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Loans (Back to Resources Contents)

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Loans for Artists

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This information is located in our software for artists. Some references within the text will be software related.


Many nonprofit organizations offer loans to artists. The amounts and fees for these loans range widely. Some of these loans go towards completing a project that only pays out upon project completion. For instance, the New York Foundation for the Arts will give a loan that may not exceed 80% of the contracted amount for a project. There is a 3% fee of the loan amount. The loan is usually good for 120 days.

You should check your options carefully.

Artist Project Loans

Some organizations will loan you money for a contracted project. Since some grants and funding are not paid at the beginning of a project, you have to figure out how to raise start up funds. Some non-profit organizations have come up with a solution, and will loan you the money against the contract. The amounts they charge to do this are well worth it, and can help you actualize your project. After all, they need to pay their own accountant and legal folks to process your loan.

Emergency Loans

There are funders who will award you an emergency loan for various reasons such as health, a catastrophe or personal issues. You can find these on the web or in the library. (See Emergency Resources section.)

Pay Day Loans (not a good idea)

These companies will give you an advance on a certain amount of money until you get paid. They often have a fee associated with a particular amount. For example, a typical $250 loan can have a fee as high as $45. You secure this loan by writing a post dated check drawn off a checking account, which is deposited on the said date. Normally, the loan matures in two weeks, at which time you are expected to pay the loan and fee in full.

If you cannot pay the required amount then you can pay the fee ($45) and roll the original loan amount ($250) over for another two weeks, where again you will be faced with either paying the entire amount due or the fee and roll the loan for another two weeks. If you roll the loan over just once, you have paid $90 to borrow $250!

Borrow from friends and family or even a bank or credit union if you are strapped for cash. Or better yet, sell your art! But stay away from these types of organizations.

VA Loans


The Department of Veteran Affairs guarantees fixed-rate VA loans for qualified veterans of the United States Military. Offered in terms of 15 or 30 years, VA Loans usually do not require a down payment and have less stringent criteria than conventional loans. These loans will also accept funds from gift programs, other loans or grants from certain sources to be used for the down payment (if required) and closing costs. As of December 2004, the maximum loan amount was raised to $359,650.

In addition to debt ratios, VA Loans use a residual income calculation to assess applications. For example, say a lender allows a debt to income ratio of 30% and requires a residual (leftover) income of $1000 per month. This means that although each month 30% of the borrower’s income goes towards debt, after debts are paid the borrower must have $1000 remaining to allocate towards property expenses.

So, if the borrower had an income of $1200 per month and debts of $360/month, s/he could not qualify for the loan. This is because although the borrower meets the debt ratio requirements ($360 is 30% of $1200), s/he does not meet the residual income requirement ($1200-$360 = $840).

In this example, the borrower would need to earn at least $1360 per month to meet both the debt ratio and residual income requirements ($1360 - $360 = $1000).

Private Mortgage Insurance is not required for VA loans. It is replaced by a VA funding fee instead. This fee varies from 1.25% to 3.3% of the value of the property and is used to help operate the program by paying claims to lenders who would otherwise lose money by making loans to sub-prime (under qualified) borrowers who default on their loans. This fee is also used to pay lenders that normally would not make these loans were if not for the VA funding fee.


You can only get this loan if you are a qualified veteran that served in one of the branches of the United States Military. In addition, this loan can only be used for residential property. You must also occupy or intend to occupy the property as a home for yourself within a reasonable period of time after closing the loan. This means that the loan cannot be used to purchase rental-only property. The loan amount generally cannot exceed $359,650.

Jumbo Loans


This type of loan is used when the loan amount exceeds guidelines set by the major secondary mortgage market purchasers – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As discussed earlier, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are federal government-sponsored investors that purchase loans on the secondary mortgage market. Remember that lenders selling residential mortgage loans to Fannie Mae (or Freddie Mac) must follow their underwriting guidelines in order to participate.

In 2005, the residential loan limit for one-family loan was set at $359,650 in the continental US and $539,475 in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Any single loan that exceeds Fannie Mae’s limits is considered a jumbo loan and will carry a higher interest rate than a conventional fixed-rate mortgage. This is a good loan to have if you need more money to secure the space you want and if can afford it.


