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New Initiative CANVAS Offers Funding to Jewish Artists

$180,000 in immediate emergency relief will go to Jewish artists and creatives whose performances, exhibits and events were canceled because of COVID-19.
[additional-authors]
June 15, 2020
Adi Liraz in a durational performance, part of the work: “Textured (Hi)Stories” Photo by Eva Giannakopoulo

In a time when so many causes and issues are vying for both attention and Jewish community funding, a new funding collaborative, CANVAS, will strengthen arts and culture through grants to five national nonprofit Jewish arts and culture networks, and distribute emergency funds for individual artists. 

The five grantee networks are Asylum Arts, the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM), the Jewish Book Council, LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture and Reboot, which collectively represent nearly 2,000 artists and creatives and more than 100 Jewish museums. 

The partnership  — incubated by the Jewish Funders Network (JFN)  —  will provide a total of $736,000 for operating support. An additional $180,000 in immediate emergency relief will go to Jewish artists and creatives whose performances, exhibits and events were canceled because of, or their livelihood otherwise impacted by COVID-19. CANVAS expects to surpass $1 million in funding commitments by September. 

“It might seem like supporting arts and culture isn’t a luxury we have right now, but [these networks represent] 2,000 artists and creatives who are developing responses to the current crisis,” said Lou Cove, the project’s founder. “Their work will spark action and activism, empathy and healing. That is why we need to keep the artists and distribution channels [such as JCCs, Jewish film festivals, Sundance, Art Basel and other gatherings] open and working. They’re giving voice to the voiceless, helping us see through a Jewish lens, to help us understand what our role is in processing it all.”

Even before COVID-19, the Jewish arts and culture space was in need, Shayna Rose Triebwasser, senior program officer at Righteous Persons Foundation, the initiative’s lead funder, said. “We’re investing in CANVAS because we believe in the power of artists and arts,” she said. “Our hope is that this coordinated effort fosters collaboration, strengthens connections between the arts and Jewish communal life, sparks interest from new funders and gets financial and other resources to the field where they are needed most.” 

Cove said CANVAS also would address enhancing media coverage of the field. “If people don’t know the work is out there, they don’t know to go see it.” 

“It might seem like supporting arts and culture isn’t a luxury we have right now, but [these networks represent] 2,000 artists and creatives who are developing responses to the current crisis.” — Lou Cove

CANVAS’ advisory council boasts experts in Jewish arts, culture and media, including former Journal editor and current Forward National Editor Rob Eshman and Mary Melton, former editor-in-chief of Los Angeles magazine and current editorial director at design strategy firm Godfrey Dadich Partners. 

Other funding partners are the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Klarman Family Foundation, the Peleh Fund and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

“Arts and culture are where we turn for comfort, for solace, for joy,” said Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, senior adviser to CANVAS and West Coast director for JFN.  “They help us digest hard truths. They break open our hearts and minds to consider perspectives and positions that we might not be open to otherwise.”

“[Artists and storytellers] also help us make meaning of our lives and shape our moral imagination — something this moment and all its challenges, some new, some centuries old, requires,” Triebwasser added. 

“During this period of social distancing, all of us have been comforted, inspired or moved by a work of art,” said Rebecca Guber, executive director of Asylum Arts, a global network of 676 Jewish artists. “We’ve read poetry, attended online performances, listened to podcasts, or toured museums digitally. All of those experiences are possible only because an artist spent hours working to share their creative voice with the world.” 

Most CANVAS grantees are based in New York, but several have significant West Coast representation in their respective networks, including Asylum Arts, which runs an artist residency in California, and Reboot.

Asylum Arts, which received up to $200,000 for general operating support over two years, offered $1,000 sustaining practice grants to artists who had lost more than half of their household income because of the pandemic, Guber said. “Our application allowed artists to share the pandemic’s impact on their practice and life. We received 141 applications, far more than we can support. And each application is a microcosm of both suffering and resilience.” 

Table of books at the Jewish Book Council “Unpacking” event. Photo by Ethan Segal/Courtesy of Jewish Book Council

The Jewish Book Council was granted up to $150,000 over two years to expand and strengthen the JBC author network and “is focused primarily on loss of job, book sales, other revenue streams, housing, health insurance, etc.,” said Naomi Firestone-Teeter, its executive director. 

CANVAS promises to highlight artists of color and their allies within the grantee networks. COVID-19 and racism “both have challenged our artists to the core — and are providing opportunities for artists to give voice to suffering, to draw our attention to the critical issues of our time and to spur action,” Cove said. “The mission of CANVAS is to add vibrancy and momentum to a field we believe in — through grantmaking, capacity-building support, advocacy and, critically, learning,” he continued. “Investing in and elevating work by Jewish artists of color and work that speaks to the issue of racial justice, is a vital measure of our success. They need to be heard and we need to listen.” 

CANVAS will also partner with JFN on a series of webinars exploring the response of the Jewish creative community to the crises of COVID-19 and systemic racism. They’ll also evaluate how emergency funding is distributed by network grantees to artists of color, to assess how to best continue to support them.

Another goal of CANVAS is network tracking, which Cove hopes will lead to improved relationship and communication between funders and artists. “[I hope] we can find a shared language, where funders can feel comfortable making contributions and having a greater understanding of what the art is and artists feeling comfortable that they’re not selling out by sharing the impact of their work,” he said. “Everyone will have an easier time talking to each other. 

“There’s an important Jewish saying — ‘You can’t have bread without learning and can’t have learning without bread,’ ” Cove said. “We’ve got to do both, particularly in a moment like this.” 

Anyone wishing to support CANVAS’s $180,000 emergency fund for creatives in any amount can do so here. One hundred percent of donations will be distributed to artists and creatives economically impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

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