The Getty Trust and Helen Frankenthaler Foundation Will Give $15 Million in Emergency Relief to Ailing Artists and Art Organizations

The nonprofits are the latest arts organizations to step up aid-giving in recent weeks.

Artist Helen Frankenthaler in 1956. Photo by Gordon Parks/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. Copyright the Gordon Parks Foundation.
Artist Helen Frankenthaler in 1956. Photo by Gordon Parks/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. Copyright the Gordon Parks Foundation.

The J. Paul Getty Trust and the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation are the latest nonprofits to offer aid to artists and arts organizations hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Through separate initiatives, they will offer a total of $15 million in relief funding over the never several years.

The Getty’s $10 million fund will support small and mid-sized institutions in Los Angeles that have struggled under the weight of increasingly dire economic circumstances.

Grants of between $25,000 and $200,000 will be administered through the California Community Foundation, which is also redirecting funds from its annual Fellowship for the Visual Arts, which is awarded to Los Angeles-based artists, into a separate emergency fund.

The Getty hopes that other organizations will also join the effort. “We don’t want to be doing it alone,” Getty president and chief executive James Cuno told the Los Angeles Times. (Though it has apparently been in the works for weeks, the announcement comes a few days after Los Angeles-based journalist Jori Finkel penned an open letter to Cuno, asking why the wealthy organization has not yet come to the aid of Los Angeles’s ailing artists, art workers, and cultural institutions.)

Meanwhile, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, which has been active since 2013, will offer $5 million in relief funding over the next three years—its largest commitment to date in support of a single cause.

The first round of funding, which totals $1.25 million, will be distributed immediately to three initiatives, including $500,000 in support of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, which is offering emergency grants to artists who have lost income due to canceled performances or exhibitions, and $500,000 to the Artist Relief Fund, a new initiative launching formally in a few weeks that will offer grants to artists facing general financial hardship.

The organization is also immediately granting $250,000 to small New York City-based art organizations, including Artists Space, Creative Time, Eyebeam, the Kitchen, the Laundromat Project, and White Columns, to help them cover operating costs. Additional funding recipients will be announced over the next three years.

Although smaller organizations can be more nimble and maintain lower overhead than their larger peers, they also tend to have smaller endowments and less runway to operate without income. According to a 2016 survey by SMU DataArts, the median art museum had just 1.5 months’ worth of working capital (or cash in hand), underscoring the potentially catastrophic impact of a two-month closure.

“None of us could ever have imagined the far-reaching medical and financial disaster that has engulfed us as a result of this pandemic,” said Clifford Ross, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation’s board chairman, in a statement. “Helen would have given full-throated support to the board of her foundation making a major effort to aid the creative community. The art world must galvanize to support both its artists and those that work every day at its museums and cultural institutions. We believe this is the moment to step up.”

The Getty Trust and Helen Frankenthaler Foundation’s efforts join a growing number of similar initiatives.

Anonymous Was a Woman is offering $250,000 in grants to female artists over 40 affected financially by the pandemic, while the Andy Warhol Foundation has launched a $1.6 million emergency fund to help artists cover living expenses, including food and rent.

Organizations including Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund also came together to establish the NYC Covid-19 Response & Impact Fund, which provides grants and interest-free loans to small and mid-size nonprofits that have faced losses in the pandemic.


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