Relief funds for Caribbean craft artists

CERF Plus grant recipient, Casey Giakas pottery artwork of sea urchins. The St. John’s based artist sought assistance from the organization after Hurricane Maria destroyed her studio, which she is currently rebuilding.
Niko Dellios

A Vermont-based arts assistance organization is looking to help Caribbean craft artists get back on their feet. The Craft Emergency Relief Fund, or CERF Plus, helps creatives in the hand-made art discipline with emergency financial assistance. With many U.S. based artists from the Caribbean, the non-profit has already provided funds to those in need, and are trying to lend a helping hand to more to show support, said the director of programs.

“We are a safety net and we think what artists do is vital to the culture and society, and we place a high value on it,” said Jenifer Simon.

The non-profit provides funds to artists that have suffered a career-threatening illness, injury, or have been displaced or affected by a natural disaster or something unforeseen. It is funded by other craft artists and contributions.

Unlike other professions, being an artist does not come with enough backing, which is why the organization acts as a backup plan, added Simon.

“Artists contribute to culture and economy, but there are not a lot of resources or savings for them — they’re sort of an independent business that do not have any additional support,” she said. “But we have funds to help our artists, and we want them to get back to work and know that the community cares about them.”

Artists eligible for the organizations grants must be U.S. citizens, must have suffered an illness, or experienced a natural disaster that affected their art, in the last two or three years.

So far the organization has provided funds to 45 artists from Puerto Rico, and five from the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to Simon. She adds that when artists apply and are approved, the organization has a quick turnaround and is usually able to provide them with money within a week.

And when they get the money, many of the artists use the grant money or no interest loans, to buy art tools, and even pay off debts that may have prohibited them from further pursuing their careers. There is no requirement on how the money can be spent, said Simon.

“They usually pay outstanding bills or use the money to pay for rent or food,” she said. “Some put the money into rebuilding, but we don’t specify how they can spend the money. If someone needs a new car to get to art shows, they can. No one is usually spending money on frivolous stuff.”

U.S. Virgin Islands-based pottery artist Casey Giakas received a grant from CERF Plus last November, after Hurricane Maria destroyed her art studio. She discovered the organization through word of mouth from other pottery artists, and is now using the money awarded into rebuilding her studio space.

She says the organization is a beneficial resource that aids artists in crucial times with no strings attached.

“A lot of artists don’t have a lot of cash flow coming in, and the cost of making art is quite high,” said Giakas. “So to have an organization like CERF Plus willing to just help out and specifically with a focus on art — it’s great.”

Simon says CERF Plus considers artists as generous contributors in the world, and says with their mission they assist some of their financial burdens and help them get back on their feet.

“Fundamentally, artists are extremely courageous and cultured, and they are intrinsically motivated because no one asking them to create art and they belong in this work,” she said.

Artists who meet recommended criteria can apply for financial assistance at www.cerfplus.org.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]local.com.

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