CERF+ | The Artists’ Safety Net
Based in Vermont, the Craft Emergency Relief Fund or CERF+, is a leading national nonprofit organization whose mission is to safeguard the art, workspace, and livelihood of craft artists in the United States. Also known as the “Artists’ Safety Net”, CERF+ helps artists working in craft disciplines prepare for and recover from personal or natural disasters by providing a wide range of resources. In addition to material compensation, the organization core services are education programs, training workshops, advocacy, network building, emergency relief, and counseling.
Founded at an American Craft Council show in 1985, CERF+ emerged as a grassroots initiative by a group of artists and show producers who sought to help other artists in emergency situations. Indeed, as self-reliant individuals, artists are often highly vulnerable to a range of disasters such as injuries and damaged properties.
Building on the tradition of “passing the hat”, in which artists would chip in money during shows and exhibitions to help an artist in need, CERF+ soon became a formal institution to ensure a constant support system for the art community.
In the course of its thirty-year operation, CERF+ has grown tremendously since its origins as a grassroots effort. According to Josh Simpson, a co-founder of CERF+, it took about seven to eight years for the group to be able to make its initial small grants and loans. To this day, CERF+ has assisted more than 1000 artists with more than $3 million in financial and in-kind assistance. With almost 2500 donors, a little over half of which are artists themselves, CERF+ continues its core mission as a community of artists acting as a safety net for fellow artists.
The organization’s work is also made possible with the the help of various art organizations that often act as “artist responders” in the wake of major disasters. A few partners located nationwide include the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee, Howard County Arts Council in Maryland, and the Vermont Studio Center. In addition to partnering with organizations that support and complement their mission, CERF+ receives support from manufacturers, craft show producers, and suppliers who donate in-kind or discounted goods and services to artists in need.
With the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, CERF+ provides financial grants up to $6,000, and no-interest loans up to $9,000, to eligible artists working in craft disciplines (ceramicists, fiber/textile artists, woodworkers, furniture makers, glass artists, metalsmiths, etc.) who have had a career-threatening emergency. Artists may also receive in-kind or discounted goods and services, like equipment and materials.The CERF+ “Get Ready” Grants encourage artists in craft disciplines to pursue emergency preparedness by providing funding for activities that can help safeguard their studios, protect their careers and prepare for emergencies. Grants are up to $500 for individual artists, and up to $1,500 for groups of artists.
CERF+ also offers the Studio Protector: The Artist’s Guide to Emergencies, a comprehensive online resource that helps artists prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies and disasters. In-depth articles, information, tools and tips are provided on a range of topics including mitigating risk, relief agencies, clean-up and salvage, organizing volunteers and creating again.
In 2005, the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina pushed CERF+ to evolve once more. It became clear that providing emergency relief assistance to affected artists was hardly enough to act as a sustainable support system in long-term recovery efforts. Since then, CERF+ has significantly increased their investment beyond their initial focus on emergency recovery to take on a work of “career protection” for artists.
Its long-term efforts and continuous evolution has been recognized. In 2016, CERF+ was awarded the American Craft Council’s Award of Distinction, which is presented to individuals, museums, organizations, publications, or schools with over 25 years of service who have made significant impact and contributions to the craft field.
Currently, CERF+ is focusing its support towards artists affected by Hurricane Irma, Harvey, and Maria in late 2017, as well as the recent California wildfires.
By Clarisse Taboy, January 2018. Clarisse graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a concentration on French Language and Literature. She hopes to use her passion for literature, art, and helping others to advocate for human rights and freedom of expression.