In simpler times, it helps people with everything from emergency health care to substance-abuse treatment, but in recent months much of its focus has been on helping all music people — not just Academy members — who have lost their livelihoods due to the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the music industry and much of the world. MusiCares’ COVID-19 Relief Fund, which was launched only a couple of weeks after the pandemic took hold in the U.S., raised and distributed $20 million since April, and although it’s had to cease taking applications for a few weeks, MusiCares expects to relaunch it soon.
The organization announced Laura Segura, as its first executive director earlier today. Formerly the Recording Academy’s vice president of membership & industry relations, she previously worked at the X Prize global charity and ran membership and fundraising for Film Independent, in a role she describes as similar to Recording Academy but for independent film. At MusiCares she takes over an experienced staff of 20 (including herself), which has been led by chairman of the board, Amazon Music chief Steve Boom and acting Recording Academy head Harvey Mason Jr. — and its three vice presidents, Debbie Carroll, Kelly Darr and Judy Wong — all of whom have done heroic work in the past few weeks. Variety spoke with Segura Tuesday on her new role and the challenges ahead.
If you wish to support MusiCares’ efforts to assist music professionals in need, visit: https://www.grammy.com/MusiCares/CoronavirusReliefFund
If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit: musicares.org.
First of all, congratulations on the new role.
Thank you — it’s a big task but one that I’m really honored to do.
What’s the status of the Covid-19 Relief Fund? Is it accurate to say that it ran out of funds in May?
Actually, the fund did not run out — we just needed to pause applications to be sure the fundraising was keeping up with the number of requests for help, and we used that moment to make sure that not only we were getting all the funds out, but also assessing the situation and the scope of that need. We started that fund as quickly as we possibly could to start getting money out to folks who were losing their jobs and help them quickly, but we needed to take a moment to think about how can we be the best version of MusiCares in light of a pandemic that is just so massive. We’ve done that, and I see us as entering a phase two of how we’re responding and getting back to what MusiCares has done best, which is tailoring our response to each of the unique cases we’re seeing.
When do you think you’ll start taking applications again?
In the coming weeks. We’re working on updating our website to explain how we will enter this next phase of our response to make sure that the music community continues to be served.
With so much going on in the world, what are some other areas you see where people need more help than usual?
That’s really why we needed to enter into a new stage — because we see the need is so great, and it’s beyond standard, direct grants to people. We’re seeing an increased need in private mental health sessions; we’re seeing a rise in addiction or challenges in people’s recovery; and simply meeting the needs of housing — there are eviction protections under the stimulus, but those will be expiring soon and we’re concerned that there will be a rise in homelessness in our community after those benefits are lifted. So we’re really trying to think about the many ways the pandemic is impacting the community directly.
Did you work with MusiCares a lot in your previous role?
I did — the membership community is the music community, so many of our members were not only needing help from MusiCares but also wanting to help it, so we were trying to find ways to partner with it not only in outreach but also in having our more privileged members volunteer and serve and help.
Will your role be more about fundraising or managerial, or both?
I definitely see fundraising as central to my role because in non-profit and 501C-3 work you’ve got to fundraise to have the reach to do the work at scale, and for us to help as many people as possible every year and continue to grow, fundraising has got to come first, and I’m ready to help on that front.
Are you planning to have a fundraising “Person of the Year” gala in 2021, like you have for many years?
We are planning on having a celebration of “Person of the Year” in 2021, and we’re trying to figure out what that looks like, as is the rest of the music industry is doing with their events too. We don’t quite know what the shape of it will be. [Mason told Variety last week that the Academy is planning three separate scenarios for the 2021 Grammy Awards: one with a full audience, one with a reduced audience, and one with no audience.]
You seem quite enthusiastic despite all of the challenges that your new job presents.
It’s such an exciting moment in my life, and in many ways it’s my dream job. I’m not just taking it because I’ve been close to the work and love it — it’s a deeper calling for me, a personal calling to serve.
I think music makers are heroes — their talents heal us, inspire us in our darkest moments and help us celebrate during our best moments. But I personally believe society really undervalues art and artists. And I really believe that MusiCares and the music community that supports it need to be lifted up, and I’m so honored and humbled that I get to do that. It’s more than just work, and I think people should know that MusiCares and the people who work there feel that way and are motivated to serve in that way.
Finally, what can people do to help?
Certainly, donating helps in so many ways, because not only do we need to get funds out to the music community continually, but also, we have such a small staff that is trying to do mighty, mighty things, and I really hope that I can continue to build the team so that we can do bigger and better things in the future. And I’d also say, it helps to just pause, during at a time when we’re all under such tremendous pain and suffering, to be kind to your neighbor and understand that we’re all in this together.