

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