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The Entertainment Community Fund could be a perfect resource for Las Vegas



The Entertainment Community Fund has gone through significant change in the last five years, persisting in its mission to build a strong safety net for performing arts and entertainment industry workers through existential threats like the COVID pandemic and the Hollywood writers and artist strikes. The 142-year-old charitable organization changed its name from The Actors Fund in 2022, developed a new affordable housing project in Hollywood, and voted Annette Bening as the new chair of the board last year.

The organization’s history and focus on the specific needs of its community has yielded impressive results for a long time—which sounds exactly like the kind of resource that could benefit the Las Vegas entertainment industry. The most exciting part is that it already has.

Mark Shunock hosting the 2020 telethon raising money for local entertainment workers in need during the pandemic.

In April 2020, the local charity event Mondays Dark livestreamed a telethon featuring performances from dozens of Las Vegas entertainers in order to raise money for local industry workers who were suddenly out of work. The one-night event raised $122,000 that was distributed to Las Vegans through ECF, then still known as The Actors Fund. But many more locals became aware of ECF because of that event, and they applied for the organization’s standard emergency assistance grants. “That $122,000 turned into $1.2 million distributed in Vegas from the Entertainment Community Fund, and we were really grateful that those people who needed us got it,” says Keith McNutt, executive director of the Western region.

Our friend Mark Shunock, co-founder of Mondays Dark and proprietor of its headquarters, the Space, has continued to strengthen the Vegas connections to ECF and is hoping to create more local space for its services and resources. I call him “our friend” quite literally; through his charitable efforts and high-profile sports event hosting gigs for the Vegas Golden Knights, Las Vegas Raiders and Top Rank Boxing, Shunock has transcended local entertainer status and become an energetic and positive leader in the community. (He’s a close resource and actual friend of mine as well. I’ve volunteered for Mondays Dark for years and we once produced a fun Vegas podcast together for this very magazine.)

“The Entertainment Community Fund having a presence in Las Vegas is something that’s needed, and our community deserves to have access to the kind of services and programming they provide,” Shunock says. “I’m honored to be able to help usher in that opportunity.”

The ECF’s recent expansion has been defined by its ability to make its extensive resources available online during the pandemic, McNutt says. “We had to shift our whole model and rethink how we do it,” he says. “Our offices are in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and all our support services and training groups happen there, then pretty much overnight we had to transition everything we do online.”

ECF has always specialized in emergency financial assistance and crisis intervention for professional members of the entertainment community across the country, so the necessity of shifting those services to the virtual space was a “blessing,” McNutt explains, because it made the process more efficient and available. “We have a new online portal where people can sign into their account and explore whatever programs they want, and it’s much easier to access those services. Every support group and educational training program is now online.”

Before the pandemic, ECF was providing between $50,000 and $75,000 in grants weekly to workers across the country for help with rent, utilities, medical bills and other essential financial needs, he says, and “at the worst point in the pandemic, that went up to $500,000 or $600,000 a week.” During 2020, staff processed nearly $19 million in emergency grants to more than 15,000 people in need, nearly 10 times the amount of assistance provided in an average year.

Other services and programs include industry-specific workshops, career guidance and mental health-focused classes and support groups. “We have a daily mindful meditation practice, and various support groups including affinity groups so a person can be with other people with like identity talking about what those common experiences have been and how to cope with things that might be different,” McNutt says.

As for the future, McNutt says the current hope is “to expand our presence in Vegas and Atlanta, and finding local partners to do that.” Both cities have obvious ties to the greater entertainment industry, and Las Vegas is taking steps toward developing film and television production infrastructure similar to what has grown in Atlanta in recent decades.

“It really is meaningful to have a pair of boots on the ground who knows the community. We have broad [programs] that can be helpful to everybody, but each local economy is a little different,” McNutt says. “Hospitality in Las Vegas is so tied in with the casinos and the nature of the entertainment workforce, so there is that need for specific services.”

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