Amid Pandemic Challenges, Jewish Creatives Get Boost from New Arts Funding Collaborative

Adi Liraz, Durational performance, part of the work "Textured (Hi)Stories," Kappatos Gallery, Athens. Photo Credit: Eva Giannakopoulou.

At a time when arts organizations and artists are reeling from the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, a new Jewish initiative is stepping in with much-needed grants and an emergency relief fund.

CANVAS, a partnership of five Jewish foundations working with Jewish Funders Network, is awarding grants to five Jewish arts and culture networks totaling $736,000 in operating support, and an additional $180,000 in immediate emergency relief for Jewish artists/creatives whose livelihood has been devastated by Covid-19 and its economic consequences. CANVAS expects to surpass $1 million in funding commitments by September. The group seeks to strengthen and build capacity in the field, with the ultimate goal of helping fuel a 21st-century renaissance in Jewish arts and culture.

CANVAS’ first grantees are Asylum Arts, the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM), the Jewish Book Council, LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture, and Reboot, which collectively represent nearly 2,000 artists and creatives and more than 100 Jewish museums. The five grantees will distribute the $180,000 emergency funds to individual artists in need.

“Jewish creatives continue to shape our culture, even in lockdown,” said Lou Cove, founder of CANVAS. “Now, more than ever, they entertain and distract us, empathize with and educate us, help us reflect and commiserate and open our hearts, reconnect with beauty, process the unthinkable, remind us to smile, help us to cry, capture the essential Jewish nature of these moments. And yet in almost all cases, artists are producing this work without pay. We want to support them as much as they support us.”

The infusion of new funding and philanthropic coordination from CANVAS comes at a time when artists and arts organizations of all kinds are facing major budget challenges due to Covid-19 and the forced cancellation of performances, exhibits, and other events. 

“Our artists have been hit extremely hard already with the economic impacts of the Covid-19 shut-down, and many are facing immediate financial hardship,” said Rebecca Guber, executive director of Asylum Arts. “We’ve heard stories of artists losing funding for theater runs that would support 13 artists for 6 months, canceled international music tours that would have meant a substantial portion of a musician’s annual income. With these grants from CANVAS, we can ensure that artists are supported financially to sustain practices that create moments of reflection, beauty and learning with and for the Jewish community.”

David Stallings, director of Arts and Culture at the 14th Street Y, which hosts LABA, said: “With Covid-19 directly impacting artists and cultural institutions, the dedication from CANVAS to provide emergency relief funding to artists in our network marks the true emergence of a new leader in philanthropy for the arts.” 

Melissa Martens Yaverbaum, executive director of The Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM), said: “Museums in general are in crisis right now as a result of the Covid pandemic, and Jewish museums and their talent cores are at special risk. We cannot afford to lose these cultural centers of our communities. CANVAS funds are helping to fortify our network of museums, point them to the future, and provide emergency funds to talents who have lost income. Investment in CANVAS and our work will make a lasting impact in preserving Jewish arts, history, and culture.” 

David Katznelson, CEO of Reboot, said: “Now more than ever the world needs the light that only artists can provide to make sense of our present and continue to dream about and get prepared for the next, post-pandemic world to come. Because of the support of CANVAS, Reboot is able to provide financial resources to artists in need, in exchange for their creative genius in creating thoughtful compelling Jewish entertainment for the quarantined around the world. Our creative community is the most important asset we have, and the CANVAS grant is allowing us to strengthen the network that weaves them together as well as directly support some of them during this tumultuous time.”

Naomi Firestone Teeter, executive director of The Jewish Book Council (JBC), said: “People across the world, isolated in their homes, have found joy, purpose, and comfort through reading Jewish literature and discussing it with others virtually. And yet, writers have been impacted immediately and severely by the Covid-19 pandemic as long-awaited physical tours for recently released books — on which authors depend for book sales and the critical opportunity to connect with communities and readers in person — have been canceled. In addition, authors who freelance are hard-pressed to find paid opportunities now, and the many authors for whom writing is not a primary or only source of income are now facing a loss of income and a loss of job security. Through the CANVAS emergency fund, JBC will be able to provide some financial relief to those in need while simultaneously providing cultural nourishment to the Jewish community at large.”

Lead funding for CANVAS comes from the Righteous Persons Foundation. The other founding partners are: the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Klarman Family Foundation, the Peleh Fund, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

The $180,000 emergency fund for creatives is open to further investment and can be supported at 

The initial grantees are:

  • Asylum Arts, a global network of Jewish artists with 676 members in the Americas, Israel, Europe, Australia and Africa, supports contemporary Jewish culture on an international scale, bringing greater exposure to artists and cultural initiatives and creating opportunities for new projects and collaborations. Grant: Up to $200,000 over two years for general operating support.
  • Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM), the central network for Jewish museums—bringing together colleagues and thought leaders for field-wide advancement. Grant: Up to $86,000 over two years for general operating support.
  • Jewish Book Council, which, through public programs; book club resources; a print literary journal, Paper Brigade; weekly essays, interviews, and reviews online; conferences; partnerships with cultural arts organizations; and over 20 literary awards, including the National Jewish Book Awards, provides tools for substantive conversations about Jewish experience. Grant: Up to $150,000 over two years, for expanding and strengthening the JBC author network
  • LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture, a premier incubator for Jewish art and culture that strives to present Judaism’s rich literary and intellectual tradition in a free-flowing, intellectually rigorous, and endlessly playful environment so that these stories and ideas spark new thought and art. Grant: Up to $100,000 over two years to support LABA in the development of more networking opportunities for all of the artists connected with LABA and to build linkages between the LABA satellite programs in the East Bay of California and in Buenos Aires.
  • Reboot, a premier R&D platform in the Jewish world that engages the most talented community of creatives to design, produce, and share with the world enticing, imaginative, memorable, and experiential projects and programs that are relevant for the 21st century.Grant: Up to $200,000 over two years for general operating support.

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