RedLine Is Trying to Rescue Artists From an Economic Emergency

Detour's 5 Pointers exhibit at RedLine Contemporary.EXPAND
Detour's 5 Pointers exhibit at RedLine Contemporary.
Michael Emery Hecker
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Louise Martorano is used to navigating financial uncertainty.

"As a nonprofit, we have this muscle toned when it comes to short cash-flow runs,” says Martorano, the executive director of RedLine. “We don’t charge for anything. Admission is free. Programming is under-resourced. We survive on philanthropy.”

And now RedLine is ready to return the favor.

When arts organizations started canceling live events in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, workers in the creative community who'd suddenly lost gigs started panicking about paying the rent and buying groceries.

So RedLine quickly pivoted from hosting exhibitions, public talks and in-person community outreach to figuring out how to support artists through the crisis.

For two weeks now, Martorano has been on the phone, calling every person in power and with resources she can think of, encouraging them to put their money and ideas to work for artists so that the creative sector survives the closures. 

Last week, she set up a survey on the RedLine website — along with a list of resources — asking artists what they needed as the world navigates this pandemic. She learned that, on average, artists are expecting $3,500 in losses over the next thirty to sixty days. Some who had lucrative first quarters are going to be able to survive longer than those who had planned exhibitions and projects in the weeks ahead canceled.

Now she’s sharing that information with foundations and larger institutions she wants to push into supporting creatives.

“RedLine is trying to utilize every bit of our capacity to act quickly and generously and influence those we have always been in partnership with in philanthropy and share best practices as well as share intel as to how to get resources to artists as fast as possible with essentially no restrictions,” she says. “We’re making sure we do that in a way that is learning from those who already released funds.”

That list includes the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, a major Denver arts funder that immediately granted $125,000 in unrestricted funds to arts groups when it was clear they would be forced to close otherwise.

“It wasn’t even a day, and they released 10 percent of their 2019 grants out to small organizations,” Martorano says. “They sent us an email saying anyone who is a grantee of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, 'check’s in the mail.' That allowed RedLine to have more breathing room to redirect capacity to artists.”

The funds that Bonfils-Stanton sent out were unrestricted, notes Martorano, and that’s key.

Historically, many foundations have used their money to fund special projects and new initiatives, using their resources to push nonprofits in whatever direction the foundation sees fit. That often creates a dilemma for nonprofits, which find themselves manipulated into straying from their mission.

Artists frequently face the same predicament. In a city that has ample funds for public art, artists can find themselves struggling to comply with specific creative directions tied to those funds.

But since it opened in 2008, RedLine has been funding the work that artists want to make. And Martorano has done what she can to make this process as unbureaucratic as possible.

Over the past three years, one way that RedLine has funded artists' projects is through INSITE funds, money from the Andy Warhol Foundation that RedLine distributes to local creatives. Proposals have been turned in during the spring; grants were awarded by October.

This year, the Warhol Foundation offered to speed up the release of funds to be used as unrestricted emergency money for artists. As a result, all of the 2020 INSITE funds allotted to RedLine, $60,000 in total, will go to artist-relief grants — and not just to artists.

From the survey that RedLine conducted, it was clear that many of the city’s creatives live outside of Denver, which they say is no longer affordable. While Denver Arts & Venues' $130,000 in emergency grants only went to Denver residents, the INSITE funds will be distributed to artists living within an eighty-mile radius of the city, including in Colorado Springs and Fort Collins.

Martorano knows that $60,000 in INSITE funds isn’t enough to solve all the problems, so she hopes that RedLine sets an example for larger museums and cultural institutions to use their own resources to help artists through this time. And she's urging foundations to find ways to work together, so that artists aren’t forced to apply for multiple grants and can instead fill out one form and tap into a larger pool of money.

“I think everybody right now needs to audit their power: 'Who do I have influence over, and who can I reach out to, and who can I work with to help support communities that maybe do not have those same levers available to them?'" she says. "I’m hoping those that have more than RedLine are doing it.

“Obviously,” she adds, “there are organizations and museums that are much bigger.”

RedLine is hosting an online information session for artists about the emergency grants from 5 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25. Artists can participate over Zoom at zoom.us/j/183464573. The meeting ID is 183 464 573.

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