MOCAD teams up with the city of Detroit to launch a fundraiser that helps keep artists afloat during COVID-19
By Karen Dybis
Featured photo courtesy of MOCAD
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, iconic Detroit art institutions closed their doors for the safety and health of their patrons, artists and the public. Yet such a move came with a devastating reality: Economically, everyone was hit — and hit hard. Gigs, canceled. Shows, exhibits, appearances? Not happening until further notice.
To offset those losses and celebrate art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) partnered with the City of Detroit Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship (ACE) to help local artists reach the public and sell their work. In late March, they launched the Rapid Response Fundraiser for Artists and Creatives.
More than 60 artists, most with deep roots in and around Detroit, have partnered with MOCAD for the online fundraiser. Each artist can submit one piece, and the selection up for grabs spans photographs and paintings to sculptures. As works sell, MOCAD and participating artists are adding new offerings. (Organizers are considering running the fundraiser through July.) As of press time, prices of art for sale ranged from $350 to $8,500.
The idea for the fundraiser was born in early March when MOCAD Executive Director Elysia Borowy-Reeder approached ACE Director Rochelle Riley. The two developed a plan: MOCAD representatives would reach out to artists to sell their work on MOCAD’s website, and the museum would split the proceeds 50/50. This is one of the only such artist-focused, fundraising programs known to be in existence during the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan or anywhere else for that matter, say organizers.
“We are in touch with the artist community; we participate in the daily dialogue of art,” says Borowy-Reeder, who adds that MOCAD worked closely with each artist to select pieces “that represented the time we are in and the artist’s practice.”
The fundraiser has been a success in more ways than one for artists — and for the museum as well, says MOCAD board chair Elyse Foltyn. (She adds that it’s hard to say exactly how many works have been sold or how much money has been raised because many sales are still in progress.) “Artists are being hit hard right now financially, but it also touches them reputationally — people aren’t seeing their art in exhibition — and emotionally,” she says. “Art has always been a kind of therapy. This gives artists a reason to create art, to talk about why we need art and how art creates conversations in our community.”
Grosse Pointe-based sculptor Sandra Osip included her 2018 work, “Deathly,” in the fundraiser. Osip says she wanted to gain exposure to Detroit’s art buyers and also support MOCAD’s staff and mission. Plus, the piece seemed timely: “Deathly” examines modern disasters, something relatable both now and in the future, says Osip. It is hauntingly detailed: An all-white blend of plaster, papier-mâché, cardboard and acrylic paint that shows a world in chaos and destruction. “My work deals with life and death, which are recurring themes in my sculptures,” she says. “The disasters caused by global warming, economic decline and today’s pandemic are [the] impetus for my artwork.”
Photographer and Ypsilanti native Ricky Weaver, who’s had two shows postposed because of the coronavirus, says that having a platform like the Rapid Response Fundraiser is key to maintaining a relationship between “critical cultural workers” and the spaces that support them. “Selling work is important to sustaining our practice,” she says. Her work in the fundraiser, “Having on the Breastplate of Righteousness,” shows the effects of exhaustion on women’s bodies as well as African Americans as a culture and ethnicity. “I feel that same exhaustion right now,” she says. “And I imagine I am not the only one.”
No matter the subject of individual pieces in the fundraiser, the initiative “pushes us all to ask big questions about who we are as a culture,” says Foltyn, who adds that Detroit has always been a city where struggle has yielded development. “We’re isolated, so communication is less. The creation of art and the conversation around art gives people a chance to get past the fear, explore their feelings and express their resilience.”
Shop the fundraiser at https://mocad.myshopify.com/collections/mocad-emergency-fundraiser-for-artists-and-creatives