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Arts & Entertainment

After Event Cancellations, Dallas’ Freelance Creative Community Leaps Into Action

DJ Blake Ward and artist Darryl Ratcliff are leading an effort to help keep freelance creatives afloat during this time of social distancing and uncertain budgets.
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Spring is usually the busy season for DJ and event organizer Blake Ward. He spins records at charity fundraisers and plans and plays his raucous Disco, TX parties at venues across town. His schedule is full. But in 2020, the busiest month of the year quickly became the most disastrous. Coronavirus-related cancellations started early last week, coming in one after another and wiping his calendar clear. He says he lost $20,000 in booked gigs. He isn’t the only one losing out on income. Ward says his larger concern is the broader community of freelance creatives in Dallas. 

For musicians, dancers, DJs, workout instructors, thespians, photographers, and many others, the need for social distancing has brought their careers to a grinding halt. On Sunday night, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised the country to avoid gathering in groups of more than 50. That kills most public events. But Ward and Double Wide’s Joel Stephenson are hoping to start turning the gears again. 

Stephenson reached out to Ward over the weekend to suggest he stream a DJ set from Double Wide. Then they came up with a bigger idea.

“The first thing I realized is that DJ sets are hard to stream because of licensing. But I really liked the idea. So, we just started brainstorming stuff, and what we came up with is, we could shoot a bunch of concerts, and then produce a bunch of other content around it for people to watch while they’re stuck at home,” says Ward. 

The new streaming series is called Locals Only and it’s powered by a Kickstarter campaign (Ward hopes to get a corporate sponsor soon). They’ll start filming this Thursday at Double Wide (without an audience), and you can cast a vote for your preferred performer by making a donation. Double Wide, which has canceled all concerts and begun restricting capacity, is donating its venue to the cause. 

So far, they’ve signed up DJ and funk musician Ronnie Heart, rapper 88 Killa, and R&B singer Larry Gee. Artists are welcome to send in submissions, even if it’s just an iPhone video (shot horizontally, please). The content that gets produced all depends on viewers’ donations. 

Ward isn’t the only one thinking up ways to help freelancers get along. D Magazine contributor, journalist, and artist Darryl Ratcliff has jumped into action to help Dallas creatives. He started the Dallas Artist Relief Fund on Go Fund Me, modeled after a similar initiative in New York. He’s also inviting those who are able to contribute non monetary resources–tax services, groceries, counseling–to do so here. Beneficiaries can request funding. As of Monday morning, it had raised $2,100 of its $5,000 goal.

“The effort is about providing that triage, immediate relief to people,” Ratcliff says. “I anticipate we’ll be able to start paying out this week.”

Apply here. If you have non-monetary resources you can offer (like counseling), head here.

As for Ward’s effort, you can sponsor a workout class for $300 or a “Toilet Talk” with a local celebrity on Double Wide’s infamous thrones for $100. As of Sunday night, the project had raised $692 of its $1,200 goal for the first installment. It may only make up for a one or two missed gigs for these artists, but it’s a start. 

We can keep the ball rolling by buying their music, streaming their videos, ordering some merch. For some of those in the service industry who’ve lost work due to canceled events and closures, finding an alternate solution isn’t as simple. 

“There’s a lot of people–the dancers, and yoga instructors, and people like that–that are losing money that, you know, they don’t really have anything that you can do except send them money,” says Ward. “I mean, I would just say like, help your friends if you know anybody that is suffering.”

Next, Ratcliff says he will be asking the city to use arts and culture funding to help pay artists. He pointed to the city of Boston, which reallocated its programming budget to artists who can apply for grants of up to $1,000.

“This is going to take a political response, too,” Ratcliff said.

If you’re interested in sponsoring a segment of Locals Only, or donating a few bucks to help get it going, check out the campaign here, and look for content coming soon.

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