Like many artists, Jay Wilkinson’s first reaction to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was a feeling of uncertainty and helplessness. Painters, sculptors, and other artists are typically the vanguard of cultural and societal change. In the face of the deadly outbreak, the photorealist painter and Fort Worth native packed his car, left his New York City studio, and returned to Fort Worth to wait it out.
“Many of us [in the artist community] are feeling like we don’t have control,” he said. “I know I’m out of work, and a lot of artists are, too. Pretty much every friend I know has lost someone they know in New York City. You feel powerless” in a situation like this.
To support unemployed and underemployed professional artists, a new grant-based initiative is giving Fort Worth artists the opportunity to receive $2,000 to $5,000 grants by creating new works that speak to what the “community is experiencing” during the pandemic.
In many ways, the aim of The New Normal is to empower artists to play an active role in the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The venture has serious financial backing, including support from local philanthropists Sasha and Edward P. Bass, the Alice L. Walton Foundation, the Donny Wiley Memorial Fund, North Texas Community Foundation, and Kit and Charlie Moncrief.
Fort Works Art gallery owner Lauren Childs developed the idea with the help of Sasha, who came to Childs with an offer of $50,000 for seed money to support local artists. The initial funds came from the Fine Line Group, the new property management firm owned by Ed and Sasha Bass that oversees Sundance Square.
“Sasha also wanted artists to make works about COVID-19” as part of the grant initiative, Childs recalled.
After researching online artist grant programs, Childs realized that many of them required onerous paperwork submissions that often included bank statements and tax returns. Larger grant programs were being inundated with applications from around the country, she said.
The gallery owner decided that working artists in Fort Worth needed a locally focused grant program that offered a substantial payout. Childs estimated that there are 75 to 100 professional artists living in Fort Worth proper.
Once the grant program was hashed out, Sasha was able to secure an additional $50,000 in funds from local foundations and fellow philanthropists. The first of several rolling deadlines is in two weeks, Childs said. Soon after, an eight-person panel that includes notable museum directors will choose the first recipients.
Wilkinson said the grant program is well-conceived to serve the local artist community.
“With a lot of grant programs, there can be issues that come up,” he said. “The money can get eaten up by people who are better at applying for these kinds of things, or the program doesn’t really work for the community. I think the new grant program is great. The budget is real and honest and produced by the founders of our city. These are community leaders actually reaching out and helping.”
The recently launched program is already attracting national attention.
“Denver, Bentonville, and Brooklyn are all looking at this program,” Childs said. “For us, we hope our artists can heal a little bit and help us understand and process what’s in our heads.”
If the pandemic wanes by this fall, Childs said she hopes to host a show of works that were funded through the grant program.
Wilkinson said Fort Worth’s art scene will undoubtedly reflect the current crisis in the months and years to follow. He has scrapped many of his own projects to make creative space for new artistic expressions of COVID-19.
I think the way artists interact with people is “changing,” he said. “Kind of like ‘The New Normal,’ things are going to be different. Nothing is over. It’s just new.”
Applications can be submitted at Newnormalfw.com.