The Story behind
Artists Standing Strong Together
In 2020, with the world coming to a halt in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, performing artists – who mainly make a living face to face with an audience – were caught completely off guard as their primary source of income shut down. Tens of thousands of dollars were stripped out of already tight artist budgets in less than twenty-four hours.
In March, 2020, two artists, storytellers Sheila Arnold and Donna Washington, converged at what would turn out to be the last national festival that was held in person that year: "The Women’s Storytelling Festival'' hosted by Better Said Than Done. There they recognized the need for solidarity and support among their community of independent performing artists, including basic help to survive a sudden drop in income. Artists Standing Strong Together (ASST, “assist”) was born.
By the next Monday, Sheila had organized an online gathering of any and all interested artists. Over 75 people showed up, ready to get involved in something productive and proactive.
The first order of business was to establish a fund to help storytellers who were struggling financially. Just days after that, on Friday, March 20, ASST presented its first online storytelling show, offering performers a platform to exercise their crafts. Over the next few months, Sheila Arnold's tireless efforts made ASST the gold standard of virtual storytelling, inspiring the industry at large to explore online performance. The Monday gatherings continued, evolving into a dependable forum for artists to experience professional and personal support.
Shortly thereafter, the co-founders decided to incorporate as a 501c3 nonprofit, filing the requisite paperwork in North Carolina, USA, where Donna Washington is based, but having newly established connections to artists all over the world. They assembled a seed Board of Directors, recruited an Executive Director, and expanded the organization’s body of work in direct response to the needs expressed by artists.
Donna Washington sees ASST as the culmination of a twenty-year dream: a place for independent artists to go for information about best business practices, a platform for any storyteller to be able to work on their art form, and a fund to help when things get tricky.
And, as Sheila Arnold says, “We want to keep building the Beloved Community.”
(As of November 22, 2022)