Mario Chaidez works on a new mural on the exterior wall of El Pueblo Market on Union Street in downtown Watsonville. —photo by Tarmo Hannula

Since the County of Santa Cruz issued a shelter-in-place order March 17, local artists have faced uncertain futures.

With venues and schools closed and events either canceled or postponed, individuals and organizations are now out of work and struggling to get by. 

According to Arts Council Santa Cruz County’s Executive Director Jim Brown, a recent survey of 28 local arts nonprofits estimated losses over $1.5 million due to closures and cancelations. 

“When we first started shelter-in-place, it was clear that the arts were going to be impacted,” Brown said. “We knew we had to step in.”

The council’s board of directors on March 31 announced the allocation of $75,000 for its COVID-19 Emergency Relief Grants. The funds were possible due to a bequest from Bonnie Bernardi, a founding Arts Council board member and the “driving force” behind its SPECTRA education program.

The grants, which range from $1,000 to $10,00, will provide one-time emergency support to organizations and artists based in Santa Cruz County. Organizations must have been a grantee once in the past five years. Individual artists must be a current Create Grantee with an Arts Council-funded event or artwork affected by COVID-19.

Brown said that the council knows $75,000 isn’t going to completely resolve the million-dollar deficit.

“This money is to help people weather these losses, so when things improve they can get back on their feet,” he said.

All performing arts events, including the First Friday concert series at the Museum of Art and History, have been canceled or postponed due to shelter-in-place. —file photo by Tarmo Hannula

Brown added that the money will not be allocated all-at-once; it was vital to put aside funds for the long term.

“When you have a crisis, it is so important to save resources,” he said. “Even after shelter-in-place is lifted, people will continue to practice social distancing. This won’t end overnight.”

Added Grants Program Manager Hannah Garcia: “We know the pool of funding is limited right now. What we’re trying to do is ease [the artists’] financial strain.”

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, with funds being released within two weeks of approval. The council will be accepting applications through April 27.

In addition to the grants, the Arts Council is adjusting its other programs, including working with artists participating in the annual Open Studios Art Tour, launching an online resource page, helping the Tannery Arts Center community, and building a virtual classroom for local teachers to reach their students.

“It is so important to keep kids engaged and thinking creatively,” Brown said.

Brown hopes that the grants will help ensure that the county’s art scene remains strong through the crisis—and not only for the artists themselves.

“The arts are where we go to heal,” he said. “When this… is over, it will be the arts that will bring us together again, at concerts, festivals, plays and events.”

Garcia echoed that statement. 

“The arts are how we build community,” she said. “And they are how we are going to get through this.”

Click here to learn more and to apply for a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Grants.

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Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.


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