This story was written by John Moore. Cover photo by Juan Fuentes from We Trust Our Wings, a forthcoming book from Warm Cookies of the Revolution.
The COVID-19 Arts & Culture Relief Fund brought foundations and donors together to support a vital, struggling industry.
Huge. Life-saving. Essential. Heartwarming. Significant. Those are just a few of the adjectives area nonprofits have used to describe the impact of the $2 million COVID-19 Arts & Culture Relief Fund, an innovative, cross-sector collaboration led by The Denver Foundation and Bonfils-Stanton Foundation.
For many cash-strapped organizations, the ongoing shutdown not only has limited the work they can do. It has limited the work they can do for others. But the COVID-19 Arts & Culture Relief Fund has helped at least 72 groups stay on track.
Take, for example, the Filipino-American Community of Colorado, which preserves and shares Filipino heritage through classes including music, language, and art. General operating support through the fund allowed the organization to keep the doors of its building open, rather than going into dormancy as many arts and culture groups have been forced to do since the shutdown. FACC pivoted from cultural programming to providing essentials including backpacks, hygiene, socks, and water to people in the area experiencing homelessness.
“We conducted four events where we literally went on an adventure to find people in need,” said Board President Chona Palmon. The FACC has also conducted weekly COVID testing events and three pop-up clinics that have vaccinated 2,400 in the group’s Lakewood neighborhood.
Though the amount the FACC received through the relief fund was relatively small, at $6,000, it was essential to the all-volunteer group with a 67-year-old building to maintain.
“We are very grateful,” Palmon said. “Knowing there are foundations like these is so important to an organization like ours where every penny counts. And the fact that we were able to utilize these funds to help the community at large is even more heartwarming.”
Through the COVID-19 Arts & Culture Relief Fund, more than $2 million has been distributed to 72 nonprofit organizations across Metro Denver since 2020. Funding ranged from $5,000 to $85,000. Supporters of the fund include the City of Denver, Create Denver, The Colorado Health Foundation, other foundation partners, and dozens of generous individuals, and donor-advised fundholders.
The $80,000 received by Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center represents about one-sixth of the company’s operational budget, said Managing Director Mica Garcia de Benavidez. Su Teatro, which offers a variety of programming that includes a theatre season, Chicano Mu-sic Festival, Film Fest, WordFest theater, and educational programs, will begin celebrating its 50th year this August.
“During COVID, $80,000 represents two months of operating expenses,” said Garcia de Benavidez. “It makes a huge difference when you don’t have to hustle just to keep the lights on. These funds put us in a position where we could continue to work toward our future instead of having to worry about the present. It helps so much knowing that The Denver Foundation and Bonfils-Stan-ton Foundation are leaders in innovative arts funding in this state and have demonstrated such a strong commitment to the arts community.”
Warm Cookies of the Revolution – which describes itself like a gym, only it’s where you go to exercise your civic health — received $25,000. “On a practical side,” said Founder Evan Weissman, “it’s kind of lifesaving. It’s very, very helpful.”
But at a time like this, he added, there is something deeper at play. When foundations combine forces along with individual donors, it sends a powerful message to the nonprofit community.
“This relief fund shows that these foundations are really walking the walk,” Weissman said. “I feel like it’s so easy for arts and culture funding to be cut and just diminished in general. This feels very supportive.” Warm Cookies is making the most of the opportunity. In the absence of live events, the group has focused on publishing; it has three books coming out this year. Warm Cookies is still delivering on its mission during the pandemic, “but it’s difficult,” Weissman said, “and if we didn’t have this support, we would be more on the dormant side.”
And when you are a nonprofit’s only paid staff member, with a family to support, dormant is not an option.
The future, Weissman warned, will not solve itself as soon as these nonprofits get the all-clear to resume normal operations. There is no normal, and reserve funds are severely depleted.
“The general feeling is that the next couple years might feel even harder,” Weissman said. “There is going to be so much philanthropic intention directed toward essential human services that it’s going to be hard for arts groups to get much attention. So I’m hoping efforts like this collaboration between major foundations is something they can continue.”
About John Moore – Former Denver Post Theatre Critic John Moore has been one of Colorado’s most respected arts journalists for 20 years, most recently having served as a shared resource for the entire Colorado arts community as Senior Arts Journalist for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. He now produces independent journalism through his own content agency, Moore Media.