General 2-11-2005

Gala for a Good Cause: Artists Relief Trust

Julia Durst covers another artist-initiated effort to fix what's wrong, this time a new group to aid artists in crisis in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota.

the ART Fund

Lest you think the healthcare crisis in this country affects only temp workers and blue-vested laborers at Wal-Mart, another population has emerged as tragically uninsured: artists. Often self-employed and scraping by, they face the same dilemmas as low-wage hourly workers—when sick, they accumulate mounting debt, and are stuck navigating the bureaucratic maze of government-assisted healthcare.

Locally the plight of ailing artists has not gone unnoticed. The illness of a respected figure in the Duluth art community awakened many to the severity and urgency of the issue, spurring artists Scott Murphy, Cecelia Lieder, Ann Klefstad, and others into action. They recognized the need for an organization that could financially assist artists in crisis—not just from illness, but also other catastrophes, such as a studio fire. They joined with the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council (ARAC) and other local artists to establish the Artists’ Relief Trust Fund (ART Fund).

Donations from individuals and businesses and support from foundations will provide funding for the organization. Regional artists will also contribute by donating artwork to be sold, with the entire purchase price benefiting the ART Fund. Money raised will go into a pass-through account, though establishing an endowment is a long-term goal. It will be available to visual artists, writers and musicians living and working in any of the Arrowhead region’s seven counties. A selection committee comprised of ARAC board members and regional artists will review applications and determine how to distribute assistance.

The intention is for the ART Fund to be “flexible and customized,” noted Klefstad, who’s handling PR for the Fund. “It will serve only one artist at a time. We’ll see them through to the other side.” Aid will be in the form of forgivable loans and grants and won’t be available solely for medical costs. For instance, if an ill artist was enrolled in a state-funded healthcare program, but had no money to pay her mortgage or buy groceries, the ART Fund might allocate funds for those needs. Klefstad stresses the importance of utilizing state and county agencies, and plans for the ART Fund to help direct artists to government healthcare programs.

Without money in the bank, the ART Fund is just a noble idea. So to get things rolling, several organizations have collaborated to present the ART Fund Benefit Gala. The North Shore Bank of Commerce (NSBC) and six local galleries will host a month-long show and sale of work by local artists. Each gallery will display 10-12 works; the NSBC will show over 40.
After the gala ends, the NSBC will continue to support the ART Fund through president Larry Johnson’s generous donation of permanent wall space in the main lobby. One piece of donated art will always hang there, available for purchase. Each work will be shown for one month. If it sells in that time, a new piece will replace it.

For the painters, potters, poets, and musicians of northeastern Minnesota, the ART Fund will serve as a much-needed resource. Klefstad remarks, “Artists work on the fringes; they have no safety net. It’s awful to see people who have given so much to the community suffer.” Other organizations honor a similar mission, though none of them are local. The best known example is the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, founded by painter Lee Krasner, wife of Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock. She established her organization in 1985 to offer financial aid to well-established artists for their personal and professional needs, and it has awarded over 2000 grants worth over $37 million in the past 20 years. The foundation would, however, provide little help to artists working in smaller Minnesota communities, away from the international spotlight.

At the ART Fund Benefit Gala’s February 19 opening, the public will get its chance to peruse and hopefully purchase artwork by many of the region’s finest, including Cheng Khee Chee, Jim Brandenberg, Chris Monroe, and John Steffl, among many others. Financial donations will also be accepted and are, of course, tax deductible.


ART Fund Benefit Gala

Opening reception, March 5, 10 AM – 4 PM, 2005

Show extends across six galleries: the Duluth Art Institute, Sivertson’s, Waters of Superior, Lizzard’s and Northern Prints Gallery in Duluth, and North End Art Center in Superior, plus the North Shore Bank of Commerce.
Artworks will be for sale, with entire price benefiting the ART Fund.
To donate work, time, or money, contact the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council (