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Imagine MKE nearly quadruples artist relief goal

May 7, 2020
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After beginning its artist relief fund seven weeks ago as the city began to see the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, Milwaukee’s art office, Imagine MKE, raised $195,000, nearly quadrupling its original goal of $50,000.

These funds will go directly to support 423 local artists. Of the total grant recipients, 213 were artists in the visual arts. Other categories include music, film and video, dance, theater, the literary arts and photography, jewelry design, tattooing, architecture and fashion.

The top ZIP codes represented in these grants were 53212, 53202, 53207, 53211, 53204, 53208, 53209 and 53213.

Imagine MKE’s original goal was to raise $50,000 by April 10. A local gig on March 20 helped the organization raise $13,500, and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation contributed $25,000 to the fund. As of March 27, Imagine MKE had raised $45,065. In late March the organization had already received $173,434 in requests in its first two application periods and needed to increase its original goal.

Foundations contributed $147,100 of the total fundraising amount. These foundations include Bader Philanthropies Inc., the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Black Box Fund and Brico Fund. The organizations of the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network, No Studios, N43 Records, Arts Wisconsin and Downtown BID contributed $7,644, and individual 350 gifts from 313 donors in 18 states gave $40,256.

Local artists could receive a small grant up to $500. Imagine MKE had a rotating grant team of 23 members reviewing the applications.

As a way of enhancing equity in the process, priority was given to community members who are often marginalized, Imagine MKE chief executive officer David Lee said. These individuals include people in the black, indigenous, person of color, disabled, trans or non-binary communities. Of the 423 local artists, 208 applicants cited affiliation with these marginalized groups.

“We are in awe of our community’s response to our urgent call to support Milwaukee’s artists,” Lee said. “When Imagine MKE started the Artist Relief Fund seven weeks ago, the world was just beginning to drastically shift in response to the pandemic. While we knew the need for help would be great, we could never have known just how many artists would raise their hands – and how significantly our city’s foundations, organizations, and arts supporters would show up.”

Lee said that as the relief fund is concluding, Imagine MKE is now turning its efforts to additional advocacy efforts to prioritize the arts and artists in recovery efforts.

Imagine MKE publicly launched in November to serve the community’s different arts needs. In response to the spreading of Covid-19 and its negative impact on artists, Imagine MKE set out with a three-fold agenda to aid local artists, which includes a relief fund, collection of artists’ stories and a push for more policy work.