Artists are among one of the most impacted groups of people during the COVID-19 pandemic as concerts and theater performances are canceled, museums and galleries closed and residencies are postponed or canceled. While many artist aid funds have popped up locally and nationally, including the Springboard for the Arts Coronavirus Emergency Relief Fund, University of Minnesota Morris senior Evan Aanerud saw a gap where some artists weren’t getting access to the financial, professional and emotional help they needed.
“One thing that I saw when I was applying to relief funds was that a lot of them were really inaccessible for young people,” Aanerud, who grew up in Fergus Falls, said. “They had requirements like you had to be in a union, or you had to have 5-10 years of professional work experience, or you had to make a certain percentage of income from your art, and those are all things that young people don’t really have.”
Aanerud took it upon himself to fill that gap, contacting friends he’d worked with in past arts organizations and internships across the country to found Emerging Artist Initiative (EAI). “It is basically a collective of young professionals in the arts, very grassroots, and we’re trying to address the immediate financial need of young and emerging artists and arts administrators,” he says. “There are hundreds of relief funds out there, but there wasn’t anything for young people specifically, so we made one.”
The EAI Relief Fund launched July 1 and closed July 22 at midnight with the goal of raising $15,000 to support 30 emerging artists and art administrators around the U.S. “The demand that we’ve experienced has been absolutely overwhelming,” Aanerud says. “We received 1,721 applications from young artists across the country. We were expecting 500.”
To qualify, applicants need to be artists under 30 years of age and within three years of receiving a degree or certificate, or within three years of beginning work as an art professional, as well having lost a creative opportunity, internship, apprenticeship, or noncreative job needed for survival and be in dire financial need.
Aanerud worries that this is a group of people who are most susceptible to leaving art behind to make ends meet and this is an opportunity to support the future of art. “This is a group of people that have kind of been marginalized the last few months within the relief fund community, relief fund market and the artistic community, and when you give to Emerging Artist Initiative, you’re really ensuring that the next generation of artists is financially sound to practice their art and to ensure that they have a future in their career, and you’re ensuring that they aren’t going to put the arts on the backburner,” he says.
As EAI goes through applications, they continue to fundraise to try and meet their initial goal of $15,000. At the time of writing, EAI has raised about $6,500. They are accepting donations through Facebook Fundraiser, PayPal, Venmo and by check. “Right now we’re just trying to reach our $15,000 goal, if we make more than that we’re going to fund as many artists as we possibly can,” Aanerud says.
EAI is not a registered nonprofit so donations are not tax deductible, but nearly 100% of proceeds go toward artists as EAI is entirely a volunteer effort. A small percent of funds go toward maintaining the website (eaifund.com) and marketing efforts. Aanerud says, “This is all completely volunteerled, and we are just really committed to making sure we can fund these young artists.”
Aside from fundraising and financially supporting artists, EAI is also looking to do more outreach to young artists. Aanreud says being raised in Fergus Falls was formative to him seeing the arts as a possible career. He is currently double-majoring in theater arts and management and is set to graduate in December. “Growing up at A Center for the Arts and growing up doing music and theater at (Fergus Falls High School) really instilled this passion for the arts and this confidence that the arts is a legitimate career,” he says. “A lot of people think of the arts as a leisure activity and don’t really associate it with a legitimate career ... and I would say my experiences in Fergus Falls really helped me gain the confidence and the encouragement to pursue the arts as a career and to pursue my lifelong passion.”
Part of EAI’s mission is to spread that message and give emerging artists a platform to share their work. “We’re resharing the work of young artists and we’re working to be young leaders for institutional change within the arts industry. One thing that the arts industry in general really tells young artists is that we have to suffer financially before we can succeed professionally and we’re really trying to change that perception,” Aanerud says. “We’re trying to use this critical moment in our industry that COVID-19 has thrust upon us, not like a breaking point, but as changing the direction of where our industry is going, especially young people.