Art Business: Assistance for Artists in Need

Numerous accolades can be heaped upon an artist during his or her lifetime, including awards, sold-out gallery exhibitions, a museum retrospective, or rave reviews in an art magazine. Unfortunately, an artist may also experience certain setbacks, including illness or injury, which may prevent him or her from working.

by Daniel Grant

Marian Anderson 20" x 24 by Everett Raymond Kinstler.
Marian Anderson
20" x 24 by Everett Raymond Kinstler.

Numerous accolades can be heaped upon an artist during his or her lifetime, including awards, sold-out gallery exhibitions, a museum retrospective, or rave reviews in an art magazine. Unfortunately, an artist may also experience certain setbacks during their art career, including illness or injury, which may prevent him or her from working. Suddenly faced with enormous medical expenses, often without sufficient health insurance, the artist can become destitute and their art business can suffer dramatically. “By the time artists in this situation apply to us, they’re usually pretty desperate for financial help,” says Babette Bloch, the president of Artists’ Fellowship, which provides monetary assistance to artists and their families who find themselves in dire financial need as a result of a medical emergency,
disability, or natural disaster.

The list of artists applying to Artists’ Fellowship is long, and the number of recipients is shorter, based on the amount of money available to distribute and the degree to which the awards—currently ranging from $400 to $12,000—can actually help. In 2006, Artists’ Fellowship helped 60 artists, the most ever in one year, on account of the organization’s $4 million endowment raised exclusively by members’ dues, gifts, and bequests dating back to 1859. “Although we can’t solve everyone’s problems,” Bloch says, “we try to give to those in situations where our money can do the most good.” She added that the fellowship also provides “a psychological lift because artists know there is a community of artists wanting to help.”

The organization—the oldest of its kind in the United States, founded in 1859 under the name The Helpful Society—is an all-volunteer group, without paid directors and financial advisors. At present, Artists’ Fellowship has approximately 400 dues-paying members, and there is a board that receives and evaluates requests for help. A five-member Relief and Assistance Committee heads the initial review, before making its recommendations to the full board, which votes on awards. Some of the decisions require little discussion, while others take more, such as the 33- year-old artist with lung cancer who had medical coverage but was interested in alternative treatments that her insurance did not cover—she received an award.

Because it is sometimes difficult for applicants to admit that they are in financial distress and need immediate help, confidentiality at Artists’ Fellowship is of paramount importance. “We receive applications from some very well-known artists who have fallen on hard times,” says Marc Mellon, a sculptor and former president of Artists’ Fellowship. “It makes you shake your head wondering what happened, but I guess we’re all a car accident or fall away from being victims of enormous medical bills.”

Applying for aid from Artists’ Fellowship involves filling out a brief, two-page form that asks for a limited amount of information: Is the applicant a professional, self-supporting artist? Does the individual have medical insurance? What is the artist’s individual or household income? What is the nature of the emergency? Applicants are asked to send in slides of their current work, but decisions are based entirely on need and not on the work’s style. “Our taste in art is no factor,” says portraitist Everett Raymond Kinstler, a member of Artists’ Fellowship since the late 1950s and a former president. “If they have the credentials as professional artists and can show they are in financial distress as a result of hardship, we try to help.”

An artist’s financial crisis may develop quickly, and Artists’ Fellowship is able to respond quickly: there are no set application deadlines and the organization holds monthly meetings, moving even faster when a particularly desperate situation arises. “Meetings are often hard on board members because there’s so much bad news out there,” says Mellon, “but sometimes those members leave the meetings invigorated, realizing that the small amounts of money we give really can do an enormous amount of good.”    

For more information on Artists’ Fellowship, including applying for aid or becoming a member, call (646) 230-9833, e-mail, or visit

Following is a list of some of the many nonprofit groups and foundations providing rapid-response aid programs for artists in need:

Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation
380 W. Broadway
New York, NY 10012
(212) 226-0581
Emergency-assistance program providing one-time financial help up to $10,000 for artists facing specific emergencies, such as fire, flood, or medical care.

Americans for the Arts
1000 Vermont Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 371-2830
Financial assistance for local arts agencies affected by disasters.

Texas Fine Arts Association
700 Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 453-5312
Emergency grants for artists.

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation
271 Main St., Suite 3
Great Barrington, MA 01230
(413) 528-8039
Artist-resource trust providing financial assistance for midcareer artists in New England.

Capelli d'Angeli Foundation
P.O. Box 656
Canton, CT 06019
(860) 693-6208
Provides grants of up to $500 for women artists who are survivors of cancer or currently receiving cancer treatment.

Chicago Artists' Coalition
70 East Lake St., Suite 230
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 781-0040
Ruth Talaber artists' emergency fund provides aid to Illinois area artists.

Emergency Artists' Support League
P.O. Box 7895
Dallas, TX 75209
(888) 563-2316
Financial assistance for North Texas visual artists and arts professionals in dire temporary distress because of an unforeseen medical emergency or other catastrophic event.

The Fulton Ross Fund For Visual Artists
P.O. Box 15022
Sarasota, FL 34277
(941) 928-4539
Grants up to $10,000 to Florida-based artists in financial need.

Herbert & Irene Wheeler Foundation
P.O. Box 300507
Brooklyn, NY 11230
(718) 951-0581
Fellowships and emergency grants for artists of color who are at least 21 years of age and reside in the greater New York City area.

Katrina Artists Trust Fund
Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston
5216 Montrose Blvd.
Houston, TX 77006-6598
(713) 284-8250
Financial support for visual artists in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama who were affected by Hurricane Katrina.

The Martha Boschen Porter Fund
145 White Hallow Road
Sharon, CT 06064
Grants of $1,000 to 4,000 for needy artists residing in Northwest Connecticut and adjacent areas in Massachusetts and New York state.

Max's Kansas City Project
P.O. Box 53
Woodstock, NY 12498
(845) 679-2593
Funding and resources for emergency situations, including medical aid, healthcare, legal aid, housing, food, and grants up to $1,000 to individuals in the arts.

Mayer Foundation
20 West 64th St., Suite 15 U
New York, NY 10023
Grants of $2,500 to $5,000 for individuals burdened by poverty.

Montana Arts Council
P.O. Box 202201
Helena, MT 59620-2201
(406) 444-6430
Opportunity grant of up to $1,000 for special opportunities and/or emergency situations.

Pollock-Krasner Foundation
863 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10021
(212) 517-5400
Emergency-assistance grants for artists who have suffered a catastrophe.

Santa Fe Art Institute
Emergency Relief Residency Program
P.O. Box 24044
Santa Fe, NM 87505
(505) 424-5050
Provides residences for artists and writers whose lives and work have been disrupted by domestic, political, or natural disasters.

George Sugarman Foundation
448 Ignacio Blvd., #329
Novato, CA 94949
Grants for painters and sculptors in need of financial assistance.

Visual Aid
116 New Montgomery St., Suite 640
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 777-8242
Grants to artists with cancer, AIDS, or other life-threatening illnesses.

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