The Dane County Board, at its meeting on May 20, voted unanimously to allocate $1 million in federal funding to help local artists impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The arts are a vital part of Dane County’s economy, and independent working artists, especially those who depend on in-person performances or art shows, were hit hard by the pandemic,” said county board member Tim Kiefer, who represents the village of Waunakee and part of the town of Westport. “These grants will help independent working artists get through this tough time.”

The Dane Arts Need Grant program (DANG!) was first established in 2020 with $100,000 in federal funding, providing grants of up to $500 to support local artists affected by the pandemic.

The county board’s May 20 vote significantly expands the DANG! program, by adding an additional $1 million in federal funding. The $1 million comes from the American Rescue Plan legislation, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Biden earlier this year. The 2021 DANG! program will award approximately 400 grants in the amount of $2,500 each.

Waunakee resident Mark Weller is an artist who creates time stacked photography, where multiple exposures are placed atop each other, creating a painterly effect. Weller said that in early 2020 he had been scheduled for the entire year at art shows and galleries, but “every single one of them canceled” once the pandemic struck.

Some of Weller’s art had been displayed for sale at the Lowell Center on the UW-Madison campus when the pandemic hit in March 2020. The Lowell Center was converted to emergency housing for pandemic-positive patients, and for several months Weller was unable to enter the building to retrieve his art.

Weller said that revenue from sales of his art “got very close to zero” in 2020, but is now slowly coming back.

“This grant opportunity comes at a very opportune time,” Weller said.

Waunakee resident Abby Wilson, a theatrically trained scenic artist and owner of Abby Wilson Painting, LLC, was a recipient of a Dane Arts Need Grant during the program’s first round of funding in 2020. Wilson uses her experience from the theatre to paint murals, hand-painted signs, and color consultation for homes and businesses, but during the pandemic, experienced a decrease in demand. Wilson used the grant to pay for her contractor’s insurance as well as her bills from paint stores and other suppliers.

“The art community was and is still hurting from the COVID pandemic,” Wilson said. “Small businesses, whether they sell art or other forms of retail, should not be judged for their worth based on what they sell. Art may not be the world to everyone, but art is in everyone’s world. The Dane Arts grant was a phenomenal life support to people in the art community not just in Madison but also in the surrounding communities.”

Kiefer said that by supporting independent working artists, the county is supporting small businesses.

“Sometimes it’s easy to forget that independent working artists are also by definition small business owners,” Kiefer said. “The DANG! grants are targeted to help a part of our economy that was severely affected by the pandemic, so that independent working artists can stay in business.”

The DANG! program is administered by the Dane County Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission, commonly known as Dane Arts. The grants are available to working musicians, DJs, dancers, actors/producers, poets/writers, visual artists, and performers. Applicants are required to show a history of at least two years of continuous work.

The application guidelines and additional information will be available on the Dane Arts website. Applications will be reviewed by a five-member committee, which will include three members of the Dane Arts Commission and two community members.

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