Physical comedian, mime and magician Michael Trautman makes folks laugh with more than a few ping pong balls in his mouth at a 2019 Street to Stage event on Myrtle Street. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — A local arts organization wants to give dozens of individual Maine artists grant money for their projects.

SPACE, a multidisciplinary arts nonprofit, received $250,000 in pandemic relief funds that they intend to re-distribute to Maine artists. The organization is one of 66 U.S. organizations to receive $20 million in funds via the National Endowment for the Arts made available through the American Rescue Plan and designed to help artists during the pandemic.

“I’m really pleased to be standing right by the actual arts workforce,” said Kelsey Halladay Johnson, the organization’s executive director. “We’re able to consider different kinds of arts programming work that we haven’t been able to touch with grant-making before.”

Funds will be given to independent artists who work in a variety of disciplines, including creative writing, music, film, performance and visual arts. That’s different from a lot of other arts funding, which is often used to support programming or administrative work at regional arts organizations, who also have had access to PPP loans over the last 18 months.

Musicians, performers and other artists have been hit hard by the pandemic, which has shuttered or limited the functions of venues offering in-person stages, galleries or other services. One-third of nonprofit organizations in the U.S. were in financial jeopardy as a result of the pandemic, according to joint study in March 2021 by the research group Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, and many of them were arts organizations.

According to Johnson, the pandemic has widened the gaps between well-heeled artists and recent college graduates and other young artists who don’t have access to wealth or resources. Grants like these can help address that.

“These kinds of project-based grants are really about the integrity of an idea and artistic excellence,” Johnson said. “They can be huge portals for artists to move from one phase of their career to the next.”

The organization will announce application dates separated by discipline in January 2022. Johnson estimates individual grant awards will be between $3,500 and $5,000.

SPACE has distributed more than $284,000 in grant money to Maine artists during the pandemic, including the project-based Sonic Visions Fund and a Maine Musician Relief Fund that awarded $1,000 grants to 70 musicians statewide. The organization also hosts the annual Kindling Fund, which awards grant money to visual artists through the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Local artists have also received help through the Maine Arts Commission. The state program distributed more than $127,000 in March, with $36,000 going to individual artists and more than $91,000 going to arts organizations.

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who oversees NEA funding as Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, touted the emergency relief grants as tools to help the state’s creative economy.

“Arts are a $1.5 billion industry and support thousands of jobs—but despite previous assistance from the CARES Act, our cultural institutions and arts community continue to face profound hardships as they work to recover,” Pingree said.

Entering its 20th year, SPACE recently expanded the number of board seats from 10 to 15, hoping to “bring more diversity and cultural perspectives [for] a better balance of inputs to our decision making,” said board chair Emily Bruce.

The organization so far added three notable names with Maine ties to its board, artist Rachel Gloria Adams; Pablo Anaya of the ACLU of Maine, and Justine Ludwig, Colby College grad and executive director of the New York City-based public arts organization Creative Time.