THE OFFICE performing arts + film, with $3 million of support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, continues the national expansion of its Artists At Work initiative, its workforce resilience program inspired by FDR’s Depression-era Works Progress Administration and its Federal Project Number One. Today THE OFFICE announces a consortium of five cultural organizations that it will work with to launch AAW across the Mississippi Delta and a partnership with ArtsBuild and the Lyndhurst Foundation to launch a climate-focused edition of the project in the Thrive Region in and around Chattanooga.
THE OFFICE, in collaboration with the FreshGrass Foundation, conceived AAW early in the COVID-19 pandemic, as artistic communities were ravaged, careers were halted, and financial struggles ensued. The initiative addresses an urgent need to reimagine the culture sector and how we value artists’ role in society—a need that the pandemic has starkly revealed, and that will continue as the public health crisis abates, said officials.
Artists At Work is a workforce resilience program designed to support the rebuilding of healthy communities through artistic civic engagement. The program pays artists to keep making art; gives support to cultural organizations (called Culture Hubs) and arts workers in that community to host and work with those artists; and connects both artists and cultural organizations to local social impact initiatives in areas such as youth mental health, suicide prevention, food justice, prison reform, at-risk youth, sustainability, and environmental justice.
Participating artists receive a salary, calculated using the MIT Living Wage Calculator for their respective region, for a period of one year, as well as full healthcare benefits. Following their participation in the program, they are eligible for unemployment benefits, and may continue healthcare coverage under COBRA if they choose. Artists working in any artistic discipline qualify for the program; they must be local to the region, and actively interested in a social practice.
THE OFFICE founding director Rachel Chanoff said, “Artists are workers whose work product is crucial to the health of every society. We are thrilled to bring Artists at Work to the Delta and Thrive regions, and to help artists lend their creative visions to the flourishing of their communities.”
In the Delta, The OFFICE worked closely with Mississippi Center for Cultural Production (Sipp Culture) in Utica, Ms., to select Culture Hubs that span a broad range of artistic disciplines and reflect the region’s vast cultural diversity: Ashé Cultural Arts Center, in New Orleans, La.; Delta Commons Group, in Clarksdale, Ms.; Historic Clayborn Temple, in Memphis, Tn.; McElroy House, in Dardanelle, Ar.; and Sipp Culture. These organizations will select the artists and social impact initiatives with which they will soon work.
Carlton Turner, co-director of Sipp Culture, said, “Artists at Work makes it plain that artists and creatives are critical parts of every community. We are excited to work with the team at The OFFICE and proud to be a part of this amazing cohort of organizations working to improve conditions in the Mississippi Delta.”
Alongside—and simultaneous with—its work in the Delta, THE OFFICE has joined forces with ArtsBuild, which will serve as the Culture Hub, and the Lyndhurst Foundation, which has provided funding, to undertake an Artists At Work project focused on climate resilience in the Thrive Region, comprised of 16 counties across northeast Alabama, northwest Georgia, and southeast Tennessee. ArtsBuild will host five artists, each in collaboration with a social impact initiative, that will be announced at a later date.
James McKissic, president of ArtsBuild, said, “ArtsBuild is excited to serve as the hub for the Greater Chattanooga project. One of our goals has been to be more of service to the region, and Artists at Work is a creative vehicle that helps us accomplish our goal while employing artists and engaging in critical conversations around climate.”
Kathleen Nolte, program director at the Lyndhurst Foundation said, “I am delighted that this program will address two areas of deep interest to the Lyndhurst foundation: bolstering the creative economy through the direct support of local artists, as well as working to preserve our natural resources and increasing our climate resiliency at a regional level. This is an exciting opportunity to learn alongside peers in the Delta Region while deeply valuing the role that both artists and arts organizations play in shaping and interpreting community life.”
In each regional activation of AAW, The OFFICE will engage a local AAW Field Administrative Fellow to support the implementation and evaluation of the program locally and play a role in communicating with regional program participants. A local search for a Fellow for each region—the Delta and the Thrive Region—will kick off soon.
THE OFFICE is scaling up AAW after a highly successful pilot in Western Massachusetts. Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts says of the initiative, “Artists at Work provides critical funding for the arts and the artists who create and cultivate culture within our communities. This innovative program is designed to both safeguard artists’ livelihoods during the economic crisis caused by COVID, as well as build partnerships that weave the arts into local organizations over the long term, creating a lasting foundation. The pandemic revealed just how essential art is in our communities and to rebuilding healthy cities and towns. I commend Founding Director Rachel Chanoff, and the first host communities in Western Massachusetts for their dedication and commitment to making AAW such an indispensable program. Artists at Work taking its mission nationally reminds us of the crucial role artists-and the art they create-bring to our lives, to our future, and to the resiliency of our communities across the country.”
In addition to the Delta and Thrive regions, the national expansion of AAW includes an activation in Los Angeles, in partnership with the LA County Department of Arts and Culture, beginning this month; and the Borderlands region, in partnership with the Southwest Folklife Alliance and the city of Albuquerque Department of Arts & Culture, in 2023.
Emil Kang, Arts and Culture program director for The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has said, “Artists At Work is visionary in its artist-centered, ecosystem-integrated approach, and we’re thrilled to support its growth. Sustained artist employment and partnership models, such as those utilized by Artists At Work, are essential to driving systemic change and addressing deep inequities in the field. It is an important complement to Mellon’s recently announced Creatives Rebuild New York initiative.”
National partners for AAW include the International Storytelling Center and Theater of War Productions.
For more information, please visit https://www.artists-at-work.org/.