The Story behind Artists Standing Strong Together
In 2020, the world came to a halt in the face of a global pandemic. The economy shut down, people went into isolation out of fear, and performing artists – who mainly make a living face to face with an audience – stared down the barrel of a bleak season. Itinerant performers were caught completely off guard as schools, libraries, bars, and all other venues closed abruptly, stripping tens of thousands of dollars out of tight budgets in less than twenty-four hours.
As the artistic world reached out to its family of performers to see how non-touring touring artists were coping, two storytellers, Sheila Arnold and Donna Washington, realized that not only were we being dropped into a static nightmare, many artists did not have budget margins to survive a sudden drop in income. How were storytellers going to eat, pay rent, or anything else?
Arnold and Washington had a quick conversation on-line, and then met at the last national festival that was held in person in 2020 – "The Women’s Festival" hosted by Better Said Than Done. A short conversation convinced them that something needed to be done, but no centralized group had stepped forward to take the lead. If you see a need that nobody is filling, you step up and do what you can. Artists Standing Strong Together grew out of that discussion.
By the next Monday, Sheila organized a virtual meeting for any artists who might be interested in forming a group, and the response was outstanding. Artists were ready to get involved in something productive and proactive. Our first order of business was to establish a fund to help struggling storytellers. And the National Storytelling Network quickly agreed to administer the fund.
Over the next few months, Sheila Arnold's tireless efforts made ASST the gold standard of virtual storytelling, inspiring many others to jump in with both feet. Not only did the Monday meetings continue, but unaffiliated yet dedicated groups of artists stepped up to create other ASST programs that interested them.
This brought up a BIG question – what exactly are we doing? Is ASST only going to run during the pandemic? What is it going to do next? The Answer is: we are filing papers to become a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit. ASST might have started with a quick meeting between Sheila Arnold and Donna Washington, but it has grown far beyond that.
We want to keep assisting artists to find ways to bring their visions, hopes, and dreams into the world. We want to help artists as they run their own businesses. We want to financially support artists who have run headlong into one of those dry spells in the “feast or famine” life of an itinerant performer. We want to keep virtual spaces open and connecting artists from all over the world.
For Donna Washington, ASST is the culmination of a twenty-year dream. A way of providing itinerant artists with a place to go for information about best business practices, a platform for any storyteller to be able towork 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 August 1, 2020)