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Breed announces guaranteed income for up to 130 SF artists in pilot program

Assistant Editor

San Francisco Mayor London Breed. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
San Francisco Mayor London Breed. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland  

Some San Francisco artists, including LGBTQs, will be receiving guaranteed income for up to six months, Mayor London Breed's office announced March 25.

The city partnered with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in the South of Market neighborhood, to provide monthly payments of $1,000 to about 130 eligible artists for six months, beginning in May. There are no strings attached to how artists spend the money.

Eligible artists — "someone who actively engages with the community through music, dance, creative writing, visual art, performance art, installation, photography, theater, or film," according to a news release — are invited to apply online through April 15. Teaching artists and arts educators are also encouraged to apply.

Guaranteed income is an economic model that provides regular, unconditional cash transfers to individuals or households. This type of program differs from other social safety net practices by providing a steady, predictable stream of cash to recipients to spend as they see fit without limitations. This particular program provides cash payments to artists experiencing financial insecurity due to the pandemic, according to the release.

"From the first day the pandemic arrived in San Francisco, we knew that this health crisis would impact artists, and artists of color in particular," Breed stated. "Our artists make San Francisco special, and bring so much life and energy to our city. The arts are truly critical to our local economy and are an essential part of our long-term recovery. If we help the arts recover, the arts will help San Francisco recover. This new program is an innovative effort to help our creative sector get through this challenging time, and come back even stronger and more resilient than before."

The pilot program is made possible through a grant awarded to YBCA from the San Francisco Arts Commission's Arts Impact Endowment, established through Proposition E, to provide funding for community-driven initiatives, according to the website. The Arts Impact Endowment funds are administered through a community engagement plan and Cultural Service Allocation Plan jointly developed by SFAC and Grants for the Arts to ensure that initiatives are responsive to community needs and reflect equity priorities.

Prop E, passed by voters in 2018, is a partial allocation of hotel tax for arts and cultural programs.

There are several other guaranteed income programs being developed and implemented in San Francisco.

"The other guaranteed income programs include funding for San Franciscans training to become EMTs, Black and Pacific Islander expectant mothers as part of the Abundant Birth Project, and members of San Francisco's Black and African American community as part of the mayor's Dream Keeper Initiative," the release states.

The city of Oakland just announced an expansive, privately-funded guaranteed income program for 600 low-income residents March 23.

The San Francisco program was established by the city's Office of Racial Equity at the Human Rights Commission, YBCA, Grants for the Arts, and the San Francisco Arts Commission.

Ralph Remington, director of cultural affairs for the commission, framed the program as a way to help the city recover culturally from the COVID-19 crisis. He pointed out the city's arts and culture sector generated $1.45 billion in annual economic activity while supporting nearly 40,000 full-time jobs pre-COVID.

"COVID-19 has severely threatened this important sector, and the guaranteed income pilot, with other programs like it, allows artists to focus on their creative work and supports the recovery of the sector overall," he stated.

The release states that YBCA has built a "comprehensive and community-centered outreach strategy" to ensure that it reaches "Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), immigrant, disabled, and LGBTQ artist communities."

"This guaranteed income pilot is grounded in the understanding that artists and the cultural sector are the heartbeat of our civic life and must be supported through innovative funding methods," Deborah Cullinan, the CEO of YBCA, stated. "YBCA is committed to helping artists do what they do best — stimulate social cohesion, foster equitable economic development, and drive health and wellbeing in their communities. Artists must be given adequate resources to focus on creative output and reinvest in their communities as they navigate the ongoing challenges of living and working through a pandemic. Our learnings from the pilot will be used to advance the wider movement advocating for unrestricted cash payments that provide financial stability to those who need it most, including artists."

City Administrator Carmen Chu, the former assessor who was a co-chair of the city's Economic Recovery Task Force established during the pandemic, said arts and culture is one of the hardest hit areas.

"This program will serve as a bridge to sustain this sector as we recover because our City's unique and rich art culture is one of the reasons why people from around the world come visit San Francisco," Chu stated.

Vallie Brown, a former supervisor who was recently named director of Grants for the Arts, said the pilot program is needed.

"To extend the guaranteed income program to San Francisco artists in our BIPOC communities is the right and just step forward in addressing racial equity," she stated. "Arts and culture are why we love and live in cities, especially San Francisco."

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