Artists Fund: Program that helps Pageant artists hold shows at City Hall, readies for summer showcase

By THERESA KEEGAN

If The Artists Fund at Festival of Arts had a theme song it would be the Beatles “With a Little Help from My Friends.”

Helping fellow artists who are, or have been, presenters at the Festival of Arts is the mantra of this all-volunteer innovative financial program and each year it gets a boost from the artists themselves. This year is no different.

A show at City Hall this month, Spring Collection, features work by Artists Fund board members and artists who were recognized for their work in last year’s Art to Go program.

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Courtesy of Wendy Wirth

The “Spring Collection” show at City Hall features work by Artists Fund board members and 2023 Art-To-Go winners. Proceeds support the artists and the fund. Artist Wendy Wirth’s piece “Early Moon” (above) is part of the exhibition.

In June, a larger Art-to-Go program will be unveiled at City Hall, and then the pieces will be transported to the pageant grounds, where they will be on sale throughout the summer. Those sales are what generate the majority of the Artists Fund funding.

“We open with 65 pieces on opening night of the Festival of Arts,” said Mike Tauber, Art-To-Go program coordinator. “We have 120 artists (in the pageant) and usually 100 will donate to Art-To- Go throughout the season.”

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Courtesy of Mike Tauber

The June 6 opening night reception of Art-To-Go at City Hall is open to the public and will include complimentary drinks and food. Board members (L-R) Susan Hoehn, Wendy Wirth and Chris Brazelton will be greeting folks who drop by.

Tauber added that artists who may not be able to donate a piece, such as sculptors with massive pieces, or artists who only produce a few big-ticket paintings, will often support the program in other ways – taking pictures, helping to set up, etc.

“Whether donating or volunteering, it’s a community thing,” said Tauber. “It’s a good way to get to know us, working together. It’s a win-win situation.”

The fund started about 20 years ago, when a festival artist encountered a health challenge, and another artist wanted to assist. The Artists Fund has since helped local artists through many of life’s challenges, including the mudslides and fires that ripped through Lagunas. The fund has distributed more than $270,000 in the past 20 years said Wendy Wirth, a long-time board member and supporter of the Artists Fund program.

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Courtesy of Mike Tauber

Chris Brazelton is seen with his hand-painted photo “Heisler Park”

“It’s all voluntary,” she said, from the artists who provide pieces to the people who will be serving food and pouring drinks during the June 6 opening night at City Hall. “It’s a way for the artists to be involved and give back. It’s near and dear to their heart…you never know who you’re going to help. It could be you. You just never know.”

The Artists Fund has helped with emergency expenses, often affiliated with an illness. According to Wirth, distribution is always anonymous, and the group prides itself on being able to help quickly. The red tape that often accompanies other financial programs does not exist in the Artists Fund.

“The people in the arts understand other artists,” said Wirth. “They know how solitary it can be, how you’re sometimes flying without a parachute. Having that safety net is a real consolation. It ties the community together.”

In addition to the hardship grants, the Artists Fund also offers support for artists delving into new formats, such as a photographer who maybe can’t fully afford a new lens for a new body of work, or a painter who wants to attend an educational workshop.

“It’s a way to further explore their career development,” said Wirth. “They’re smaller grants, for turning points in people’s careers.”

The group also has created online webinars that support artists in their career, addressing things such as marketing and development.

“We try and do as much outreach as we can,” said Wirth. “We hope to be career support…because when we can engage and educate, people don’t end up needing the financial support as much.”

But since life and unexpected events do happen, each year the dedicated volunteers are creating the program that will raise money for when it’s needed by their fellow artists.

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Courtesy of Wendy Wirth

Through the years artist Wendy Wirth has not only donated selected pieces to the Art-To-Go program that generates money for the Artists Fund, she is also a board member for the organization

And, since it’s a program for and by artists, they also have fun with the effort.

Each year the entries are juried before the festival opens. This year, Nelson Coates, a television and film production designer, will award first, second and honorable mention recognition, as well as best in theme. The People’s Choice award allows all festivalgoers to vote on the displayed work the first weekend of the show. The 2024 theme is “Art-To-Go, Head-to-Toe.”

“It’s a little extra recognition,” Tauber said of the award process. “It’ll be fun.” The winning artists also get to exhibit in the “Spring Collection” exhibit at City Hall the following year. This year, work by 2023 juried winners Cliff Wassman, Brad Neal, Marc Jacobucci, N.C. Swan and Carole Boller is on display with the board members’ artwork in the current Spring Collection exhibit which runs through May 30.

“It’s very empowering to have a community of artists that really supports each other,” said Wirth. “It’s been really amazing to help people in stress. We’re an emergency stop and we’re proud to be of help.”

The City Hall Spring Collection runs through May 30. The Art-To-Go exhibit at City Hall opens with a public reception on June 6, from 5- 7 p.m. For more information about the Artists Fund, click here.


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