M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust
A woman playing guitar wearing a blue dress
Sonic Guild

The Pacific Northwest is a region known for its creativity, arts, and culture, and the Murdock Trust has been a proud supporter of this sector since 1975. From art museums and performance halls to literary festivals and theater camps, our region has opportunities for every type of artist.

Yet as we learned from a group of artists who joined our convening on the future of the arts this summer, in some ways it has never been harder to be a creative professional, especially in cities like Seattle where the cost of living is rapidly rising. Even before the pandemic, a Seattle Creative Economy Report reported that they had “the highest paid creatives in Computer occupations ($48.88/hr) and the lowest paid creatives in Arts, Design, Entertainment, and Media occupations ($11.87/hr).” As The Seattle Times documented in arts recovery coverage  supported by the Trust, COVID-19 made things even worse.  

That is why, in addition to the museums and music halls that house artistic performances, the Trust has partnered with organizations providing resources, mentorship, and dedicated support to Seattle artists themselves. Here are some such nonprofits:

A man playing cello on stage
Artist Trust (Photo: Miguel Edwards)

Sonic Guild (formerly Black Fret) believes that if we want the music industry to thrive, we must create systems to support it, distribute it, and fund it. In the last ten years, Sonic Guild has provided support and mentorship to Seattle artists to write, record, release, and perform songs. In a city where music contributes $1.6 billion to the local economy, wages for musicians have declined 25%, and it is harder than ever for them to make a living (Seattle’s Working Musicians Economic Impact Study). That is why we need organizations like Sonic Guild, for their work generating and funding opportunities, bolstering the local arts economy, and reducing inequities in the Seattle music community.

When Artist Trust, a Seattle-based organization serving the state of Washington, surveyed more than 1,000 artists in March 2020, over 75% reported income or job loss. In response, the nonprofit created a need-based grant program for COVID-19 relief, distributing funds to over 500 artists. In addition to direct support like this, Artist Trust serves creative professionals through strengthening connections between artists and communities, providing professional development, and making visible issues impacting the livelihoods of artists. Through close engagement with the artists they serve, this organization is making front-line impact across the state.

A woman wearing a face mask gets her ears checked.

Seattle Musicians Access to Sustainable Healthcare (SMASH) helps local working musicians prioritize their health and wellbeing. When musicians struggle to pay rent, healthcare often takes a backseat. SMASH offers them access to free and low-cost medical, dental, and mental health services. When COVID hit, they quickly pivoted to launch virtual mental health care, telehealth care, lab test and blood work, and emergency dental. Through a grant from the Trust, two new staff members have joined SMASH’s team as they seek to grow their capacity and serve more artists.

The challenges facing these artists are not unique to Seattle, and the Trust is committed to supporting the arts sector across our entire region. In 2020, we launched a COVID-19 Arts & Culture Resilience Fund Initiative in 2020 that supported organizations across Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. We have always known of the Pacific Northwest’s inspiring creativity; in recent years, we were reminded of the region’s artistic resilience too.

Thank you to each of these nonprofits and partners for caring for artists in Seattle and across the Pacific Northwest. You are helping make our region a more vibrant and beautiful place, where everyone – artists included – have an opportunity to flourish.

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