The interest rate may be higher on these large loans. Thus, the loan may have a higher monthly payment and will cost more over the long run due to the interest rate. Because Jumbo Loans are typically considered higher risk, the criteria for securing these loans is typically very strict and you will need to have a higher income level to qualify. Due to the recent economic downturn and the financial troubles of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, these loans are harder to find and to pay off. Make sure you read all the documents associated with your loan very carefully and consider consulting with a certified accountant before signing one of these loans.

Government Loans

Unlike many home buyer programs, government loans, such as a Federal Housing Administration or FHA backed mortgage, are not limited to first-time homeowners. Selected guidelines for standard government loans include:

• Terms have 15 or 30 years with either a fixed or ARM loan

• Gift funds from a non-profit organization, family members or friends can be used for the down payment

• No payment reserves are required for mortgage insurance

• Maximum total debt ratio is 41%

• Loans are assumable, meaning another party can take over the loan as long as they meet all of the loan requirements and qualifications per the FHA guidelines.

• Loan amounts are capped

These types of loans have both income caps and limits on the mortgage amounts. Government loans also include additional criteria that borrowers must meet to obtain the loan, depending on the program.

Construction/ Permanent Loans

Loan programs are available to assist borrowers who would like to build a new property. Construction loans are available, as well as a combination construction/permanent option that features a single closing.

The loan would be secured by a mortgage on the land and the property, once it is built. The construction loan usually has a short term (12-24 months) to allow time to complete the building and may then convert to a permanent mortgage on the completed property. With such a loan product, one has to decide whether to incur the additional risk of building a space.

FHA Mortgage


The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), established in 1934, is the oldest and largest insurer of residential mortgage loans in the U.S. A FHA loan offers lower down payment loans for qualified borrowers when compared to a conventional loan. Both fixed and adjustable rate mortgage products are available and usually only require a minimum cash investment of 3%.

FHA loans will also accept funds from gifts, other loans or grants from certain sources to be used for down payments and closing costs. Unlike conventional loans, the maximum property debt ratio is increased to 29% compared to the 28% allowed for conventional loans and the total debt ratio can be as high as 41% versus 36%.

In addition, while a conventional loan may require you to have at least a two-month payment reserve (money in the bank to cover the mortgage and/or insurance) this is not a requirement for FHA loans.


These types of loans have both income caps and limits on the mortgage amounts. Certain down payment assistance programs paired with government loans may have income caps placed on them, as well.


Crisis Management

There are generally two kinds of emergencies that qualify for an emergency loan: large scale disasters and personal emergencies.

Large scale disasters inflict wide range damage, such as a hurricane, earthquake, or terrorist attack. These kinds of crises destroy livelihoods and communities in an instant, and it often takes many years for these neighborhoods to recover. Personal injuries include an accident or sudden illness, physical injuries, house or studio fires, and floods.

Encountering both types of emergencies at the same time can be overwhelming.

Fortunately, there are a number of emergency support programs. It is a good idea to know the basis of what is available before you are in a crisis.

About Emergency Support Organizations

In the US, there are a number of organizations that provide emergency support to individual artists. Some of these organizations work with specific disciplines such as musicians, while others concentrate on a particular ethnic group or geographic region. Not every region is covered, so planning ahead can make a difference. Most of the emergency loan organizations are non-profits started by artists, who raise funds from foundations, charities, guilds and unions; very few of them receive government funding. Most of these organizations work in crisis mode themselves because crises are unending.

There are many simple things you can do to survive an unforeseeable crisis. (See the Health and Safety section and scroll to the Earthquake Preparedness section.)

Learning from Others

It is crazy to think that all emergency situations can be avoided. However, their devastating impact can be tempered or reduced. Consider, for instance, the aftermath of the Nisqually earthquake in Washington State in February 2001, from which Washington artists (mostly visual artists) reported $1.3 million in losses, including $890,000 in inventory. Luckily, the Seattle-based arts service organization Artist Trust, in collaboration with the King County Arts Commission, Seattle Art Commission, Washington State Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts, quickly set up an emergency support program called Artists’ Quake Aid (AQUA). Through AQUA, Artist Trust was able to distribute $40,000 in aid within weeks to artists suffering the greatest losses (grant amounts ranged from $250 to $1,500). Reported losses included damage to artwork and equipment, workspace, work time, emotional trauma, and the breakup of artistic communities. In the AQUA Final Report, Artist Trust points out several important findings about the ways in which many artists organize their lives and maintain their artistic production, all of which are applicable to most emergency situations, regardless of the type or scale of the emergency:

• Many artists live so close to the edge financially that they cannot sustain a disaster of any kind.

