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Rhode Island musicians and artists unite to demand benefits, rent suspension, and more amidst COVID crisis



Over 200 Ocean State artists and musicians sign a statement to state and city governments demanding an immediate, non-discriminatory distribution of Federal relief money, a rent suspension, and more

Over 200 Rhode Island artists and musicians have signed onto a letter asking that Rhode Island state and city governments do all in their power to aid gig economy workers as the COVID crisis worsens. Most musicians, artists, and other gig economy workers have been historically ineligible for unemployment and other benefits, and so have received no relief during the COVID crisis.

View the letter and complete list of supporters here.

Signers include Rhode Island bands and artists including Downtown Boys, Justice Gaines, Orlando Hernandez, Charlotte Abotsi, Ian O’Neil of Deertick, What Cheer? Brigade, B Dolan, Will Schaff, Roz Raskin, Tatyana-Marie Carlo, Xander Marro, Providence City Council Rachel Miller, and many others.

While the new Federal relief package includes an expansion of unemployment benefits to some self-employed people, it is now up to each state to decide exactly how to distribute those funds. The musician and artist coalition seeks to ensure that Rhode Island deploys these Federal funds immediately and with a minimum of requirements. The coalition also asks that state and city governments go even further to aid our state’s struggling workers via an extension of benefits to undocumented workers, a rent and mortgage suspension, the creation of an emergency grant fund, and more. The statement is a local effort similar to a national letter of over 1000 musicians published last week, which was co-organized by Rhode Island band Downtown Boys.

Read the coalition’s six full demands in the letter.

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Musicians, artists, and other entertainment workers have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 related closures. Musicians make the majority of their money by performing and touring, especially in the age of streaming services, which have significantly reduced recording income. Coronavirus has canceled all performances, and so musicians have instantly witnessed all their income vanish. Similarly, visual artists make the majority of their money through exhibitions, sales, teaching, and residencies, all of which have been disrupted by COVID-19. It could be months or longer before life returns to normal in the US, and even longer before we can host concerts, exhibits, and classes.

While workers with conventional single-employer employment relationships have been able to apply for unemployment benefits, as well as other newly proposed relief measures such as paid sick leave, musicians, artists, and other gig economy workers are ineligible under existing rules. Other entertainment worker organizations such as IATSE and SAG-AFTRA have also been calling for similar expansions of unemployment. The signed musicians now join their fellow gig economy workers in demanding that Rhode Island’s implementation of any benefits expansion be rapid and non-discriminatory.

The letter is to be delivered directly to state and city lawmakers.

All workers need aid right now, regardless of their employment relationship. Musicians and all gig economy workers create value just like anyone else, and we deserve to keep eating like anyone else. Undocumented workers create value just like anyone else, and they too deserve our support. The COVID crisis has further revealed the long-burning war between the rich and the rest of us, and musicians need to unite with other workers to demand immediate relief and a new economy.” – Downtown Boys

“In a state that prides itself for boasting a ‘creative capital,’ the gig workers, small businesses, artists and musicians of Rhode Island deserve to be recognized fairly for their invaluable cultural and financial contributions.” – Ian O’Neil, Deertick

“All my jobs (as a performer, builder and teaching artist) have evaporated for the foreseeable future. All of us gig and freelance workers need to be included in the relief package–being an artist or musician may be healing work but it offers no virus immunity nor exempts us from the costs of living.” – Eli Nixon

About the Author

The hardest working news organization in Rhode Island! Uprise RI was founded in 2017 by Steve Ahlquist, and focuses on civil liberties, social justice, and human rights.