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Since 1985, CERF+ has been working hard to help craft-based artists in times of crisis. You may be familiar with their name and you may have heard that they provide grants to artists hit by disasters, but were you aware that they also have an entire arm dedicated to preparing artists for upcoming storms and emergencies?

Cornelia Carey and Craig Nutt, New Orleans, 2005

“When CERF+ was founded, it was completely focused on this idea of mutual aid – artists helping each other out through emergencies,” shared  Cornelia Carey, CERF+’s Executive Director who has been serving faithfully there for the past 25 years. “And we took a more reactive stance for a while, providing grants and no-interest loans and things like that. It wasn’t until Hurricane Katrina came along that we recognized that no amount of money we were ever going to raise could right someone’s life after their home and studio had been reduced to a slab. There’s just not enough money to go around.”

That 2005 disaster pushed them to examine what they could do to re- ally help artists, and they discovered that if they could help artists prepare for an emergency before it hit, that would actually be more beneficial in the long run.

Carey continued, “If you talk to friends, how many of them have wills that are up to date? It’s the kind of thing you might get around to when you can. But we’ve also seen many artists put in place some incredible protective measures after they’ve already been through a disaster. How do you get them to do that before something happens?”

The Studio Protector

CERF+ made a paradigm shift at that point and began investing heavily into creating resources that weren’t currently available to studio-based artists. This was the beginning of “The Studio Protector,” which back then was a wall chart guide on how to prepare for and respond to any kind of disaster. Carey shared how they worked with artists to design the tools which were inspired by the American Institute for Conservation’s Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel.

“We later hired a book artist who developed a very interactive tool that had all kinds of bells and whistles – pocket protectors, things you could pull out if you’re running out the door in a disaster. It was very exciting and popular at the time,” Carey said. For their hard work on this tool, they received an award from FEMA’s preparedness division.

As time went on though, the team at CERF+ realized that things were changing quickly. With the advent of the Internet and the ever-growing and changing content in the preparedness space, they knew it was time to make this a web-based resource. Carey shared excitedly on the upcoming changes in the revised 2.0 version that is launching soon. “It includes tons of information on all kinds of emergencies that one might experience,” she said. “I mean obviously, like the rest of the world, we had not given much thought to a global pandemic, but that is certainly now part of our preparedness plan – what would have been helpful to have in place and how might people think through this a little bit differently if it were to happen again.”

Cover your A’s

This preparedness tool led to an ever-evolving range of programs and curricula to help artists. Mainly the CYA (Cover Your A’s): Art, Assets, Archives. To date, CERF+ has introduced this curriculum to over 50 art schools and organizations throughout the United States.

The pandemic has forced them to re-examine their programs in order to reach more people. “We’re really rethinking this program,” Carey said. “We’re thinking about how to take that curriculum and make it directly accessible to artists – with the goal being an online version of the course available to all artists – not just through art schools.”

Helping at all times

“Many people who have been severely affected by disasters feel like once they moved to the second page of the newspaper, they’re forgotten,” said Carey about the Ready and Resilient program. “And yet oftentimes, their lives one year after a disaster are still not back together again. The Ready and Resilient program is an acknowledgment of that, and also a way for those who have been affected to reflect with other artists and get excited about the future. We did this in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, with the Arrowmont School of Crafts after the devastating wildfires in 2017, and another version of it in Alabama in 2019.”

Another area where CERF+ has made significant progress in helping artists get prepared is with the “Get Ready Grant” program. Artists can apply to receive a grant of $500 to use for safety, preparedness, or legacy planning.

“Many artists have done really basic things with this grant, like investing in fire extinguishers for their studios or purchasing air filtration systems, “ Carey said. “A number of artists have used it to start their will or for legacy planning. Of course, this program is evolving as we respond to the current crisis we’re in, with an eye toward trying to help artists get back to work after this extended shutdown. I always say, if we do our preparedness work really, really well, we won’t need emergency relief assistance.”

What to do when everyone needs help

Up until 2020, when the pandemic hit, CERF+ had responded to natural and manmade disasters that were happening in specific locations or regions; it was never everyone, everywhere at once.

“The disaster management community has been unprepared for a global pandemic,” shared Carey, discussing the shock of it all. “When the shutdown happened, the obvious thing for us to do would have been to get our emergency grants out immediately, but we had to put the brakes on that, just recognizing how many people had been impacted.”

They decided to wait until the Summer of 2020, when the unemployment pay-outs from the U.S. government were expiring, to implement their COVID-19 Relief Grant program. These grants provided $1,000 to artists in order to help them cover housing, food, or medical costs. Because of the demand for these grants, they ended up creating a lottery process for the applicants, because there wasn’t enough money to go around.

When all was said and done, over $500,000 in COVID-19 Relief Grants were distributed to almost 600 artists. Between this program and their ongoing Craft Emergency Relief Fund, CERF+ provided over $1.2 million to artists in 2020 – more than they have ever given in a single year. As a 501c(3) organization, the main thing that keeps them moving forward is donations, and thankfully, this year, donations increased significantly to help meet the demand.

As noted above, CERF+ continued to provide support through its general Emergency Relief Fund during the pandemic, giving artists who have suffered an unforeseen career-threatening emergency in their lives $3,000 in grant money. Just because there was a pandemic, natural disasters didn’t stop – such as the wildfires in the west or just the normal emergency illnesses or injuries that occur. Carey shared, “There simply isn’t enough money to go around. It doesn’t matter what size grantmaker you are.”

What does the future hold?

“During the pandemic, CERF+ tapped its former director of programs, Craig Nutt, to help the organization on advocacy and policy-related issues. Craig Nutt is a studio furniture maker who has worked with CERF+ in recent years to propose regulatory changes at FEMA that would help self-employed workers access programs that are currently only available to W-2 employees.” During the pandemic, Nutt joined other arts advocates such as the Cultural Advocacy Group (CAG) and Americans for the Arts to look at the various relief packages that were in the works and make a case for individual artists to receive disaster unemployment insurance, and also the PPP (Payroll Protection Program). Carey notes, “There aren’t many organizations in the arts advocacy niche that deal with visual and studio-based artists – it’s heavily represented by the performing arts community. So our voice in this space is really important.”

Since most self-employed artists show net losses, they are not usually eligible for loans. CERF+ and Craig Nutt, along with others, advocated for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to use gross revenue as the criteria when approving small businesses, keeping artists in mind for PPP and other SBA available loans.

Carey finished up by sharing, “Another piece of our advocacy work has been a set of policy platforms called ‘Putting Creative Workers Back to Work.’ It consists of around 14 policy recommendations to the Biden administration on how to tap (and put to work) the arts community in disaster recovery and infrastructure projects.”

This article was taken from the June 2021 issue of Sunshine Artist magazine, America’s premier art and craft show magazine for the past 50 years. Visit for up-to-date art and craft show listings, as well as subscribe to the magazine.

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