Omari Rush: How the creative community is helping artists and arts organizations survive

Wonder how arts and cultural organizations in Southeast Michigan are supporting the region’s artists? CultureSource Director Omari Rush gives Christy McDonald the rundown on how they are supporting the arts with their COVID-19 Arts and Creative Community Assistance Fund.


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Omari Rush, Executive Director, CultureSource Many of our organizations are small businesses, you know, and most of them in our association are small businesses that, you know, employ lots of folks that have daily transactions at cash registers, you know, that are that are paying vendors.

Christy McDonald Joining me now is Omari Rush. He is the executive director of CultureSource. Hi Omari, it’s good to see you.

Omari Rush, Executive Director, CultureSource Yeah, Likewise. Good to see you as well.

Christy McDonald How’s everything been going in your world?

Omari Rush, Executive Director, CultureSource You know, my world is now mostly in my apartment. That’s a bit of a difference. I feel very lucky, fortunate, blessed to be healthy. And I also feel very lucky and fortunate to be able to support and serve our arts and culture sector in southeast Michigan. You know, I am feeling really wonderfully called to service and honored to, you know, dig in on behalf of really great folks, really great creatives, artists in the region. So, I feel good in that way and feeling useful.

Christy McDonald So talk a little bit about what CultureSource does in connecting arts and culture community in the nonprofits who are working in our area.

Omari Rush, Executive Director, CultureSource So CultureSource is a regional association of arts and culture nonprofits. We have about 160 organizations that are dues paying members. We’ve moved to pay what you can membership dues model now, but they’re dues paying members and you know, they go from the largest to the smallest organizations in the region, however you define large and small. So you know, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Henry Ford Arts and Scraps, Mosaic Youth Theater, Detroit, the Ann Arbor Arts Center of the Arts. I mean, the whole range are members understanding that, you know, there is great opportunity in collaborating and being collegial and in and working together. And I think folks are feeling that now more than ever and our role in that is to create a table for folks to come together and share and learn from one another to make sure that folks outside of our sector know the ways that they can support our work and be part of it and into, I think, always provides certain amounts of hope, inspiration and encouragement to persevere.

Christy McDonald Covid-19 has changed so much and it has changed so much in the arts and culture community and all these beautiful venues and places that we go to be inspired and to feel joy. We no longer can congregate at an artist can no longer do their work in front of people. And we’ve all found these alternative methods to communicating with the arts right now. But there are there are people who are really struggling. And so you’re going to be part of now an arts and creative community assistance fund that is going to be starting. Tell us a little bit about that.

Omari Rush, Executive Director, CultureSource Yes, this has certainly been a challenging time for our peers in the arts and culture sector. We are best known for and feel most comfortable convening people, bring people together in times of celebration and in crisis. And as you just mentioned, all of that has been challenged.

We are really excited to be partnering with the culture sources, really excited to be partnering with the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan on the Covid-19 Arts and Creative Community Assistance Fund. It’s a fund that has about nine different charitable foundations in the region or that are involved in the region, as well as some individuals who contributed to the fund, wanting to offer support to the sector.

The fund has a as a three part framework, understanding that there are many opportunities to help our communities kind of navigate this crisis. You know, it’s looking to do research good, just really quality data about what the need is, what the opportunities are, as well as how audiences are feeling about their cultural participation. It’s looking to provide support related to resiliency and relief, just giving people extra runway to be as thoughtful and as smart and creative as we really believe they are. And also providing resources for innovation, knowing that where there is crisis, there’s usually great opportunity. And so we want to make sure that people have the tools to be able to really mind these moments for new ways of working and can prepare for a future that hopefully is brighter and even more secure.

Christy McDonald Before we talk about the details about how organizations can apply and in getting the funding out as quickly as possible, because this first phase is really a quicker turnaround in May. Tell me a little bit about some of the stories that you’re hearing about where some of this funding can help out the most specifically.

Omari Rush, Executive Director, CultureSource, certainly people are thinking their doors are closed and so they are challenged in terms of certain streams of revenue. And this fund is aimed at being. And in particular, this grant program about relief and resiliency is aimed at being as flexible as possible. And, you know and we’re just hearing people who are thinking about their employees and wanting to, you know, find ways to support them, keep them on the payroll. That has been challenged certainly because of the crisis there.

You know, the PPP program was it was aimed at getting quick relief. But, you know, has there been lots of reports in the nonprofit sector and certainly the arts and culture sector, it’s been it’s been tricky for folks to connect to those to those moneys. So, so it really is about, you know, helping folks with employees. You know, they want to keep their buildings. They want to stay in their leases. And this also provides them an opportunity to  pay some of those bills, to fix things that, you know, just kind of peter out, you know, HVAC unit or all of those kinds of emergencies that pop up that we don’t want them to kind of take an organization out permanently. So, this is really meant to be very flexible and help organizations just make it through these next months.

