“My hope is that artists are able to use the grants to re-orient themselves in this world we now live in."
In a 2021 Indy Arts Council survey, 50% of central Indiana artists expressed a need for mental health support services due to the isolation, loneliness, and stress caused by the pandemic.
To serve this need, the Arts Council launched the Wug Laku Mental Health and Wellness grants, named in honor of multidisciplinary artist Wug Laku who died due to untreated mental illness in 2017 at the age of 63.
Wug was among the first artists to set up shop in the Circle City Industrial Complex and one of the pioneers behind First Fridays in Indianapolis. Wug is remembered for being an advocate or and mentor to fellow artists.
“When Wug died, I had a memorial service plus an art exhibition in which I sold many pieces of Wug’s work, and donated the proceeds to the Arts Council to set up a fund for artists, not knowing at the time how those funds would be used,” said Nancy Lee, a metalsmith and jeweler.
“Using those funds, plus even more funding that the Arts Council was able to secure, the Wug Laku Mental Health and Wellness Grants were able to offer a special solution, unlike anything I had seen offered before.”
Carol Nuñez Verdin shares how dancing brings her joy in this video by Kurtis Bowersock.
In 2021, grants totaling $43,750 were awarded to 69 artists. Five artists appeared in videos to share stories of the creative ways they take care of their mental health and to encourage others who were struggling to reach out for help. The response to the first program inspired a second round of Wug Laku grants in 2022 funded by Herbert Simon Family Foundation.
“This fund sends a message to artists that someone cares about our mental health and well-being, and that it is ok to seek these kinds of services for ourselves,” said Lee. “My hope is that artists are able to use the grants to re-orient themselves in this world we now live in, one in which pandemic is the new normal, and respond by creating the work they were born to make.”