I first heard about Artist Trust outside Thatcher Bailey’s cabin at Chevy Chase Beach Cabins, in Port Townsend, near that big madrona that looks out over the bay. 1986. David Mendoza had just come back to town, fresh from working with Kitty Carlisle at the New York State Council on the Arts, and he and a small group of visionaries were hatching Artist Trust. I was writing my second play. The cherries were ripe on the trees for picking, and there was a whole lot of hatching going on.
Next scene: cold afternoon day before Thanksgiving, 1987. My foot is in a walk-boot from a little accident dancing in Gloria Duplex (above-mentioned play). Two months earlier, I’d received a rejection letter from a New York publisher informing me that, after holding onto the manuscript for six months that “the book is not for us.”
I’m living at the corner of 31st and Terrace in a neighborhood which I’ve nicknamed “More or Leschi.” My life was all Ragu and Top Ramen, confidence thinner than my checking account. Artist Trust angels intercede. An envelope is taped to the front door, hand-delivered. Inside, a check for $5,000! (Or was it FIVE MILLION? At the time it was all the same to me.)
Artist Trust gave me money—awarded me a Fellowship. With the money came the rent and insurance and new brakes on the Slant-6 Plymouth Valiant. But even more importantly was the vote of confidence that I needed to finish the first draft of Little Altars Everywhere. I think it was around that time that I dared use the word “writer” on my unemployment application. Just kidding.
The state of Washington changed when Artist Trust was born. Creativity and money can’t be separated. As British writer Fay Weldon has pointed out, those of us who create are supporting libraries, galleries, theaters, concert halls, actors, printers, framers, musicians, ushers, janitors, academics, arts councils, arts administrators (and therapists).
Artist Trust, like no other organization, acknowledges this.
I don’t like to think about where my attempt to write would have gone if that Artist Trust envelope hadn’t appeared on my front door. Looking back, it calls to mind that scene from It’s a Wonderful Life when Jimmy Stewart’s community presents him with an envelope to pay his bills. Me and Jimmy. You and Jimmy. You can help fill up more envelopes.
Artist Trust is a classic. Long may she live—with a gift from you. Today.
P.S. Greetings! Every contribution makes a difference! Please take a moment to send your gift today. Your support will help Washington State artists create new work, and thus enrich our community.
Rebecca Wells was born and raised in Louisiana. “I grew up,” she says, “in the fertile world of story-telling, filled with flamboyance, flirting, futility, and fear.” Rebecca graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU), where she studied theater, English, and psychology. Her second novel, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, became a number one New York Times bestseller and was made into a movie starring Sandra Bullock in 2002.