In late April 2020 — with COVID-19 cases skyrocketing, businesses and arts venues shut down, and no vaccine in sight — Fort Worth benefactors Edward and Sasha Bass and their partners launched a groundbreaking $100,000 initiative to support struggling Fort Worth artists. Called "The New Normal: An Artist's Response to COVID-19," the funding's aim was to help local visual artists "get back to work and support community healing" by creating works that reflect their experience living through the pandemic.
Exactly one year later, the results of those efforts are now on display to the public in Sundance Square.
“Strolling Sundance,” a pop-up, walkable outdoor gallery in downtown Fort Worth, is showcasing the works of the Fort Worth artists who collectively won $100,000 in grants, now through May 28.
There were 43 recipients of stipends in the amount of $5,000 or $2,000. Winners of the top award, $5,000, included some familiar names in Fort Worth art and photography circles: painter Ariel Davis, photographer Tony Drewry, painter DJ Perera, sculptor Bernardo Vallarino, painter Jay Wilkinson, and photographer Donnie Williams.
The exhibit includes more than 50 artistic works of sculpture, painting, drawing, mixed media, photography, and video.
The pieces are poignant reminders of the collective human experience at the height of the pandemic — with some social and political commentary sprinkled in. There's Sarah Ayala's "cake" that reads, "Let them eat $1,200;" Marshall Harris' portrait in which eyes are replaced by pencils in the familiar shape of COVID-19 particles; Maryann Brummer's painting of an absolutely desolate city street.
“The Sundance Stroll is a public invitation for all ages to visit downtown and enjoy the creativity of our extremely talented local artist community,” said Bill Boecker, president of Sundance Square Management, in a statement. “Of course, we are not out of the COVID-19 woods yet, but strolling this outdoor gallery of art is safe for families."
The Alice L. Walton Foundation, the Donny Wiley Memorial Fund at the North Texas Community Foundation, and Kit and Charlie Moncrief were the Basses' partners on the program. It was administered by Gallery of Dreams, a Fort Worth nonprofit arts organization established by Lauren Childs of Fort Works Art.
Fort Worth applicants aged 21 and up submitted written proposals, including a statement of need demonstrating loss of income due to the COVID-19 crisis. A panel of eight influential leaders from Fort Worth's most prestigious museums then managed the selection process.
A survey commissioned by Americans for the Arts early in the pandemic found that as many as two-thirds of artists in the U.S. were without income due to COVID-19 (a figure that no doubt grew substantially in the ensuing months), making it one of the hardest-hit professions in the country. "The New Normal" initiative proclaimed to be the first of its kind in the U.S.
"We believe this is a powerful antidote to the isolation, fear, and uncertainty communities may be experiencing during this time," Sasha Bass said at the time it was announced. "Through the lens of the artist's eye, we can heal together as one."
The walking tour can be found on sidewalks along Houston and Third streets. Background information on the displaying artists, as well as parking information, can be found on Sundance Square’s website.
For a complete list of grant recipients and samples of the winning works, visit www.newnormalfw.com.