PPP: Artists Helping Artists

March 1, 2011
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CERF+ is a vital resource for artists in need, as well as those who want to protect their work.

Glover's studio was inundated in the largest flood Rhode Island had seen in 200 years.

CERF+ (Craft Emergency Relief Fund + Artists' Emergency Resources) supports the careers of craft artists throughout the U.S. with business- and career-strengthening programs, emergency relief support (e.g., grants, loans, brokered assistance for critical needs such as equipment, supplies, booth fee waivers at shows), research, and advocacy. The organization's passion (and mission) is to safeguard and sustain the careers of craft artists and to provide emergency resources that benefit all artists so that they can thrive and continue to contribute to the quality of life in our communities.

Mitchell's studio after a mudslide.

Background & Emergency Relief Fund

CERF+ got its start in 1985, when founders Carol Sedestrom Ross-then president of American Craft Enterprises-and glassblower Josh Simpson decided they wanted to tap into the inherent generosity that they had observed within the craft community. It was common practice at craft fairs for exhibitors to "pass the hat" for fellow artists who were dealing with emergency situations. CERF+ was founded in an effort to formalize and build on this simple grassroots gesture.

CERF+ spent the first couple of years raising funds and began awarding loans in 1987. Since that time, the organization has helped hundreds of professional craft artists throughout the U.S. with over $1.5 million in financial assistance and donated services, such as booth fee waivers, equipment, and supplies.

Billie Mitchell

Emergency Preparedness and Mitigation

After Hurricane Katrina, CERF+ recognized that no amount of money could ever right an artist's life after that kind of devastation. In addition to emergency financial assistance, CERF+ needed to invest significantly in helping artists lessen and/or avoid altogether the impacts of emergencies. While much of the devastation on the Gulf Coast was unavoidable, CERF+ did see heartbreaking losses (such as ruined portfolios or critical formulas) that could have been prevented by backing these assets up and/or storing them in safe offsite locations.

CERF+ has committed to developing the information, resources and educational opportunities to help artists prepare for and respond to any kind of setback, from small-scale problems to large-scale emergencies. Thus, the organization's name has recently changed from CERF to CERF+ to convey the expansion of its work.

To this end, CERF+ has developed the first comprehensive emergency planning and response toolkit and companion website for studio artists. Called The Studio Protector: the Artist's Guide to Emergencies, the kit has already been distributed to nearly 8000 artists. CERF+ is also creating workshops and curricula that build on the information in The Studio Protector; this material will eventually become a standard part of any professional development program for artists.

Another area in which CERF+ is intensifying its efforts is business insurance. In 2007-2008, CERF+ organized a survey about artists' relationships with business insurance. The data from this business insurance survey has been an eye opener for the crafts field and the insurance industry; a comprehensive report of CERF+'s findings was released in 2010. Most notably, 70% of the craft artists surveyed are uninsured for business losses, and 25% wrongly believe that their homeowners' insurance provides protection for their business assets.

Exciting developments influenced by CERF+'s work and research include two expanded insurance programs coming into the marketplace that target craft artists. One plan is a low-cost arrangement for art and craft businesses (originally offered by a Midwest insurance agency) that will now be available nationwide. Another plan will be offered by Fractured Atlas, a national non-profit arts organization that already had programs for performing artists.

Tracy Glover, right.

Giving and Goodwill

To illuminate the work of this one-of-a-kind organization, consider some stories about the artists CERF+ has recently helped.

Tracy Glover*

Last March, glass artist Tracy Glover's studio was inundated in the largest flood Rhode Island had seen in 200 years. Like many of the people affected by the incredibly rare event, she did not have flood insurance. Enter CERF+.

"CERF+ helped me with grants and loans immediately, which let me set up my business elsewhere," Glover recalls. "The financial assistance held us over until FEMA and the Small Business Administration came through later.

"What's so great about CERF+ is that the people helping you are part of your artistic community. You feel supported by fellow artists. I can't stress enough when you go through this-and I lost 80% of everything in my studio-that goodwill like CERF+'s is priceless."

Glover was able to take this devastating event and turn it into an opportunity to refine both her art process and her business. "The flood happened at the end of March, and amazingly, thanks in part to CERF+, I was able to ship my first product as soon as the end of May. I changed the focus of my business model, and so many positive things came from the experience.

"Our new office is on the third floor of a building, which is well above the water line in case anything like this happens again. I went from maintaining my own glass furnace to renting time from other studios, which really made me more efficient and productive and lets me just focus on the glass I'm making."

Billie Mitchell

Georgia ceramicist Billie Mitchell began her career as a painter, but two bouts of Hodgkin's lymphoma left her with shaky hands-so she turned to clay in 1993.

"I just looked at it as another challenge," Billie says. "If someone tells me I can't do something, I'm going to prove them wrong. I'm a strong person, and I just don't let obstacles get in my way."

Over a year ago, Billie faced another life-changing challenge. Record-breaking storms in late September 2009 caused a deluge of 14-18 in. of rain to fall on her home in Acworth, Ga. The storms also caused a 23-ft section of her house's foundation to collapse entirely.

Billie was away in New Mexico when the storms hit on September 21, and a neighbor called a few days later to tell her that the water, which had cascaded down the hill, had now puddled into a veritable lake in her front yard. There was more bad news: Her walkout basement studio had been badly damaged. A wall of mud forced its way through the cinder block, pushing her 350-lb kiln and her sculptural clay pieces across the floor of her studio.

A month later, Billie was stuck. She could not work, and she could live not in the house. FEMA had given her some money, but she did not have flood insurance; she estimated that it would cost thousands to replace the foundation of her house.

Meanwhile, her friends in the art world rallied around her, raising money and offering to help her cart off the mud and cinder blocks. CERF+ was right there with them, giving her cash so that she could replace her equipment and get back to work.

"I'm not one who accepts help graciously," Billie says. "I'm not very good at it. But the love that these people have shown us has gone straight to our hearts. I just never knew I was going to be the one who needed help."

For more information or to find out how you can help, contact CERF+ at P.O. Box 838, Montpelier, VT 05601-0838; call (802) 229-2306; fax (802) 223-6484; or visit www.craftemergency.org or www.studioprotector.org.

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