Christy McDonald So tell us about the application process and what these grants will look like.

Omari Rush, Executive Director, CultureSource You know, we wanted to be really respectful of organizations and all of the things that are competing for their time and energies right now. And so the application is open now. It’s available on our website, and certainly on the Community Foundation’s web site as well. And, you know, it’s, I believe there are there’s some opening questions that just ask for some contact information. There are five questions that, you know, involve us getting a sense about, you know, what people’s needs are and what their program has been like and how they think they could use funding. We really want folks to and each response is about 150 words. And so, you know, really tight responses. We’re not looking for a five page essay. And, you know, we’ll take that information and with a committee of fund contributors, look at that and try to figure out where funding could be most impactful throughout the region. You know, we want to we want to make sure that organizations of all sizes, all kind of focus areas and again, throughout the seven counties of southeast Michigan have access to this money. We wish that we had more folks can still contribute to the fund. We wish we had more. And we are so excited to see what we’ll be able to do with what comes in.

Christy McDonald You know, when we talk about arts and culture sometimes it sounds like we just say, oh, it’s a you know, a beautiful part of our life that we enjoy something that’s extra on the side. But arts and culture really is an economic driver as well. And to be able to see it that way, the amount of jobs that it gives in our area and the amount of people that it’s impacted when we’re facing a pandemic like this.

Omari Rush, Executive Director, CultureSource Yeah. You know, Christy, many of our organizations are small businesses, you know, and most of them in our association or art are small businesses that, you know, employ lots of folks that have daily transactions at cash registers, you know, that are that are paying vendors, you know, to come in and clean or provide marketing support. And these small businesses, just like many others, are absolutely, you know, shoulder to shoulder in need of support.

You know, earlier in March, the Bureau of Economic Analysis just came out with new annual data that showed that the arts and culture sector nationally is 4.5 percent of GDP. And for context, you know, that makes it bigger than the construction industry. That makes it bigger than transportation. And so when we think about that, you know, it the opportunities to make sure that it’s a sector that does not completely crumble our opportunities that really relate to just supporting our economy and just keeping it diverse and helping it rebound as quickly as possible.

So, you know, one of my great hopes is that as people think about supporting their favorite retail store on a main street in their town, or as they think about, you know, restaurant workers, as they think about tech companies, that they just want to keep innovating. I hope in those same breath still think about these arts or organizations that have powered the kind of soul of a community that have really inspired community connection, that are provided real economic opportunity for people in neighborhoods, towns and cities in our region. I hope they’ll think about those as well and do what they can to support. People are doing a lot right now. And I appreciate all of that. And certainly people on the front lines are doing a lot, and I especially appreciate that. And I just feel like there’s an opportunity to really think differently and deeply.

Christy McDonald So many organizations have had to change quickly all of a sudden and in 48 hours they change how they’re doing business or they look ahead and they say, we don’t know what the next few months are going to look like when you kind of take a step back and say, okay, this is where we’re going to shift in the next three to six months, knowing full well that we don’t entirely have a grasp of what our life is going to look like on a daily basis. What are you kind of big picture looking at?

Omari Rush, Executive Director, CultureSource You know, Christy, this is fundamentally changed our arts and culture sector and it’s fundamentally maybe not permanently, but fundamentally changed social life. And so those are things that we just are going to have to deal with in the long term. There are a couple of things that we are paying particular attention to a CultureSource. One is certainly this idea of grief. Our organizations are really going to have to be there for community members who are grieving long term. The loss of a loved one, of a possibly laid off colleague. of a business that’s closed permanently or grief for the loss of security in their own lives. And so that’s going to create some trauma that will need addressing. And so we’re looking at what that looks like in terms of programing down the line. Certainly people are having to think about what it means to do more of their work online. You know, and this idea that connecting and digital ways, audio, video and a combination of both is going to be a necessary tool for us.

And so, you know, how do we help people who are very comfortable working in-person on land transition and do make those transitions in a way that they feel, you know, they feel comfortable and proud of their work, you know, and that, you know, grainy video doesn’t diminish the quality of the performance or that bad audio doesn’t diminish, you know, people’s ability to engage and connected emotional way. So we’re certainly looking at digital connectivity. And then finally, I would say that, you know, creativity is an artistic expression is inherently and wonderfully risky.

You know, people are really digging inside and bringing up things that feel particularly vulnerable or that feel new and fresh. And, you know, this moment is of crisis, economic crisis, health crisis. We’re wondering if it’s going to make people feel a little bit more conservative, a little bit more restrained. And so we’re feeling like for the sake of our communities, we need to do what we can to really help people take some risks, to invest in new voices, to really push, to explore and discover. And that will take some motivation that will take folks like CultureSource and people that have resources to encourage and uplift, because it’s the thing that’s going to continue to make our organizations distinctive and certainly southeast Michigan distinctive nationally and internationally.