Marisa Morán Jahn (SMVisS ’07) on the Artist Relief Fund

Clockwise from top left: William S. Smith, Deana Haggag, Marisa Morán Jahn, and Sarah Arison.
ACT at MIT

On April 8th, the United States’ largest arts funders — U.S. Artists, Artadia, Creative Capital, YoungArts, Foundation for Contemporary Art, MAP Fund, and the Academy of American Poets  — launched an initiative to provide $10 million in aid to artists impacted by the pandemic, the Artist Relief Fund.

On Monday, April 13 at 1 pm, Artist and ACT Lecturer Marisa Morán Jahn (SMVisS ’07) joined Deana Haggag (President, U.S. Artists), Sarah Arison (arts philanthropist), and William S. Smith (Editor in Chief of Art in America), to discuss the urgency of art today. The conversation is posted on Art in America’s Instagram channel.

Excerpts from the discussion below:

Timestamp: 5:10

William S. Smith: What are the challenges that you’re looking at, and what can this fund do to help?

Marisa Morán Jahn: Well, many artists keep the lights on through a number of things – through gigs, freelancer, fee for work, contracts, through foundations, through academia, day jobs – and many of us do a host of those. For some people doing freelance work, we’re feeling that crunch right now. There’s a scramble for people to secure contracts a few weeks ago and that’s still going on today. Those of us in academia are also scrambling to keep those jobs and a lot of artists are feeling, are under pressure to maintain a degree of visibility, so that when the ax comes they’re at least visible, or did everything they could do. Plus the pressure for those who have school age kids and are homeschooling or who have aging parents, or who come from immigrant families, fear of lack of a safety net can be terrifying for people. And there’s a stagger – some will feel the crunch in a few weeks, months, even a year for those who are on grant contracts; so the staggering of the Artists’ Relief Fund is good.

Timestamp: 19:14

William S. Smith: Marisa, I know a lot of your work intersects with activism on different levels, so I’m curious to hear your perspective about how this pandemic is changing how you’re thinking about your own work, how you’re thinking about art and community, and any other perspectives on that line?

Marisa Morán Jahn: I teach, and there’s a lot of young people I mentor and am in frequent contact with, and so I’m in conversation with them and there’s people reaching out to me, wondering about the role of  art today in a pandemic, and I feel like there’s a number of different roles – there are a number of artists who are used to working in socially engaged methods who are doing rapid relief. I am coordinating rapid response graphics to provide immigrant, day laborers, and domestic workers with timely information about things they’re eligible to apply for, as many of these folks are undocumented. There’s also a long view role that the arts can play that is equally important to keep visioning as broadly and imaginatively and boldly as we can. I think for many people, the arts are important. Now, under the pandemic, we hear a lot about the importance of re-tooling, re-skilling and up-skilling, and the arts have always played an important role in introducing people to new technologies, to new ways of working. 

And then, lastly, the arts play a critical role in providing a new way to rethink things, from contemplative art strategies to entertainment are equally important. I’ve been thinking a lot about the artist Jen Berman, and she said one time that there’s a time in your life when you really may need a poem, and that really resonates with me right now, and I think the arts can play a vital function on many levels and I hope, I want for us to remember that, as people are panicking. And I know people in universities, in art school, are re-thinking what they should take – I want us as a society to value this ecology of roles that arts can play.

Timestamp: 24:22

Sarah Arison: This moment of everyone saying this is what I can do, and this is what I can do well, and I don’t want anything for it – and I don’t need anything for it. And so, my hope is that seeing how effective this has been, with funders…it might change the way they think about funding, and this whole idea of collaboration to create a network of support instead of so many competing organizations is what I hope will actually come from this in the future. 

Marisa Morán Jahn: I could add onto that. In the 2008 recession, I’m thinking about youth funders…had incentivized people involved in youth media to come together and you could apply for a grant if there were two or more people on the application. Because of the need, people found ways to collaborate, and to role share. And also what happens in protests, from Occupy Wall Street to other moments, where people are figuring out how to collaborate, which I agree is a wonderful silver lining in this crisis.