BEAUFORT CO, S.C. (WTOC) - The Coronavirus spelled despair for many artists across the Lowcountry and Coastal Empire. Each event cancelled and each gallery shutting its doors represented another paycheck disappearing before their eyes.
“A lot of artists were really down, and they were like I wish somebody would step up,” artist and SLAY founder Amiri Farris said.
When Bluffton artist Amiri Farris received yet another cancellation notice, he found a sympathetic ear in Heather Bruemmer, an officer for the Hampton County Arts Council.
“He and my daughter were both supposed to present at the same events," SLAY Co-founder and Executive Director Heather Bruemmer said, "And we were kind of talking about his cancellations, Sophie’s cancellations and how terrible it was for everyone with the loss of income, and whether or not people would even be able to get unemployment.”
That phone conversation in early March inspired Amiri to reach out to his agent, Matt Cunningham. Soon, those three invited a core group of local artists to join and established SLAY. The 501c3 stands for Support Lowcountry Artists Y’all. SLAY began raising money to give financial aid for creators suffering during the pandemic. Through providing this immediate relief, they discovered an opportunity to make a long term impact.
“We started to see some commonalities in the stories of people that reached out to us, and they resonated," Bruemmer said. "We kind of saw, ok, these things aren’t isolated. They’re happening across the board, and we can be proactive about being a solution to create an arts economy in the area.”
Now, the group is establishing a curriculum and resources to educate creators on the business of art so that they begin to see themselves as business owners.
“This region is very culturally rich, but it’s a double edged sword," Bruemmer said. "We produce a lot of young artists with great vision who bring new and great things to the market, but a lot of them are kind of emerging without any kind of formal business training, and so there’s a learning curve in terms of things like contracts and copyright and how much do you pay to be in a gallery. Those small things can add up in a crisis to a lot of arts businesses that don’t have a lot of financial resiliency.”
They're also building a mentoring program and creating an online marketplace to eliminate some of the financial, organizational, and exposure obstacles that young artists face.
“We want to be able to take artists who haven’t had the time or the resources to invest in setting up their own independent websites, online stores, things like that to be able to join together almost like a co-op and have this marketplace available,” Bruemmer said. “We want to do that for them in a way that is very fostering sort of like an incubator, and allows them to sort of get their products up online on this website where we’re sharing each others audiences. Where people can not just order originals, but also prints on demand, things like that that can usually take a bit of capital to set up.”
Farris hopes this restructuring will help artists receive the respect and expectation for compensation that exists for professionals in other industries.
“A lot of people think this is just fun for us, like, ‘Oh we’re just creating this little painting, or we’re just going to create this little thing,’" Farris said. " But if you’re a professional artist, you’re doing this all day long, and you’re producing professional artwork all the time, so just like other people do. We’re not out there just doing it just because it’s fun. Because it is fun, but also it’s a job for us.”
He wants SLAY to be an organization defined by taking action instead of staying bogged down in discussion. There’s no time like the present.
“I had more time to focus on what I wanted to do," Farris said. "And so I was like, ‘Well, I don’t have any excuses now, so let’s try to make this happen.’”
SLAY recently received a $20,000 grant to help reach these long term goals. The organizers have also followed through on their initial promise, fulfilling all artist requests for immediate financial relief.