Supporting MKE's artist community

Imagine MKE

What kind of impact can a single grant have?

For Imagine MKE, a 1-year-old nonprofit arts coalition that received a $25,000 MKE Responds Fund grant, it meant critical support for at least 50 Milwaukee artists and creatives who experienced huge financial losses.

As COVID-19 started impacting Milwaukee, causing canceled events, performances, projects and engagements, the organization sprang into action to support the sector by creating the MKE Artist Relief Fund. The fund provided small grants of up to $500 to full-time and part-time local artists in Milwaukee County, with priority on requests received from marginalized groups (black, indigenous, people of color, transgender & nonbinary and artists with disabilities). Imagine MKE officially launched the fund March 13 as part of a live-streamed Facebook concert and set an initial fundraising goal of $50,000.

In its first week, more than $13,000 was raised. But the demands quickly outpaced its goal. Thanks in part to the MKE Responds Fund, as well as support from more than 300 individual gifts and local funders like Black Box Fund MKE, Bader Philanthropies and Brico Fund, Imagine MKE ultimately was able to distribute more than $195,000 to 423 artists.

"We are in awe of our community’s response to our urgent call to support Milwaukee’s artists," said David Lee, Imagine MKE CEO, said in an interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal. "While we knew the need for help would be great, we could never have known just how many artists would raise their hands — and how significantly our city’s foundations, organizations, and arts supporters would show up."

Two hundred and thirteen visual artists, 134 musicians, 74 film and video artists, 61 dancers, 47 theater artists and 28 literary artists received support. Fifty-four artists fell into the “other” category, using mediums ranging from photography to spoken word to jewelry design. Of the total artists supported, 208 recipients identified themselves as part of a marginalized group. 

One artist was able to pay his rent for April. Another artist said it “helped me and several others through the fog.” Yet another struggling artist who relies on their creative output for income was able to know the community was in their corner and “the love is real” based on such support.

Check out the video for examples of the work of MKE Artist Relief Fund recipients.

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Our Donor Resources – COVID-19 page offers information and tools for Foundation donors who want to help.