You know the economy is in a bad state when you notice your inbox and voicemail is spilling over with repeat calls from artists, performers, poets, musicians, writers asking for you to add them to ANYthing you're planning in the next couple weeks or months.
Since I have an opportunity to do so with my day job, I try my best to find local and good talent for events on campus. We have a generous events budget that hasn't faced cutting yet (knock on wood, knowing the state of the State of California). The unfortunate part -- we're planned 6 months in advance. Not the best news for artists/performers who are used to organizations that are on a more spontaneous schedule, or for artists who need/want gigs and cash like today.
But I know a lot of you work/volunteer/chair committees for organizations that are a little more spontaneous... and have a lot more flexibility to hire performers like tomorrow for a gig.
If you do, please take a look at some of your local and good talent and see how you can fit them in. Maybe you can schedule a creativity workshop for your corporate ofice. Or a spoken word luncheon event for the cafeteria. Or add a local acoustic group to a reception you're planning for the workplace. Or if you're planning a graduation party for a nephew, little cousin, neice, etc... you could add a nice cultural and artsy spin to the mix.
How do you find these folks? Well, I often take a look at the independent newspapers in my area (in my case, L.A. Weekly, Pasadena Weekly, L.A. Watts-Times, Los Angeles Sentinel, etc...) to see what events, book readings, festivals, poerty slams are taking place in my area. Da Poetry Lounge in L.A. is another great place I (or my students) have found great talent for campus. Local, independent film festivals are another great place to find new talent and films. Those events serve as two-fers -- entertainment for you, and a chance to find some local, non-discovered artists.
Or you can google for certain types of events, writers or singer associations, etc... in your local area. Or if you read the blogs of local writers and poets and spoken word artists, you can contact them that way.
As for budget. I always ask first, "What do you generally receive as an honorarium for a performance of ____ long?" And from there, we're able to negotiate a time, amount, and honorarium that makes us both happy. I always go on my intuition when talking with an artist to see how professional they are, how non-demanding/non-difficult they are, how they see their work adding to the education of students or social justice. Those are my personal things I ask about, you will have your own.
And another thing the artists will appreciate... having the check ready on the day of the performance. That's partly why my organization is so far ahead of the planning game... we know that performers like to be paid just after they've finished their work. We all do.
So, in my opinion this a quick and easy way to do something on a grassroots level to help an artist. We know that in a bad economy, people tend to put their arts and entertainment on the backburner... or they begin to choose more carefully. If you're part of an organization that can help an artist, it would do everyone a world of good.