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A Little Relief Goes A Long Way For Artists Financially Struggling From COVID-19 8

Performance spaces and galleries are closed, shows are cancelled and gathering sizes are limited indefinitely, creating financial burdens for some North Texas artists who rely on those things to make a living.

But arts advocates are spearheading local and national relief funds to help ease those burdens.

Kris Williams, a Fort Worth singer/songwriter and member of the group Danni and Kris, is a full-time performer — she normally does five to seven shows a week. When the pandemic struck, Williams’ future was thrown into uncertainty.

“When everything kind of came to a halt, that was probably the hardest part, because I didn’t have a whole lot of time to plan for what I was going to do or how I was going to handle everything,” she said.

One of her biggest struggles has been financial. Performing is Williams’ source of income, so no gigs means no money for basics, like rent and groceries.

“I mean, every penny I’m getting right now, it really counts, because my income is severely cut down severely from what it was,” she said.

Luckily, Williams was able to apply for a grant through the Creative Industry Relief Fund.

Three organizations — United Way of Tarrant County, Hear Fort Worth and Film Fort Worth — created the fund. It offers one-time grants of $300 to help support artists who’ve lost work.

Within four days of applying, Williams was approved and the money hit her bank account.

“I was so happy and just very humbled that they worked so quickly to help me out,” she said. The organizations “let me know that I was being noticed, that they saw me and they were on my side.”

Organizers have raised just over their $20,000 goal to help local artists in need. But they’re keeping the fund open to donations.

Rachel Gollay is a Fort Worth musician. She started a GoFundMe campaign that inspired the Creative Industry Relief Fund. When the SXSW festival was canceled, Gollay worried it was only the beginning, and she wanted to find a way to help.

“It’s easy for folks to take for granted a lot of artistic work and artistic labor,” she said. “I could see the potential for artists in particular, maybe, falling through the cracks a bit, in terms of getting that financial support.”

Dallas artist Jerrel Sustaita feels that way — he’s known in North Texas as the Live Local Artist because he livestreams himself painting his creations:

Like many artists, Sustaita is self-employed, so he can’t apply for unemployment benefits. And he hasn’t had much luck with grant applications in the past.

“The experience has been traumatic in that way, the stress that I feel daily, that I would feel, even though I was spending some quality time with family,” he said. “There was still the looming reality of the loss of income.”

Sustaita’s married with six kids. He’s always needed more than one source of income. Now he’s been picking up odd jobs like refurbishing the interior of medical transport vans.

“I would love to make paintings and have that be my main source of revenue — that has never been the case — but the coronavirus has wiped it out completely for me,” he said.

Artists like Sustaita and Williams who’ve lost their income can also apply for a grant through Artist Relief. Applicants must be at least 21 and have lived in the U.S. for two years to apply for the one-time, unrestricted grant of $5,000.

In Dallas, the arts funding group TACA is offering grants for arts organizations. Arts non-profits in Dallas County can apply for a grant of up to $10,000 as long as their annual budget is fewer than $5 million.

Terry Loftis is TACA’s president and executive director.

“We knew that this particular situation around COVID-19 was probably going to be a huge impact for arts organizations,” he said. “Not having a clear cut vision for how long this might last we felt the need to create this fund in the event that this went on longer.”

There might not be an end to the pandemic in sight yet, but in the meantime, Williams — the Fort Worth singer/song-writer – says to stay creative and stay connected.

“Don’t try to go through this alone or think that you have to, or that you’re weak if you have to reach out to someone,” he said. “Because even with staying positive, there are days that are really hard.”

And for those struggling to make ends meet, harder days may still lay ahead.

KERA intern Mia Estrada contributed to this story.