YBCA guaranteed income pilot program extended

Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco has been sending a check to local artists once a month since May. 

There is no rule on how to use the money. They can pay for rent, art supplies, or whatever else helps them live and work in the increasingly costly city. 

Over the years, and especially during the pandemic, it’s become more challenging to create and make rent. One artist says this pilot program has been a lifeline for his life’s work. 

“Creating is such a human thing but the paradigm we live under now doesn’t foster that. So it takes humanity out of life in general because it’s robbing people of their birthright,” Chris Watts said. 

Watts has been creating art for the last decade but in that time, it’s become harder to get by as the cost of living in San Francisco skyrocketed, forcing him like many others to make money while staying true to his identity as an artist, because Watts explains, this form of self-expression is as much a necessity as water.

“It fills me with joy, it brings me to tears, it makes me contemplate it make me like stop… it just… that’s a really good question. Yeah, art is everything for me,” Watts said.

YBCA stepped in with a city grant and now private funds to give Watts, who is one of 130 artists, $1,000 every month to spend how they please for 18 months. The guaranteed income pilot helped Watts book a trip back home to see loved ones in New York for the first time in three years.

“We’re acknowledging how important the arts is in general and that this income program has been really great in that regard of like, okay, we appreciate you and what you do so here is extra money and that’s a blessing,” Watts said. 

More than 90% of the funds focused on BIPOC and queer artists who fell below the line financially to make ends meet and lived in a zip code hit hardest by the pandemic. 

“The pandemic in so many ways was a mirror or a magnifying glass to rising inequity… Something that always scratches our heads at YBCA is the phrase starving artist. Which really is part of a toxic narrative that for whatever reason has persisted in our economy, it really drives home this wrong notion that an artist has to starve or chooses to be poor to create. When we know that the opposite is true. That artists like all people, deserve nourishment, deserve what they need to not just get by, but to thrive. And then it goes deeper than that because we know that artists are cultural leaders, they’re healers, they’re the anchors of their communities,” said Aisa Villarosa, Senior Director of External Affairs at YBCA.

Leading up to Native American Heritage Day next week, YBCA has also extended a deadline for Indigenous artists to apply for a grant of up to $2,500 to go toward artist-led meetings or activities held either online or in person. That deadline is now November 21st. For more details, visit the YBCA website or the Guaranteed Income Pilot for Artists website.

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