It’s a timely moment to be interviewing the team from CERF+, a leading nonprofit focused on safeguarding artists’ livelihoods nationwide. Founded in 1985—by and for materials-based artists and craftspeople—their core services are education programs, advocacy, network- building, and emergency relief. Key players in the recovery of creative industries after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, CERF+ also responded to artists impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, assisted after the California wildfires, and are actively engaged in a Covid-19 response. Their advocacy for artists is ongoing—both in times where planning and prevention are the emphasis—and in providing support in recovery from a crisis. Cornelia Carey is CERF+’s Executive Director and the founder of the National Coalition for Arts Preparedness & Emergency Response. Carrie Cleveland is their Education and Outreach Manager.
Thanks to Jerry’s Artarama for their support of CHF and The Thriving Artist podcast.
* “CERF was originally called ‘Craft Emergency Relief Fund.’ But after Hurricane Katrina, CERF committed to doing a lot more work in the preparedness and mitigation realm. We realized that no amount of money that we could ever raise was going to right somebody’s life when it had been reduced to a slab, a studio, or a home. We needed to invest in helping artists be more prepared and build more resilient careers. So that’s how we became CERF+. The ‘plus’ being all of that preparedness.”
* “We are actively aggregating, creating, combining, curating resources and information that help artists look at this current crisis. At last count there were 130 emergency relief funds that have been created for artists around the country and in the territories; there have been 3 federal aid packages that artists can access—so we want to make sure our artists are aware of these opportunities and how to navigate them.”
Advocacy for Artists
* “We’ve been working with cultural advocacy groups and Americans For The Arts, and making sure that the needs of artists and other self-employed workers are embedded in federal relief packages. Traditionally, self-employed workers, gig workers, and artists have not been a part of federal relief packages.”
* “Advocacy is educating decision-makers about the issues and the needs of a very important population in this country that might not be represented—in disaster response, for example.”
* “The arts serve everyone in this country. Not just left-leaning or right-leaning.”
* “Artists, like many other self-employed workers, don’t have access to a safety net of benefits that often comes with employment, such as health insurance, paid time off, and other supports and security.”
* “We’ve been making the case that artists’ careers are small businesses, and like any other small business, they employ people, they purchase equipment and supplies and materials, they buy real estate, they rent real estate. They are definitely part of economies.”
* “We did research in 2013 about the status of artists in the craft field. We found that 75% of them have 3 months of savings or less. So if you look at this current crisis with things shutting down in March—you know by May, it’s a pretty desperate situation. So we’re in there with the other advocates for small business.”
* “Maybe people think artists live in a separate bucket than the economy. There’s hard data that says just how wrong that is. Just last month the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the Arts & Culture workforce contributed 877.