In the spring of 2020, graduate student Sarah Dittmann thought she’d be able to go back to her screen printing job she’d had for the last two summers and two previous years near Green Bay, Wisconsin. But this spring, in Wisconsin and around the world, everything had suddenly changed. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many non-essential jobs disappeared and Dittmann found she was without her dependable summer income that she needed to tide her over until she could resume her graduate teaching assistant responsibilities this fall.
With her savings nearly depleted, Dittmann heard about CERF+’s COVID-19 Relief Grant program for craft, folk and traditional artists and decided to apply. CERF+, or the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, provides emergency resources to support artists who work in craft disciplines through resources such as education programs, advocacy, network building and emergency relief. The national non-profit organization has come to the aid of artists during fires, floods and other natural disasters, and losses due to medical crises and other hardships.
Dittmann creates multimedia print, fabric and sculptural works that incorporate the traditional fiber arts she learned from her Czech mother and other female relatives that had been passed down from previous generations. “Craft arts like cross stitch, crochet, sewing, and embroidery have always been a part of my life,” Dittmann said. “My mom and various aunts were always either sewing clothes, making baby blankets, or cross-stitching pictures for someone.” She developed sculptures, prints, quilts and other works for her Master of Arts thesis exhibition in March, the prelude to her MFA thesis work this year.
In August, Dittmann was surprised and relieved to learn that she was one of 200 artists – out of 1,800 applicants – to receive a COVID-19 Relief Grant. The funds helped her pay for a month’s worth of rent and food.
Craig Nutt, a UA alumnus of the department of religious studies, who took many art classes and has had a four-decades-long career as a successful studio artist, worked for ten years as Director of Programs at CERF+. He is now Advisor on Policy and Government Relations at CERF+. As an artist and an arts advocate, Nutt has a special insight into the plight of artists now. “Artists have been among those taking the hardest hit from COVID,” he said. “Art shows have been cancelled, galleries and museums shuttered. Some artists cannot access their studios and those who can work have no place to sell their work.” Nutt added, “If it is possible, musicians and performing artists have an even worse situation. It is expected that the arts will be among the last sectors to get back to normal.”
With the grant, Dittmann said, “I was able to get myself financially back on my feet. It was a huge relief honestly. And it did make me feel connected to the other artists that received grants. I felt like my art was being accepted and recognized in a way in the craft community.”
For more information about The University of Alabama’s programs in studio art and art history, visit our Degree Programs page.