After year of unprecedented artist struggle, Music Maker Relief Foundation moves to fill the gaps, stave off pawn shops and predatory loans

“One of the main barriers right now for the population over sixty-five is technology. You know, you have to have access to a computer or know how to navigate the internet in order to schedule,” says Music Maker Relief Foundation social worker Brittany Anderson. “I want them to know that if they’re interested and don’t know where to start, they can give me a call because that’s what I’m here for.” Anderson also cites the difficulty in rural areas, which she was recently able to overcome to get Freeman Vines the one-shot Johnson & Johnson dose. Zydeco bassist Chuck Bush has to drive two hours each way to get to his primary care doctor.

Music Maker gave out over 1000 grants measuring close to $200,000 in aid in 2020, in addition to assisting artists with filing applications to other aid organizations and helping them track down their government relief checks.

Betty Echols Journey — known as Sweet Betty among her fans —expressed gratitude, saying, “We need to have faith. This made some people slow down and think about what they’re doing and how their life is. I believe this happened for a reason, and God will see us through. You can’t just dwell on the bad stuff because that will get you down; you have to think about the good as well and keep moving forward. Thank you so much to Music Maker.”

The results of an artist survey conducted in November, 2020 are stark. In 2019 and early 2020, 83 percent of Music Maker partner artists were performing regularly and making money at every gig; 100 percent lost money from the pandemic last year with virtual performances replacing less than 10 percent of the income, which will continue for a few months longer. Anderson explains, “So many people are backed in a corner. They’re looking for ways to extend out car payments or extend out their rent or their mortgage. And so they’re taking these loans, not necessarily knowing how to pay them back. The survey said almost 90 percent of Music Maker partner artists have an item in a pawn shop.”

The arrival of vaccines doesn’t end the challenges brought about by 2020, either. More than 75 percent of Music Maker partner artists lost $5,000 or more in income because of performance cancellations. For Music Maker’s artists, who have a mean annual income slightly over $11,000, this presented an extraordinary challenge to their ability to secure the most basic necessities: food, rent, utilities, and prescriptions. Anderson adds, “We’re in 2021 now, and COVID is still around, and unfortunately things still have to be paid — people’s rent, their water, electricity, food.”

In Music Maker’s most recent survey, it learned that food insecurity had climbed 32 percent over 2019. A full 50 percent of partner artists could not pay rent or required assistance to cover utilities. Distressingly, 39 percent of partners artists reported having structural issues with their homes, including mold, leaking roofs, and walls and floors needing repairs. On top of these challenges were health concerns: 61 percent of Music Maker partner artists were treated for health conditions.

This spring, Music Maker will host the seventh year of the Freight Train Blues Series in Carborro, NC, as virtual performances.

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