Photographer Tanja Hollander realized she could use her art to help people during a FaceTime conversation with her sister, Emma, managing partner of Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Somerville.
“She was really worried about the fate of the restaurant,” Hollander said. “The immigrant community that often works in restaurants ... They’re like family to her, and she was doing everything she could to keep them on payroll.”
Then the artist had a flash of inspiration.
“Why not turn the workers and their social media feeds into art dealers?” she said. That strategy has helped Hollander raise thousands, which she sends in a weekly Venmo to the restaurant, where it is split among the staff.
She is not the only artist stepping up to give back in the best ways they can: By fundraising with their art.
“The world’s on fire,” Hollander said. “So…”
Hollander shoots atmospheric landscapes but is best known for “Are you really my friend?” featuring portraits of all her Facebook friends, which ended up as an exhibition at Mass MoCA in 2017, as well as a book and a documentary. Interested collectors can choose any photo on www.tanjahollander.com and pay on a sliding scale.
The first social media post (@tanjahollander on Instagram) went up in early April, and the project ballooned from there. Paddle Inn in Newburyport and Parlor Sports in Cambridge, owned by Emma Hollander’s partners at Trina’s, joined. So did Vinal Bakery in Somerville. By late April, Hollander had added a fund for the Maine nonprofit Cooking for Community, which pays restaurants to cook local food for people in need during the shutdown.
Selling her art for a good cause, she said, is more satisfying than going through art world channels.
“I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this for a while, and COVID makes everything crystal clear about how to align with my values,” Hollander said, adding that she plans to continue selling her work retail and fundraising for worthy causes. “I like collaborating with communities rather than institutions.”
As the Black Lives Matter protests surged, conceptual artists Andy Li and Caleb Cole launched fundraisers to support the cause.
“It’s about thinking about what resources do you have if you don’t have a lot of financial resources,” Cole said.
“I’m trying to find ways to help, to amplify voices,” Li said. Like Hollander, he sells through his website, www.radandyli.com. Money from sales of his textiles with pithy and provocative texts are split with Campaign Zero and the Massachusetts Bail Fund.
The selection includes an expletive-laden applique piece that seemed apropos to the moment. “It boiled down to frustration,” he said. “Really, this is happening? This is what’s going on?”
He put a $75 price tag on it, and makes each one to order. Soup to nuts, each takes seven to eight hours to craft and ship. Within two weeks, Li raised $2,500. Now, the pieces are on pre-order and he’s developing tennis elbow making them, but he’s persisting.
Cole makes collages from old snapshots. Their work has always explored the slipperiness of identity and the tenderness that washes in when private selves don’t sync with public ones.
Cole is raising money for social justice organizations that support the #BLM movement and LGBTQ causes: Youth Justice & Power Union, Families for Justice as Healing, Sisters Unchained, G.L.I.T.S. Lease Fund, and the LGBTQ Freedom Fund.
Unlike Hollander and Li, Cole’s website is not set up for retail sales. Cole uses social media to fundraise, with seven or eight collages on a single Instagram post (@calebxcole). Then they mail collages to contributors who provide proof they’ve donated $25-$50. Cole started posting in early June and raised $800 within a week.
“I’m most surprised that so many people have said ‘thank you for introducing me to these organizations,’” Cole said.
All three artists are pleased to use their platforms to help.
“For years, it has been me doing work for myself,” Li said. “Now I can expand to others.”