Mayor London Breed and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts today announced a new pilot program that offers no-strings-attached payments to San Francisco artists whose work centers on marginalized communities, and who have suffered financially during the pandemic.
In addition, applicants must currently live and work in San Francisco and earn less than $60,900 as an individual. The program will choose 130 recipients via a lottery, and award them $1,000 a month for six months, beginning in May, 2021.
Already, Jessica Maria Recinos, a Latina choreographer and the artistic director and CEO of the Excelsior-based professional dance company Rising Rhythm, heard news of the program and felt spurred to apply. As Covid-19 financial problems threatened enrollment for Rising Rhythm youth dance classes in 2020, Recinos supplied scholarships to keep them dancing.
However, this required Recinos to compensate for the loss by using her own savings. The $1,000 a month — if she gets it — may reimburse her, or would go to other Rising Rhythm programs, she said.
“We took a hit financially in our company, but we’d rather have our dancers continue to train and dance, and to have something to keep them happy and inspired to contribute to their mental health,” Recinos said. During shelter-in-place, she’s had to rely on community members to keep her fed, she said, as unemployment and stimulus checks were delayed and insufficient.
Unlike some other grants or fellowship programs, beneficiaries of this initiative don’t need to produce a project or other artwork to get the funds. Plus, “artists can use the money that they receive in any way that works for them,” an email from the YBCA to Mission Local said. This echoes other universal basic income programs and guaranteed income programs floated in the city and in other parts of the Bay.
However, this will be the city’s first-ever guaranteed income program earmarked exclusively for artists. The mayor and YBCA hope it will begin to revive the cultural and art scenes in the hardest-hit areas of San Francisco.
“The arts are truly critical to our local economy and are an essential part of our long-term recovery,” Breed said. “This new program is an innovative effort to help our creative sector get through this challenging time.”
The program also seeks to rope in arts and cultural institutions that engage traditionally underserved or under-represented communities. The city and YBCA outreached and collaborated with organizations like SOMA Pilipinas, Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, and African American Art and Culture Complex.
The city and YBCA also approached Dance Mission Theater, a facility on 3316 Mission St. that includes a 140-seat black-box theater and three dance studios, and Galería de La Raza, the “Xicanx/Latinx” art nonprofit established in 1970, for their input on the program.
Already, Dance Mission Theatre’s executive director Krissy Keefer, who co-founded the institution after forming the feminist dance collective Dance Brigade in 1984, said she forwarded the application to three artists she knows who could benefit from the money, including Recinos. Artists, like other industries, severely struggled during this time.
“There’s huge swaths of art that has not gone back, including indoor classes and performances,” Keefer said. “To be able to do your art has become virtually impossible, on top of the fact that art is already underfunded. I know a lot of artist friends who are on unemployment, which is helping, but this will do more.”
Keefer believes art and creativity are essential to people’s well-being during this time. The scant performances Dance Mission has been able to put on “thrilled” spectators and participants alike, Keefer said. For example, the space converted into one of the city’s Community Learning Hubs and offers in-person assistance for online classes to some low-income students; after the school day is done, Dance Mission also holds dance, taiko drumming, and visual arts classes for these students.
There were also outdoor performances at the 24th Street Mission BART Plaza, and a Día de Los Muertos performance with Rising Rhythm. “It was very special and beautiful,” Keefer said.
Another performance between the two and other organizations will take place this weekend; Recinos was loading “15 costumes” for the show in her car when she spoke to Mission Local.
Funds for this guaranteed income artist program come from a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Arts Impact Endowment, which funds community-driven initiatives through Proposition E.
While artists like Recinos and Keefer agree that this program, along with the others are a “great start,” they both think that more can be done by the city for artists and for underserved communities, like the Mission and the Excelsior, going forward.
Not only does the Mission District possess a longstanding history of diverse and community-driven art — such as the Brava Theater, Precita Eyes Muralists and Loco Bloco — but the neighborhood has consistently been one of San Francisco’s most impacted areas when it comes to Covid-19. Latinx residents also make up 41 percent of the total Covid-19 cases and 21 percent of Covid-19 deaths, though they are only 15 percent of the population.
“I would like to see what the plans are post-pandemic, and how these programs can still be available knowing how artists have proven to be very essential within moments of crisis,” Recinos said.
Those interested in throwing their name in the ring can check their eligibility and apply through this site before April 15, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. Recipients will be notified April 20, 2021.