A $5,000 COVID-19 relief grant means Leon Gallery can pay the rent and keep the lights on for the rest of the year.
It’s also been a morale booster, said artistic director Eric Dallimore. He got the news last week that his City Park West gallery had received the money, which the state agency Colorado Creative Industries distributed on behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts.
“As an organization, we’re very optimistic overall. This helps restore that optimism,” he said. “When you have a little bit of funding, it means you have that tool to keep doing what you need to do.”
Christy Costello, deputy director of Colorado Creative Industries, said the grants made to a total of 88 small organizations across the state were designed to do exactly what the $5,000 will do for Leon. The money is to be used for salaries and to ensure buildings and other facilities keep running.
“It’s just kind of hoping that people can keep the doors open,” Costello said. “We’re looking very much at keeping people employed and keeping businesses open to support the economy.
“We … realize that what these organizations are doing is really important,” he said
Colorado Creative Industries, which is the division of the Office of Economic Development & International Trade responsible for visual, performing and literary arts organizations, estimates that the arts contribute $15.6 billion to the state’s economy annually.
Surveys by Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit that advocates on behalf of arts organizations, show nonprofit arts and cultural organizations have lost an estimated $8.4 billion as of June 29. Almost a third have laid off staff. The 73 organizations in Denver that responded to the Americans for the Arts survey reported total losses of just over $2 million and said they had furloughed 152 employees and laid off 43. Almost all also said they had putting on shows and mounting exhibitions aimed at raising community spirits and morale during a time of social distancing and quarantine.
Costello said the arts have historically helped drive social movements and promoted “community healing.” We’re in a pandemic and a nationwide focus on ending racism, Costello noted.
Art is “clearly an important way to talk about things and really process the massive changes,” she said. “In times like this, it really shows how important that role is.”
Dallimore said Leon has applied unsuccessfully for other grants.
“I understand,” he said. “There’s a lot of people applying. A lot of people in need.”
Costello said Colorado Creative Industries designed the criteria for the NEA grants it disbursed in hopes of supporting smaller organizations that might have fallen through the cracks. Applicants had to have budgets of less than $250,000.
Soon after hearing of Leon’s NEA grant, Dallimore, who also is an artist, learned he had received $1,000 from the Colorado Artist Relief Fund, developed by Denver Arts & Venues, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Colorado Creative Industries and Denver’s RedLine Contemporary Art Center to try to help artists through the coronavirus economic slowdown.
As an artist, Dallimore knows he won’t get every commission for which he applies. Failing to be awarded a grant or win a commission can be discouraging. Two awards in quick succession, for himself and for his gallery, was a boost for Dallimore, Leon’s executive director Eric Nord and Rachel Ralph, who brings grant-writing expertise to Leon’s volunteer board. The three can now approach fundraising efforts in the spirit of, “we got this one. Let’s get the next one,” Dallimore said.
Nord said a number of deadlines for grant applications will be coming up in the next few months. Leon is pursuing not just COVID relief funds, but more general support for the arts offered by established foundations.
Leon, originally founded as a commercial gallery, just celebrated its second anniversary as a nonprofit organization. It’s starting to build the kind of track record of exhibitions and community events that foundations are looking for, Nord said.
“They want to make sure their money is going to something that will continue,” Nord said. “Which is reasonable. It just makes it difficult for young nonprofits.”
Costello said she is seeing arts organizations of all sizes responding in innovative ways to the needs and to the limitations of the times. She pointed to the exhibitions Dallimore curated to be viewed through Leon’s windows by passersby in the months since the gallery has been closed to the public because of the coronavirus.
Art organizations, Costello said, have been “offering some kind of good news … in the sea of otherwise grim news.”