The toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on our economy has been as debilitating as the disease itself, and some of the hardest hit were those who worked in creative fields. As the shut downs began, performance artists watched bookings disappear, teaching artists saw workshops and residencies cancelled, galleries were forced to close their doors, and conferences and sales were put on hold. Fortunately, immediate help came from unexpected places – in a rare legislative move, freelance artists were qualified for both unemployment benefits and small business loans. In an additional show of support, the RI Artists Relief Fund was set up to make grants available to the arts community. This short-term assistance was a godsend, but now artists are faced with the same dilemma all businesses and workers are: How do we all adapt our methods to this “new normal”? It is here that Assets for Artists, a program branch of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), has stepped up to the plate.
MASS MoCA, now the largest non-profit art center in the country, is set on 16 acres of grounds in North Adams, Massachusetts. Originally a textile and print factory, the complex evolved over the years into 26 buildings and a maze of interlocking courtyards and passageways rich with historical association. Throughout its history it has been a place where new ideas thrived, with people seeking the most advanced knowledge and technology available. That spirit of innovation has continued into its present day incarnation as a creative hub, and Assets for Artists is a prime example of thinking outside the box to address the real world needs of artists today.
I spoke with director Blair Benjamin, who filled me in on their program and the pivot it has taken since the coronavirus lock down. He gave me some background first. Assets for Artists was founded on the belief that artists provide great value to our communities and are key contributors to helping economies to thrive. To that end, the classes and seminars have offered support artists need to advance the business and financial goals of their practice. This is a hard fact that is too often left out of the creative curriculum – artists have to make a living like everyone else. The Assets program has helped them to do just that, with professional development workshops and multi-level financial and business coaching that enables artists to build a sustainable economic future. Thanks to MASS MoCA’s sprawling campus, Assets for Artists has been able to offer a residency program, The Studios at MASS MoCA, that gives visiting artists from around the globe much needed time and space for their own creative development.
When the COVID pandemic hit, the program shifted to adapt – live workshops became virtual classrooms and the seminars focused on the new challenges artists are facing in a post-pandemic world. A whole new line-up of free finance and business webinars for artists in CT, MA & RI was posted May 10, including new offerings in English and Spanish, all designed to help artists step into the next phase of economic recovery and hit the ground running.
The myth of the starving artist is one that Assets for Artists wants to dispel. Artists have always been innovators, perhaps because they have been left out of the support that is afforded for other small businesses. But in our new normal, the time is ripe for creative thinkers to establish themselves as a solid force in economic growth.
For more on Assets for Artists, visit their website at assetsforartists.org. Current offering highlights can be seen at assetsforartists.org/news. All available webinar trainings are listed at assetsforartists.org/blog/2020/4/6/a4a-webinars-for-a-post-covid-world-zkylb. Classes fill up fast, and workshop space is limited, so don’t wait.