The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone, including artists.
On Tuesday, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts along with Gov. Ralph Northam announced the names of 40 Virginia visual artists who will receive $5,000 grants through a special COVID-19 pandemic relief fund.
“Ninety-five percent of all artists in America have lost their income [due to the coronavirus],” Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, said. “We realized we had a way to help Virginians through a special emergency grant program.”
Hamilton Glass, 39, of Richmond, one of the grant recipients, said that when the pandemic hit in March, all of his community-engagement projects were canceled. Since then, he has worked with other artists to create new projects that address the pandemic as well as the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, such as the Mending Walls RVA mural project.
Through Mending Walls, a project from Glass and fellow muralist Matt Lively, artists from different backgrounds create a piece of public art that aims to create empathy and connection. Eight murals have gone up across Richmond so far, with a total of 17 walls by the end of the project.
“This grant will help me complete these projects,” Glass said.
Eva Rocha, another artist and grant recipient from Richmond, said that she hasn’t been able to afford materials for her sculptures during the pandemic. She had to start using recycled materials, like egg cartons and cans, to create her work. But now, with the help of the grant, she will be able to buy plaster and other textiles for her work.
“Art is fundamental. It’s a channel of communication, a powerful way to communicate. In times like these, especially for minorities or people who don’t have access to funds, it’s important for those channels to stay open,” Rocha said.
The grants are in cash and have already been mailed, overnight, to the grant recipients. “We didn’t want to wait a minute, knowing the dire circumstances of artists statewide,” Nyerges said.
The Virginia Artist Relief Fellowship Program will distribute a total of $200,000 in funding.
“Artists’ livelihoods and their ability to continue making art have been directly impacted by cancelled exhibitions and gallery and museum closures as a result of the pandemic,” Nyerges said Tuesday. “We sought to use resources we have available to help sustain artists in Virginia through this critical time.”
The museum received more than 350 applications for the program, which was made possible by the Artist Fellowship Endowment established in 1941 through a gift made by John Lee Pratt of Fredericksburg. The grant was established to support professional artists as well as art and art history students in Virginia. Through the endowment, the VMFA has awarded nearly $5.8 million to Virginia artists in over the past 80 years.
“Our mission is to support art and artists in Virginia and we can’t think of a more appropriate way to do it [than with this emergency grant program],” Nyerges said.