During a year of unprecedented tragedy and weather-related disasters of historic proportions, CERF+ — The Artists Safety Net provided over $1.2 million in direct relief assistance to 815 materials-based craft artists across the nation and its territories – a record-breaking number for the 36-year-old Vermont-based nonprofit. This is just one milestone in a long list of achievements for the organization and its Executive Director, Cornelia Carey, who is celebrating her 25th anniversary this year. Under her leadership, CERF+ has grown into an award-winning nonprofit dedicated to helping artists who work in craft disciplines by providing direct relief assistance as well as education programs, advocacy, and network building for all studio-based artists. In honor of Carey’s service, the CERF+ Board of Directors has established a new fund to support folk and traditional artists.
Since taking the reins in 1996, Carey has helped CERF+ continuously evolve as an organization – growing its staff, diversifying its board, surpassing its fundraising goals, broadening its outreach to help marginalized artist communities, and expanding its services and resources to better help artists prepare for and recover from disasters. Over the years she has also helped to safeguard CERF+’s longevity by establishing long-term strategic goals, collaborating with other leading arts nonprofits, forging cross-sector partnerships, and advocating for national policy changes to expand artists’ access to disaster resources and government recovery programs. These accomplishments have earned her and CERF+ numerous accolades.
On the value that Carey brings to the organization, Cinda Holt, Chair of the CERF+ Board of Directors, says, “Every once in a while, the stars align to bring together a person and an organization that are so well suited for each other that it is kismet. With Cornelia’s natural thoughtfulness and deep empathy, she is the ideal leader for CERF+. I am so grateful to her, and for her.”
Carey has long been a champion of craft-based artists and artisans – a particularly vulnerable segment of the economy – dedicating her life’s work to helping them develop strong and sustainable careers. Prior to her tenure at CERF+, she ran programs supporting artists and cultural institutions at the Vermont Arts Council and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She is also a founder of the National Coalition for Arts Preparedness and Emergency Response (NCAPER), an initiative designed to help strengthen emergency resilience and response within the arts sector.
“When Carol Ross and I first imagined CERF+, we hoped to create an organization dedicated to helping craft artists in times of crisis,” states Josh Simpson, Co-Founder of CERF+. “In her 25 years of directing CERF+, Cornelia has taken our dream and made it a reality. The craft and art world is fortunate and honored to have had her leadership, continuity, grace, organizational artistry and, above all, her kind spirit, for all these years!”
After witnessing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and its impact on artist communities, Carey knew that CERF+ must approach the situation with a combination of readiness and response tactics. In the wake of this tragedy, she led CERF+’s efforts to provide on-the-ground services to craft and studio artists in New Orleans and partnered with Americans for the Arts to help lead a national summit on improving the safety net for artists.
Carey’s commitment to emergency preparedness is also reflected in CERF+’s ongoing recovery work in Puerto Rico. Knowing that natural disasters are a constant and growing threat to artists’ livelihoods – particularly in geographic areas like the Caribbean – Carey established valuable partnerships with local arts and museum leaders to help to protect the island’s rich craft culture. After Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, Carey created an alliance with the Flamboyan Arts Fund to help artists on the island recover and rebuild – an initiative that was included in the Clinton Global Initiative Action Network’s 23 Commitments to Action. Since then, CERF+ has provided over $750,000 in financial support and donated equipment and materials to more than 450 artists in Puerto Rico.
“I have known Cornelia for the relatively short last three years of her twenty-five years at CERF+ through her involvement in Puerto Rico after the several disasters we have experienced, and my participation as a Board Member,” comments Jaime Suárez – Ceramist, Sculptor, Architect, Set Designer, Professor, and CERF+ Board Member. “Yet that has been more than enough time to witness the other ‘c’s’ beyond those in her first and last name: she is caring, clear and cautious and, beyond that, also captivating as a leader. Cornelia has become a new ‘madrina’ (godmother) of Puerto Rican folk and contemporary craft artists.”
In honor of Carey’s 25 years of service at CERF+, the Board of Directors has created the Folk & Traditional Arts Fund, which will support the emergency relief and preparedness needs of folk and traditional artists throughout the U.S. and its territories.