When Ben Medansky’s Studio Burned Down CERF+ Was There to Help

It was late July in 2015 when news emerged ceramicist Ben Medansky’s world had literally gone up in flames. Medansky, already a celebrated Los Angeles artist was busy riding the wave as one of the nation’s emerging new wave of creatives – a prolific and talented designer whose PoMo-Memphis Group inspired ceramic mugs, pipes and other earthenware designs portended the resurgence of ceramics both as art form and functional collectibles. It was that summer when his 3,000-square-foot studio carved out from within an industrial complex near Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles completely exploded into flames and burned into ashes.

The charred remnants of Ben Medansky’s Downtown Los Angeles studio in 2015.

“To be honest, I haven’t wanted to talk about [the fire] very much any longer,” notes Medansky with solemn candor while speaking to us by phone from his new live/work studio located in Los Angele’s Elysian Valley, commonly known as Frogtown, “But when CERF+ asked me to share my story, I knew I wanted to participate because of everything they did for me.”

Founded in 1985 by artists for artists specifically within the craft community, CERF+ would prove itself as a responsive and vital source of aid for Medansky. The remnants of his studio were practically still smoldering when the organization reached out to the artist directly. “I didn’t even have to call them, they called me!” remembers Medansky, his voice still tinged with appreciation for the outpouring of support he received both from the organization and the community, “They had heard about the fire through the network of friends and the creative community here in Los Angeles and immediately offered to help.” And to their word, CERF+ would quickly arrange to dispense funds to help Medansky regain his footing quickly without the hoops and headaches his insurance required.

“Getting that aid so immediately – alongside a GoFundMe campaign – was definitely vital,” he says. Medansky also credits the CERF+ team for arranging an even more indispensable donation, one that would prove a transformational catalyst. “They helped get me a kiln, one donated by Skutt to help me immediately get working again, which was really awesome, and instilled the belief I really could reemerge and restart,” recollects the artist, his voice colored with grateful enthusiasm during our call.

Alongside providing emergency relief to those working within the craft disciplines such as Medansky, CERF+’s core services revolve around education programs, advocacy and network building, including information to inform the craft creative community about proactively assessing and preparing for emergencies.

In 2020 the organization stepped up to become a vital lifeline for craft artists during the COVID-19 pandemic, awarding $1,000 COVID-19 Relief Grants to nearly 900 recipients to help mitigate dire circumstances related to housing, food and health insecurities. “The help from CERF+ was a ray of light in the difficult period of the lockdown,” says Carolina Sardi, a sculptor based in Miami, Florida, and a recipient of a CERF+ 2020 COVID-19 Relief Grant.

CERF+ has also played a vital role in offering aid to artists, artisans and individuals in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, the earthquakes in 2020, and most recently, the pandemic, providing $667,000 in financial relief assistance and donated equipment and materials to more than 300 artists. Puerto Rican artisans like Carlos Rivera credit CERF+ for providing emergency assistance to help improve his workshop, including basic tools, machines and general working conditions during a time of recovery.

Artists in the craft community wouldn’t see each other for a whole year – and we would discover that somebody’s barn had burned down, someone had been in an auto accident, or someone’s van had been broken into and they had lost all of their crafts.

– Josh Simpson Co-founder, Craft Emergency Relief Fund

Today Medansky reflects upon his phoenix-like reemergence from the fire as integral to his growth as an artist. Like the raw clay pieces fired within his kiln, Medansky reemerged transformed – if not a bit singed – with a newfound commitment to explore projects and installations that push far beyond the bounds of shape, form and function his previous studio was dedicated to producing, including plans for designing sculptural water fountains.

“I’ve been working on several larger installations for clients, ceramic wall murals and more abstract works,” says Medansky, “I really love what I’m working on today…and I’m ever grateful to CERF+ for helping me get here.”

If you are a materials-based craft and folk/traditional artists that incurred significant medical expenses related to treatment and recovery from COVID-19 and/or have experienced a recent, career threatening emergency, such as an illness, accident, fire or natural disaster, apply for aid here. If you’d like to help CERF+ continue to provide unrestricted funds to artists in need, donate here.

Photos by Ben Medansky.