SLAM COVID-19 Artist Relief Fund grants over 8K to Montana Creatives

Tuesday Dec. 1st, 2020

At the onset of COVID-19, SLAM (Support Local Artists and Musicians) knew it would hit artists hard and quickly mobilized the SLAM COVID-19 Relief Fund for Montana creatives. Since April, SLAM has provided $8,250 to 23 different Montana creatives, helping them carry on their studio practice, pay bills, and replace lost income. There is still funding available, and information on applying for a grant can be found at

Despite stereotypes to the contrary, artists are hard-working, self-motivated, and do not exist in the 9-5 world. No matter how good their credentials, most artists work two full-time jobs: their primary job that provides steady income (and maybe insurance), and a second career that is their studio practice and their passion. Financial insecurity is the price artists often pay for pursuing what they feel is their best way to serve humanity. Their craft is an expression of how they understand the world, and every extra second is given to art, in their studio, or in their mind.

All the same, COVID has made earning from art even harder. Besides what may be happening with an artist’s “normal job,” summer festivals such as SLAM were canceled or restructured nationwide. Galleries, concert halls, bars, etc. have been shuttered or are operating under restrictions, providing even fewer venues to make gainful wages from art. Additionally, with unemployment so high and the future so precarious, art and entertainment are luxuries that few can or are willing to, afford.

What was already a tough profession just became even more difficult. Understanding these challenges, SLAM dipped into its savings to support the community that has always been the heart and soul of the organization. Beginning with $5,000 from savings, and adding $3000 from Give Big, $8000 from the One Valley Community Foundation, and $700 from Facebook fundraisers, SLAM began the relief fund, awarding applicants directly to help keep the lights on. SLAM has now granted $8,250 to 24 different Montana creatives, and over $8000 is still available for those in need.

While the pandemic was impossible to predict, it highlighted the need for a Montana artist emergency disaster fund, to which artists can apply when crisis strikes, such as a medical upheaval, fire, accident, etc. SLAM is hoping to continue a fund, post-pandemic, to help with these types of unforeseeable scenarios.

“Having once earned a grant while I was waiting for a liver transplant and poor, I know that every dollar can count. Sometimes, it is just what you need to get you by or so you can feed yourself for a week, sometimes it’s for medications. A grant can be a life saver. Plus, when things get really down and out, it is a wonderful reminder that someone believes in you and your vision— to just hold on tight till the scenery changes,” said SLAM board member and artist, Ella Watson.

Living in Bozeman since 2012, Claudia Paillao of Patagonia Hands is a native Chilean fiber artist who sells felted animals from sheep wool sourced from Chile and locally.

According to Paillao, “As most artists know, shows have been canceled due to COVID...I used the money to pay bills and get some materials to keep working. I’m mostly selling online right now, returning customers who place special orders keep us afloat. . .”
For Bill Mendoza of Quill Bill Creations, his SLAM relief grant was what kept him afloat and able to focus on his art, with wonderful results. Mendoza took half of the grant money to pay his credit card bills and saved the rest for booth fees in the unlikely event any of his scheduled markets were NOT canceled. Mendoza was able to participate in the virtual Sante Fe Indian Market and won Best in Class- Quill and Bead Work (with prize money). Then he won a second accolade at a virtual juried exhibition hosted by First American Art Magazine.

These successes did not go unnoticed—the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian purchased three of his pieces for the permanent collection-- a tremendous honor.

Mendoza, who is also pursuing his Doctorate in Education at MSU, felt that this success began with the SLAM grant, in part because it kept him from needing to get a second menial job just to survive. He now feels comfortable going into the winter with the wind at his back.

Believing that he was more likely to be awarded a local grant than a national one, Mendoza was excited by the availability of funding from SLAM and noted its quick start. “The SLAM grant was there when nothing else was. It felt like at least someone knows me, knows the quality of my work, and would know the funding would go to a good place.”

“Success for artists is about community. The strength and relationship in that creates space and interdependence. To have that with SLAM and all the artists I have met over the past two years is amazing. SLAM has bolstered the strength of the Bozeman artist community.”

In addition to the relief grant, SLAM is focused on new ways to keep supporting Montana artists and musicians and maintain community morale during the pandemic. In August, SLAM offered a socially distanced outdoor free community yoga class with yoga studio Bend Beyond, and collaborated with artists DG House, Mimi Matsuda, and Kelsey Dzintars to create three murals depicting Hope, Patience and Happiness. These will join the Bozeman artscape soon. SLAM partnered with Sweet Pea to host an artist studio tour and online auction.

SLAM also partnered with Eagle Mount to host an outdoor concert at the Eagle Mount amphitheater. It was a wonderful experience and one that both organizations hope to make a more regular occurrence once the weather warms again. Sip & SLAM carried on this fall and was a wonderful way to responsibly support local breweries, Montana artists, and SLAM during the months of September and October. In lieu of the traditional SLAM Winter Showcase, a directory of Montana artists has been added to the SLAM website to encourage shopping with artists this holiday season. Additionally, a series of artist interviews called “SLAM Presents...” will be posted regularly to the SLAM social media and YouTube pages in the coming months to give more insight into the creative processes of these wonderful artists.

To apply for a relief fund grant, or to find out information about SLAM, please visit To donate to the relief fund, please email You can also follow the organization on Facebook and Instagram.