• Many artists live and work in unsafe conditions.

• Most artists do not carry insurance for their artwork as this insurance is difficult to find, very expensive, and has high deductibles. Furthermore, the value of artwork is hard to determine.

• Many galleries do not carry insurance for artwork on exhibition or in storage, for the same reasons that artists do not carry it.

• Government resources are often unattainable by artists who are not viewed as having a "business."

Additionally, artists do not feel that they are part of the general public (they tend to marginalize themselves). They therefore do not tend to utilize the existing emergency support infrastructure offered to them by social service organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), American Red Cross, and the Salvation Army. However, the reverse is also true. Many social service organizations do not quite know how to handle artists and their specific needs. What is important here is to think outside the box. In emergency situations, in particular, artists should also pursue programs for the general public. This includes community programs, support groups, programs serving students, faith-based programs, etc.

What Situations Are Eligible for Emergency Support?

When struck by an emergency, what should you do? Before applying to an emergency organization, it is important to understand the distinction between what they term valid emergencies and avoidable ones. The majority of emergency support organizations draw a clear line between the two. Valid emergencies can be characterized as absolutely unavoidable. They are life-and-death situations such as medical emergencies, fires, floods, natural disasters, etc. Emergency situations of one’s own making, although difficult, are not eligible for emergency support. This category includes circumstances such as bad financial planning, credit card debt, child support, defaults on student or other loans, eviction because of refusing to pay rent, etc. Emergency organizations are also not set up to assist with special opportunities such as sudden and unexpected performance/exhibitions overseas, residencies, and professional conferences (although there are many programs nationwide, similar to NYFA’s Special Opportunity Stipends, that support special opportunities). None of these situations constitute unavoidable, life-and-death emergencies.

Types of Emergency Support

Emergency organizations generally provide one or more of the following areas of support: emergency grants, emergency low-interest loans (these have to be repaid), and emergency assistance. Emergency grants can range from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars. Emergency loans come in the same amounts, and are usually accompanied by a grace period of about a year to give artists time to get back on their feet before the repayments start. Lastly, many emergency organizations (and non-emergency organizations, too) give artists technical assistance concerning how to pick up the pieces and proceed with their lives, and some will work with other social service organizations on an artist’s behalf. Whatever the form of support, responsiveness (i.e., a quick turnaround time) and access to information and resources are rules by which these organizations live and breathe.

It is also good to know that most organizations do not prioritize artistic merit. Generally, an organization will review an artist’s résumé simply to verify that she or he is a "professional" working artist. The organization will also weigh the need and the degree of crisis. Lastly, artists stricken with multiple emergencies over the course of several years may reapply to many emergency organizations for help.

Emergency Support Organizations

In addition to hosting further roundtables, creating partnerships among emergency organizations, and advocating for greater emergency relief, NYFA launched a brand new database on its web site in the fall of 2002. The database, developed in partnership with the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, builds upon NYFA’s Visual Artist Information Hotline, a clearinghouse of information on more than 2,000 support programs for visual artists. It makes comprehensive, up-to-the-minute information available on nearly 5,000 support programs for artists working in all disciplines: visual arts, media arts, design arts, dance, music, theater, performance art, and literature. The database is searchable, and is available free 24/7 on NYFA’s new web site.

List of Emergency Organizations

The following is an extensive, though by no means definitive, list of emergency organizations. Please call or check the organizations’ web sites to get the latest programmatic information and eligibility requirements.


