It began recently, as many things do, with a phone call.
Andrea Grover, executive director of Guild Hall in East Hampton, was on the phone with Clifford Ross, a well-known East End artist who many will remember for his mesmerizing mixed media installation, “Light | Waves” which graced the exterior of the Parrish Art Museum back in 2017.
Grover is a member of Hamptons Arts Network (HAN), an organization formed in 2016 made up of 19 cultural institutions on the South Fork. HAN’s mission is to foster the artistic community and advance the creative economy of the East End. Each month for the last three ½ years, directors of the institutions have met to devise ways to explore how, as a group, they can further the promotion of arts in this area.
“When the pandemic came with closures, furloughs and remote working, we started meeting via Zoom every Friday,” Ms. Grover explained. “Not only are the institutions hurting, but all the artists we had intended to support this summer with commissions, performances or exhibitions were also in need of a lifeline.
“We thought of creating an artist relief fund — a joint online fundraiser — and tossed around ideas,” she said.
So Ms. Grover began working with a small HAN committee to write up a description of an artist relief fund and its prospective parameters.
That’s around the time she happened to talk to Mr. Ross.
“I’ve been on the phone regularly with Clifford lately and mentioned the idea casually to him in conversation,” Ms. Grover recalled. “He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘It’s an artist relief fund for HAN.’
“He said, ‘Hold on. Give me till Monday,’” she added.
True to his word, on Monday, Mr. Ross came back to Ms. Grover with a full blown fundraising plan for struggling East End artists on behalf of HAN. He called his friend, fellow artist Eric Fischl, and they matched each other’s gifts and then began seeking out gifts and contributions from collectors, gallerists and other artists.
In no time at all, they had raised $175,000 for the effort.
“It really came together because of Clifford and Eric,” Ms. Grover said.
Applications for the Hamptons Arts Network Artist Relief Fund opened July 1, and will remain open until July 22. The fund will award unrestricted $1,000 grants to visual artists, performers, filmmakers, choreographers, musicians, writers, dancers and teaching artists who have been adversely affected by COVID-19 and live year ’round in a 119 ZIP codes. The grant is being administered in partnership with the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and in addition to Mr. Fischl’s and Mr. Ross’s contributions, donors to-date include artist Robert Longo, artist-endowed foundations Dedalus Foundation, Willem de Kooning Foundation, and Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, and gallerists Larry Gagosian and Per Skarstedt, among others.
“One of the things that really struck us at HAN was in April, the artists came out here,” said Ms. Grover. “At the time, Americans for the Arts did a survey showing 62 percent of artists in the U.S. were unemployed and 95 percent of respondents had experienced income loss.”
She adds that most of her friends are artists and many rely on bringing in income each summer through the gig economy. Their need for financial support is huge right now.
“Maybe they do photography or they have another profession or are teaching on the side,” Ms. Grover said. “For the ones whose work is based on the summer season, they’ve had a catastrophic loss of income. I know many musicians who are busy all summer long playing everything from the Talkhouse to private events — that also dried up in an instant.
“Plenty of them are in survival mode, looking whether they can take money out of retirement accounts,” she added. “I have no doubt that there’s a need.”
Mr. Ross and Mr. Fischl agree, and found that once they had gotten involved in HAN’s grant idea, they were able to make it a reality very quickly.
“HAN’s ambition was wonderful, but I felt there was more need than the numbers portrayed,” Mr. Ross said. “Before I hung up with Andrea, I thought of Eric and called him … it was two minds thinking alike.”
“We obviously have a range of people who are in the art world — collectors, dealers, who were our first thoughts and some connected to foundations — and artist friends successful enough who are eager to give back,” Mr. Fischl added. “It wasn’t too difficult to come up with a list of people to ask — and what we were asking for was legitimately urgent and something that affected all our lives in a way where, were we not able to respond, would’ve damaged a lot of what is very much a part of this community.”
Mr. Fischl added that he and Mr. Ross felt it was important that they take the lead in organizing the grant due to the fact that Ms. Grover and the directors of the other institutions that make up HAN are so focused on fundraising for their own organizations at this difficult moment.
“When COVID hit, and the economy shut down, all of those institutions that were HAN participants were now suddenly faced with their own dire need for raising funds,” Mr. Fischl explained. “It was an instant conflict — how can they reach out to their people for their own survival, but then raise more money for artists connected to institutions?
“With Clifford and I starting it off,” he added, “we were not connected to any of the institutions in a way to be a hamper to the fundraiser.”
So with that in mind, Mr. Ross and Mr. Fischl instituted a rule that Ms. Grover would not be allowed to fundraise for the grant program, and, instead, needed to stay focused on her mission of helping Guild Hall.
“Eric and I were tethered to go up the mountain together and our base camp was Andrea,” Mr. Ross said.
With so many creative types fleeing the city to the East End in recent months, Mr. Ross feels that the current pandemic may represent a wider paradigm shift in that it has brought with it a new awareness of the cultural institutions on the East End and their needs at this time.
In other words, the area is becoming more than a seasonal scene.
“Folks who made this a place for summer or vacation homes, they fled here based on fear,” Mr. Ross said. “They may stay here based on love. What’s amazing is some of the big New York galleries have opened up here or are about to. In talking to people to raise money, there’s a heightened level of awareness that this is not just a drive-by summer community.
“They’re now looking at it differently and it’s now a safe haven,” he added. “That idea, of using this moment to go forward, and not just address the moment, and reaching out to some of the people —whether foundations, collectors, or individuals — who are giving to the community in a way they hadn’t been before is new, but something that’s logical.”
“More full-time artists will bend the arc, not just the philanthropy or the business of the art,” Mr. Ross explained. “In a dark moment, there’s this strange rebound and a strength to be found to engage where we are — We’re here. Not there.”
To learn more about the Hamptons Arts Network Artist Relief Fund, visit nyfa.org/Content/Show/Hamptons-Arts-Network-Artist-Relief-Fund. The fund will award one-time unrestricted grants of $1,000 to visual artists, performers, filmmakers, writers, dancers, musicians, and teaching artists who have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. In order to be eligible, artists must be living in New York State ZIP codes beginning with 119, and have maintained residence there for one year or longer. Applications will remain open until July 22, 2020.
The Hamptons Arts Network (HAN) organizations include: Bay Street Theater, Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, Dia: Dan Flavin Art Institute, East Hampton Historical Society, Eastville Community Historical Society, Guild Hall, HamptonsFilm, Hamptons Doc Fest, LongHouse Reserve, The Madoo Conservancy, Parrish Art Museum, Pollock-Krasner House & Study Center, Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center & Museum, Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, Southampton African American Museum, Southampton Arts Center, Southampton Cultural Center, Southampton History Museum and The Watermill Center. To learn more about the Hamptons Arts Network, visit hamptonsartsnetwork.org.