Announcing the Sundance Institute COVID-19 Respond and Reimagine Plan with $1Million in Emergency Relief for Independent Artists and Organizations

Being an independent artist means daring to tell bold, authentic stories with no strings attached and no compromises. It means taking risks, centering new perspectives, searching for meaning, and deepening our connection to the world around us.

The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a bright light on the importance of art, reminding us that, as Joan Didion famously wrote, ?we tell ourselves stories in order to live.? It has also laid bare the vulnerability of independent artists, who are mostly freelance workers and often left out of the current support systems despite their cultural and economic impact. Further, our attention is called to examine the systems and structures across our field that were already stressed and now face serious threats, from independent cinemas to acquisitions for smaller and risk-taking independent films.

To put it bluntly: There can be no return to business as usual. When history looks back, this will either be the moment when we invested in artists, making it possible to turn what we?re feeling during these scary and surreal times into powerful, lasting creative work — or it will be the moment we lost a generation of art and artists because we failed to support them when and how they most needed it. That?s why it is so urgent and essential to dig deep, even if it means making sacrifices, and act now to ensure that the world on the other side of the pandemic is one that?s full of art, storytelling, and vibrant, diverse perspectives.

Listening to artists and colleagues across our field, we recognize the need for an urgentresponseto the current crisis combined with longer-termreimaginationof the ways we support artists and design the systems that enable their work to reach audiences. Today we are announcing part of our urgent response, as we continue to work towards longer and sustainable solutions.

Three things are clear: First, it is essential that significant resources go directly to artists who are struggling financially, in order to support their basic needs and their work. Second, the need right now is greater than any one artist or group and disproportionately affects artists from historically underrepresented communities. Third, it?s clear that collaboration and collective impact will be needed to address the extent of the challenge.


This moment calls for a radical shift in strategy in the way we support independent artists in film, media, and theatre. We are launching a $1 million urgent fund to support the immediate needs of artists in our community, as well as other filmmakers in need and organizations that share our focus on inclusive storytelling.
One-third of the fund will support Sundance Institute-curated artists, while two-thirds will be dedicated to emergency support for the wider community of independent artists, deployed in collaboration with partner nonprofit organizations.  

  • Immediate support for 100 Sundance Institute-curated artists, across disciplines and at all stages of development. Grants will be given to the 2020 spring and summer Lab participants to be used for artists’ emergency funds or for project development. Each of these artists will also receive creative and strategic support through Sundance Institute?s Lab programs, which have transitioned from in-person gatherings to events hosted on our digital platform, Sundance Co//ab.  
  • Emergency financial support to artists across the U.S. We have joined an incredible group of arts organizations and leading national grantmakers who have partnered at this unprecedented moment to launch a cross-disciplinary, needs-based fund called Artist Relief that will distribute funds to artists as quickly and efficiently as possible. Our partnership with Artist Relief will provide our experience and support to film, media, and theatre artists who are facing dire circumstances due to COVID-19 with emergency grants of $5,000. 
  • Emergency financial support to U.S. and international independent artist organizations focusing on historically underrepresented communities, to be deployed by these organizations both as regrants to artists and to strengthen the organizations themselves in their ongoing work. Our peer organizations, funders, and artists will nominate organizations who will then be invited to apply. The final selection will be made by the Institute and a panel of outside advisors. Applications will be evaluated on organizational impact and artist community reach.

In addition to financial resources, we have identified through our artist feedback urgent needs for support and training on several key topics — including mental health, community building, and distribution and marketing strategy. We are creating a series of free public and private offerings for independent artists on Sundance Co//ab, a community for global storytellers to learn, share work, and find resources. We have been particularly inspired to see that Co//ab users have grown four-fold in the last month, now reaching 50,000 people in more than 190+ countries.
For additional details on the criteria and application processes, visit Applications are now open for the Artist Relief funds and can be found at


This is just the first step — but it is an important one. We are extraordinarily grateful to our long-standing foundation and corporate donors for allowing us the opportunity to use their generous funding in a responsive, urgent way. We extend our thanks in particular to the Sandra and Malcolm Berman Family Foundation, The Kendeda Fund, Luminate, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Open Society Foundations, Sandbox Films, and Southwest Airlines. We are also grateful to the teams at Sundance Institute who have worked hard to build out this new plan. We are still raising funds to support the immediate needs of artists and address the longer-term impacts on our industry, and we are encouraged to see so many people joining these efforts. 

As so many people the world over are reimagining what it means to be connected to one another, this is an important moment to send a message to independent artists: You are not alone. You are part of a resilient community — a community that will continue to be a much-needed source of refuge, empathy, inspiration, and collective power in the days and weeks to come.