In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit Jerusalem’s arts and culture community hard. By April 2020, the field had lost over NIS 42 million in revenue, and more than 90% of the cultural staff in Jerusalem had been laid off or placed on unpaid leave. 1
Although the pandemic impacted the whole arts ecosystem, it was particularly harsh for many of the city’s smaller groups, who make up the soul and energy of Jerusalem. Jerusalem Culture Unlimited (JCU) works closely with these organizations, in professional and strategic development. These emerging, small, and mid-size groups and independent artists cannot rely on support from large strategic partners, and are dependent on income from events, or municipal and state funding.
However, the Jerusalem arts community is resilient. Many groups quickly adapted themselves to the new reality, and began to innovate. They used the lockdown to renovate their galleries, studios and performance spaces; digitized their galleries; created virtual tours and Zoom performances; rehearsed dance pieces in capsules of 10 performers; staged plays and concerts outside in shared public place; and created new artistic works that directly responded to the loneliness, anxiety, and social distancing of this time. Throughout the pandemic, artists in Jerusalem have created opportunities to celebrate, mourn, and reflect on this challenging time.
In April 2020, JCU re-launched its Giving Circle for the Arts, to provide a quick and responsive Artists Relief Fund, with an initial goal of raising $20,000 (NIS 70,000). JCU partnered with Bar-Kayma, a Jerusalem arts cooperative, to manage the distribution of the microgrants, and expand our reach. Throughout the pandemic, the fund evolved from providing immediate relief and technological support in the first wave, to supporting organizations that successfully pivoted and innovated during the summer and subsequent waves. It supported artists in re-thinking their activity, developing new strategies to meet the evolving restrictions, and creating new and innovative events for Jerusalem.
At the end of 2020, the Giving Circle has far surpassed its goal, succeeding in raising over $45,000 (NIS 150,000), including a dedicated fund of $13,000 (NIS 45,000) for artists and organizations based in East Jerusalem. Over the past 10 months, the Giving Circle has distributed $30,000 (NIS 102,000) to 18 organizations and initiatives representing all sectors and communities of Jerusalem.
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