Home Art funding Guaranteed income for artists tested in two cities

Guaranteed income for artists tested in two cities


This spring, two arts organizations in San Francisco, Calif. And St. Paul, Minnesota, launched pilot projects that provided unconditional monthly funding to local artists from marginalized communities who struggled during the pandemic.

Chris Watts, based in San Francisco, and Vanessa gamble, in St. Paul, are two of them – and a few months later, the guaranteed income had a significant impact on their lives. “It’s, dare I say it, like Christmas morning,” Gamble says of the $ 500 monthly. “It’s so fantastic, I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me.” As for Watts, who receives $ 1,000 per month, “I was told that this money was not tied, it was because you are creating and you have a vision to share – it is only a windfall. “

There are only a small number of artists across the country in guaranteed income programs, but the momentum is building. And the organizers behind the San Francisco and St. Paul pilots are hoping that early work can translate into lasting change. “I’m really interested in turning the tide on what it means to deliver public benefits in this way,” says Caroline Taiwo, director of economic opportunities for Springboard for the Arts, who runs the St. Paul pilot. “We’re asking how we’re creating a substantive policy on this, so that people don’t fall through the cracks or be on their own.”

The two artist-focused pilots were inspired by the national movement for a guaranteed and universal basic income. (There are political distinctions between the two, with Guaranteed Income providing an equity perspective to focus on communities disproportionately affected by COVID and decades of economic divestment.) – program. Nonprofits have also worked with specific communities on equally effective initiatives. The goal is to make the case that unrestricted money is an essential part of the social safety net that the federal government should provide.

Now, arts organizations are joining the movement, which has only been made more urgent by the pandemic. “The pandemic has revealed how fragile the livelihoods of artists are and how much our economy depends on workers who do not have a social safety net,” Taiwo said. Springboard for the Arts has launched its Guaranteed Income for Artists pilot project to expand its COVID-19 relief work. “We knew that the emergency relief work we were doing, important as it was, was not a systemic solution,” she says. Springboard consulted with Mayors for a Guaranteed Income and the City of St. Paul, which has its own Guaranteed Income program, before launching an artist-focused pilot project in April.

In San Francisco, the Mayor of London Breed announced that the pilot was one of several guaranteed income programs the city is developing to help with economic stability and recovery from COVID-19. It took place last May in partnership with the artistic organization Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA).

Both pilots received private funding. In San Francisco, after the city’s initial funding, the team raised an additional $ 3.4 million from #startsmall, a pandemic relief fund started by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, to address some of the restrictions. public funding, incorporate community feedback and extend the pilot project to 18 months. The fully privately funded St. Paul pilot project will also last 18 months.

Both recruited artists from marginalized communities, then randomly selected recipients from the resulting pool of nominations. Springboard has selected artists from its pool of Emergency Relief Fund recipients. 80 percent of the artists in the pilot identify themselves as black, native and of color and all are located in the neighborhoods of Frogtown and Rondo. “Both neighborhoods have a long history of divestment and poor economic policy contributing to wealth disparity, gentrification and displacement,” Taiwo said. “We wanted the pilot to potentially address these deeper systemic issues. ”

YBCA worked with the San Francisco Arts Commission, San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and a number of arts and community organizations to ensure the process was accessible and that communities of marginalized artists were both aware of the opportunity and encouraged and supported to apply. Yet in May, some local arts groups expressed concern that the process was not fair enough.

The San Francisco pilot has 130 artists and St. Paul’s has 25. Watts and Gamble both talked about using the money for basic needs – rent, bills, home repairs. “I don’t have to struggle to create,” as Watts puts it. They also spoke about the importance of a simple and straightforward application process and the promise that funding would be unlimited. “I wouldn’t have said yes if there had been conditions,” says Gamble.

Most importantly, the artists say, they feel valued after an incredibly difficult pandemic year. “I feel like people just don’t understand how [the pandemic] hit the artists – the arts have just been gone for over a year, ”says Gamble. “It almost feels like a luxury to feel valued, because it usually feels like there is never enough funds for artists.”

Even in these first pilot months, Springboard and YBCA get a sense of its profound impact. Both organizations offer optional surveys for artists to measure how money affects their well-being, safety, mental health and artistic practice. YBCA will compile a final report of the survey results and, in the meantime, share the stories of participating artists over the coming months. With the additional #smartsmall funding, YBCA has also partnered with a second Guaranteed Income pilot project designed and implemented with community arts organizations and leaders.

“It’s about connecting the pilots to the national network so that we are part of this evolving and growing movement towards a guaranteed income,” said Deborah Cullinan, Managing Director of YBCA.

In September, Springboard will launch Artists Respond: People, Place, and Prosperity in which local artists will create public projects that demonstrate the root causes that drive the need for a guaranteed income and the impact of guaranteed income on families and communities. . Taiwo believes that a narrative shift on public benefits is necessary for systemic change. “These pilots that appear are serving a larger conversation with policymakers,” she said. “Our pilots are an example of how this could work – it’s not supposed to be work.”

At least one other city is pushing to join the movement. In St. Petersburg, Florida, community activist Kofi Hunt and massage therapist Rissa Wray launched the St. Pete Supports Arts campaign to use the city’s general municipal election in November to advocate for a monthly income guaranteed for artists. “We thought if we could talk about it during the campaign process, we could gain momentum before [politicians] even took office, ”says Wray.

At the same time, the duo interview local artists to get an idea of ​​their monetary needs and concerns. “Inadequate compensation is already a common topic of discussion among St. Pete artists, and for this reason a guaranteed income is a welcome idea – although it is primarily a new idea for artists with whom we talked, ”says Wray. “Many are surprised that this is even an option.” Hunt adds that the campaign highlights a value of many local artists: “The idea of ​​art as a public good. ”

St. Pete Supports Arts interviewed 12 city council and mayoral candidates on Zoom, with questions from local artists. (After the recent primaries, six of those candidates are still in the running.) “Everyone has been very keen to share in the struggles and injustices they have endured,” Wray said. The reception of the proposal has been positive, say the two men, and they are optimistic that they will continue to build momentum across the city.

For them, work comes down to the core values ​​of guaranteed income. “We view human beings not as tools of the market, we view human beings as intrinsic value,” Hunt said. “It’s not radical … what we’re talking about is simply a reappropriation directed at the artists and the creation of a space where they can defend themselves politically as a pillar of the community.”

Emily Nonko is a Brooklyn, New York-based reporter who writes about real estate, architecture, urban planning, and design. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Curbed, and other publications.

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