Academy of American Poets
American Poets Fund (for poets with illness or emergency)

American Society of Journalists and Authors Charitable Trust
Llewellyn Miller Fund (for writers who are unable to work)

Authors League of America
Authors League Fund (interest free loans for emergencies)

Carnegie Fund for Authors
Grants-in-Aid (for commercially published book authors)

Human Rights Watch
Hellman-Hammett Grants (for writers internationally who are victims of political persecution)

Pen American Center
PEN Fund for Writers and Editors with HIV/AIDS (for HIV/AIDS-related illness)
PEN Writers Fund (for published or produced writers)

Media Arts

Motion Picture and Television Fund
Motion Picture and Television Fund (for members in emergency situations)


Commonwealth Council for Arts and Culture (Northern Mariana Islands)

Herbert and Irene Wheeler Foundation
Emergency Grants to Artists of Color (for housing, medical, fires, floods)

J. Happy-Delpech Foundation
Grants to Midwest Artists with AIDS or Serious Illnesses (for medical emergencies)

Louisiana Division of the Arts
Director’s Grant-in-Aid Program (for special opportunities and/or emergency situations)

Montana Arts Council
Opportunity Grant (for special opportunities and/or emergency situations)

Performing Arts

Actors’ Fund of America

Conrad Cantzen Shoe Fund (funds up to $80 per year to purchase one new pair of shoes)

Entertainment Industry Assistance Program (EIAP) (for counseling, advocacy and aid)

Senior and Disabled Program (for the disabled or age 62 or older)

AIDS Initiative (for AIDS counseling, support groups, emergency aid, and housing)

Mental Health Services (for treatment, housing, rehabilitation, and funding)

American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA)

AGMA Emergency Relief Fund (for AGMA members)

American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA)
General Sick and Relief Fund (for illness and emergencies)

Associated Musicians of Greater New York Local 802
Lester Petrillo Memorial Fund for Disabled Musicians (for disabled AFM members)
Local 802 Emergency Relief Fund (for eviction, disconnection of utilities, medical assistance)

Dancer’s Group Studio Theater
Parachute Fund (for San Francisco-area dance community for HIV/AIDS or illness)

Episcopal Actors Guild of America
HIV/AIDS Relief Program (for actors with HIV/AIDS)
Emergency Aid and Relief Program (no description available)

International Association of Blacks in Dance
Emergency Fund (for IABD members)

Jazz Foundation of America
Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund (for jazz musicians)

Music Maker Relief Foundation
Emergency Relief Program (for medical, fire, theft)\

Musicares Program (for artists nationally in emergency situations)

Musicians’ Assistance Program
Musicians’ Assistance Program (for drug and alcohol treatment and recovery)

Musicians Foundation
Emergency Assistance Grants (for professional musicians)

Rhythm and Blues Foundation
Gwendolyn B. Gordy Fuqua Fund (for R&B musicians who performed under Motown label during 1970s)

Santa Fe Jazz Foundation
Grants for Emergency Medical Aid (for jazz musicians with medical needs)
110 Vuelta Chamisa
Santa Fe, NM 87501-8582

Screen Actors Guild Foundation
Emergency Assistance Grants (for needy, sick, indigent, and aged SAG members)
Catastrophic Health Fund (for SAG members with illness or injury)

Society of Singers
Financial Assistance (for singers internationally)

Sweet Relief Musicians Fund
Emergency Assistance (for medical, drug or alcohol dependency, and unemployment)

Theatre Bay Area
Mary Mason Memorial Lemonade Fund (for theater workers in San Francisco-area with illness)

Will Rogers Memorial Fund
Financial Assistance (for medical expenses and disabilities)

Visual Arts

Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation
Emergency Assistance Program (for catastrophic emergency)

Artists’ Fellowship
Emergency Funding Grant Program (for illness, disability, distress)

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation
Artists Resource Trust (ART) (for mid-career artists in New England)

Change, Inc.
Emergency Grants (one-time only grants for artists anywhere in US)

Chicago Artist’s Coalition
Ruth Talaber Artists’ Emergency Fund (for emergency situations)

Craft Emergency Relief Fund
Emergency Grants, Loans and Services (for craftspeople anywhere in US)

Photographers + Friends United Against AIDS
Critical Needs Fund (for photographers with HIV/AIDS)

Visual Aid
Art Bank (makes available free art materials to Visual Aid artists)
Voucher Program (supply vouchers to Visual Aid artists for free art materials at local retailers)
Exhibition Program (plans, curates, and exhibits work by Visual Aid artists)

Visual Aids
Visual AIDS Artists Materials Grant (for Visual Aids members with low income)

Other Emergency Services

American Red Cross

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Salvation Army

Small Business Administration (SBA)

Legal Resources

Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (VLA)
212.319.2787 x9—Art Law Line

Legal Aid Society