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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the arts community immediately recognized the impact it would have on the city’s soul.

It quickly established funds to ensure New Orleans’ musicians and artists would return to the city that draws so much of its identity from their work. Among the largest was the MusiCares Hurricane Relief Fund, which, within three days of the storm, committed $1 million to help musicians.

Kristen Madsen, now director of Creative Sonoma, a division of Sonoma County’s Economic Development Board, worked to coordinate that effort in her previous role as an executive for the Grammy Foundation. In the wake of the fires that ravaged the North Bay last month, she wants to do the same thing.

It was one or two days after the fires broke out across Sonoma County when Madsen started think about how Creative Sonoma could help. The first step was to create a page on the Creative Sonoma website listing relief organizations for creatives.

The second step was to build a fund just for Creative Sonoma, which supports the Sonoma County arts community through trainings, consulting services, grants and more. The fund is dedicated to providing emergency relief dollars for members of the Sonoma County arts community that sustained losses due to the fires. Thanks to a donation of $100,000 from the Hewlett Foundation, that fund has now grown to $125,000. Since announcing, more than 50 artists have applied for grant funding.

While first responders like firefighters and police officers rescued people and ultimately halted the fires, artists will play an important role in helping the community to heal, Madsen said.

“We’re doing this because we believe that artists are the second responders,” Madsen said. “Because artists are — first of all, they jump right out of the gate to raise money, to play benefits, to donate their work to raise money for other people. But perhaps more importantly, in the end they will help us make sense of this. Their artwork will point us in the direction of what happened here, how do we understand this, how do we express this? ... And how do we remember to celebrate?”

Capped at $1,000 per artist, the money can be used for anything, Madsen said, and doesn’t necessarily need to be spent on art-related expenses.

“We know it doesn’t feel like (much) — like, where’s this going to get me?” Madsen said. “So that’s why we decided our guidelines should be to use this for whatever your most urgent need is. If you need medication, buy medication. If you need art supplies, buy art supplies.”

Erick Dunn and his wife Claudia Meglin are two artists who received funding from Creative Sonoma. The couple — he a sculptor and she a filmmaker — lost everything when the fires roared through their Kenwood neighborhood in the early morning hours of Oct. 9.

Dunn is well known throughout the arts community for creating what he describes as “electro-luminescent light and sound sculptures.” The works are born of his interest in nature and often incorporate interactive features and lighting. One of his most prized works, “Biotronesis,” was lost in the blaze. The piece consumed 10 months of Dunn’s life and cost $20,000 to produce, not including the unpaid time he spent working on it.

Also lost was a collection of molds he spent 20 years creating, which sought to capture creatures and plants he found in nature.

Meglin lost all of her hard drives, which contained not only finished work but also raw footage meant for a documentary she’s working on.

“We lost our home, we lost my workshop, we lost two vehicles, two storage units, a camper, and (the) sculpture,” he said. “We’re actually still paying debt on that sculpture. ... I was really getting to a higher state here, and this is quite a major setback.”

The two have since settled into a rental property near Jack London State Park where they have access to a studio, a fact Dunn described as “some crazy miracle.” They’ve had some help getting back on their feet from friends who held a benefit for them, and through an online fundraiser.

“Right now my focus is on rebuilding my shop any way that I can,” he said. “I have some tools that were donated to me, and I’m already getting it going. I’m hitting the ground not running, but hobbling.”

To donate to the Creative Sonoma fund, head to creativesonoma.org/recovery-fund.

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.

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