Lin-Manuel Miranda addresses the cast and creative crew of In The Heights at the Richard Rogers Theatre on August 2, 2010 in New York City. Photo by Neilson Barnard via Getty Images.
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20th, devastating the island and its residents, artists among them. In response to the destruction, international organizations have sent money, medical supplies, and other forms of aid. And on Tuesday, the Andy Warhol Foundation, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Lin Manuel-Miranda (through The Hispanic Federation) announced they will each provide $100,000 in emergency grants to a hurricane relief fund run by San Juan-based arts organization Beta-Local.
The total $300,000 in grants will go to bolster Beta-Local’s efforts aimed at both immediate recovery and the long-term rebuilding of shared community spaces and resources.
The aid is sorely needed. Just weeks after Puerto Rico weathered Hurricane Irma (from which 60,000 people had yet to regain power), Maria made landfall as the fifth strongest storm ever to hit the United States and the strongest to hit the island in 80 years. The official death toll is almost at 50 as of Saturday. Thousands have fled, while the roughly three million residents who have stayed on the island continue to face struggles finding basic necessities almost a month after the storm. More than 1.2 million Puerto Ricans lack potable water and approximately 117 residents remain unaccounted for, according to CNN.
With recovery efforts likely to last months and possibly years, myriad local groups have offered support—Beta-Local among them. “We’re taking it day by day,” said Sofía Gallisá Muriente, Beta-Local’s co-director. “This hurricane has created a rupture, a really deep rupture in every aspect.”
Beta-Local’s emergency fund for the country’s cultural workers will go to both long-term and short-term relief, including aiding local communities by working to remove hurricane debris and repair damage, and distribution donations like food, water, and other supplies.
“We’re still dealing with a lot of really urgent needs and that triage period after a disaster,” Gallisá Muriente said.
Beta-Local has reached out to those with links to the organization and their families through online and on-the-ground efforts. “The analog work of talking to people and visiting different parts of the island, different studios or workshops,” she said, allows the organization to identify “how we can best support people and projects in dialogue with them.”
The donation to Beta-Local is in line with the Andy Warhol Foundation’s general mission of supporting artists, including during emergencies, said Rachel Bers, the foundation’s program director, in an email. She worked with Beta-Local in 2014, adding that “we have confidence in their ability to know what’s happening on the ground.”
While Bers lauded the strength and cohesion of the island’s artistic community in the aftermath of the hurricane she noted that Puerto Rico and its artists are “in a very vulnerable, financially precarious position even in the best of times.” The territory has been gripped by a decade-long economic recession and a recent debt crisis, even before the pair of hurricanes struck the island.
Beta-Local’s efforts are bolstered by both local and international collaborators who can raise funds and awareness. While Gallisá Muriente encouraged those thinking about ways to help to donate to their emergency fund or buy supplies from the organization’s Amazon registry, she added that “there are a lot of ways of being an ally in solidarity with Puerto Rico right now, from outside of this country.”
“It’s important for people to realize how much they can do that we can’t do ourselves right now,” Gallisá said. “Their power to advocate for Puerto Rico…I think more than ever now, it’s really clear to everyone just how important that international solidarity is.”