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Photo by Leah Preiss Walton

5 Ways to Center Disaster Readiness in Your Grantmaking

By: CERF+ Executive Director Ruby Lopez Harper

Disaster readiness. I know, no one wants to talk about it. It isn’t “sexy” or “media-worthy.” It isn’t something anyone wants to or has the time or capacity to talk about. Let’s face it, organizations and artists are just trying to live right now.

But hear me out.

Disaster preparedness aka readiness, relief, response, and recovery — less about relief cause that’s a whole blog by itself, for later — is a practice, much needed, never discussed, and oft-overlooked.

A lot of discussion has gone into dedicated streams of funding and support for readiness practices.  There are a few resources and tools available but very little money, which equals, in my humble opinion, little interest in this work or in this as an element of operation and business practice. Little attention is being paid to disaster preparedness in arts administration programs, which in turn creates even less interest from administrators already trying to do everything with nothing.

BUT…What if?

What if — instead of spending time trying to squeeze more blood from the stone — we say instead that disaster preparedness work is eligible in existing streams of funding.

Technical Assistance, Capacity Building, and Project Support

Oh, but Ruby, you say, we already don’t have enough money to go around. No, you probably don’t. But, you would immediately have a case you can make to your funders and support structures about why you need access to more funds to support this increase in participation and how supporting disaster readiness and recovery projects is a meaningful, vital, and sustainable way to ensure the stability of your local arts and culture community.

Why? So glad you asked…

Once upon a time, folks decided that relief and response were the areas we should focus on funding instead of readiness and recovery. But demand will always outpace supply. Disasters are not finite encapsulated events and the recovery process can take years. Just look at Katrina and the still recovering areas of Bulbancha. Additionally, funding is scarce and we move with a scarcity mindset, which keeps us from seeing how readiness and recovery are incredibly important places to invest deeply. Lastly, when dedicated funding programs are initiated, they are often done with limited resources and small award amounts, so they rarely grow to meet demand. It’s a self-defeating situation.

What if?

When funders explicitly state that disaster readiness and planning projects are eligible activities for technical assistance and capacity building programs, organizations will start asking questions and start thinking about what this means for their operational growth.


When funders explicitly state that disaster recovery projects are eligible for project support, artists will be able to access funding to support their delivery of post-disaster projects that serve the community through self-expression, healing, and cohesion.

Is it perfect? No. It doesn’t have to be. I’m not asking for the whole, complete pie; I’m asking you to gather your ingredients and get a sense of what is involved in making that pie. Maybe you must go to the market to get more eggs or ask your neighbor for some salt. Maybe you realize that you’re making that pie on a holiday and your entire family is coming to visit and will want some of that pie.

This is a plan, a moment, a first step in what eventually will get your community better positioned to withstand disaster events. And in places where climate-related disaster events are cyclical and growing with frequency and intensity — the community will be ready. Relief and Response resources can be directed to the most vulnerable, instead of to everyone.

Readiness will never fully mitigate relief and response, but it will better prepare and position artists, arts and culture organizations, and the community at large to navigate the disaster event with shared understanding, resource, and cohesion.

5 Things You Can Do

  1. Update your grant guidelines for technical assistance and capacity building to explicitly list disaster readiness and/or planning projects as examples of eligible activities for funding. Then, visit your application to make sure a disaster planning project would work its way through. Adjust as needed.
  2. Update your grant guidelines for project support for artists and arts organizations to explicitly list disaster recovery projects as examples of eligible activities for funding. Then, visit your application to make sure a disaster recovery project could make its way through. Adjust as needed.
  3. Host information sessions and offer specific information about what disaster readiness and recovery projects could look like in your community.
  4. Set up a tracking and analysis system to monitor disaster related projects and activities and let decision-makers know what is happening and keep them posted on how it’s working.
  5. Give it time. I suggest 3-5 years. Sustainable change takes time and changes like this don’t open flood gates (pun intended) but are the start of an ongoing conversation about disaster management. It will take time. That’s okay.

Not sure what all this means? We got you.

Craft Emergency Relief Fund can provide expertise to guide your grant program updates and provide educational offerings to support your local artists, specifically craft artists — it’s in the name — with readiness resources and information about disaster and emergency relief.

We love working with the National Coalition for Arts Preparedness and Emergency Response for supporting organizations with resources and they can also provide insight into your organizational grant programs to offer guidance and educational information.

It’s a new year, and time to take a plunge. So, let’s jump in together feet first, and get the ball rolling. And, this time next year, we will celebrate the success of our shared accomplishment!

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