San Francisco will provide $1000 a month in basic income to 130 artists for six months

Mayor London Breed on Thursday announced the launch of a program that will provide artists with a guaranteed basic income. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Eligible artists must be aged 18 and over, have suffered loss of income due to the pandemic and have an artistic practice “rooted in a historically marginalized community.”

By Joshua Sabatini

San Francisco on Thursday launched a six-month guaranteed income pilot program that will give 130 local artists affected by the COVID-19 pandemic $1,000 monthly.

Artists in neighborhoods hardest hit by the pandemic can start applying today to participate and payments to those selected will begin in May, Mayor London Breed announced.

The initiative, Breed said, is meant to “help our creative sector get through this challenging time.”

“The arts are truly critical to our local economy and are an essential part of our long-term recovery,” Breed said in a statement.

“If we help the arts recover, the arts will help San Francisco recover.”

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) is administering the program through a $870,000 city grant approved by the Arts Commission in December. The nonprofit will accept applications from eligible artists until April 15.

“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,” Deborah Cullinan, YBCA’s CEO, said in a statement.

“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.”

It is the latest guaranteed income project, also known as universal basic income (UBI), to launch in the nation. The model is growing in popularity for its potential to lift people out of a cycle of poverty, address income inequality and improve health outcomes.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf on Tuesday announced a program where $500 per month will be given to 600 low-income families of color for at least 18 months. Schaaf called the model “one of the most promising tools for systems change, racial equity, and economic mobility we’ve seen in decades.”

Next month, San Francisco’s newly-formed Guaranteed Income Advisory Group will begin to convene to advise The City on launching a pilot for up to 1,000 participants to receive at least $500 per month without restrictions.

A final report from the body is due by Dec. 1. The group was formed under legislation introduced by Supervisor Matt Haney and approved by the Board of Supervisors.

San Francisco is already trying other types of guaranteed income pilots. Last September Breed announced the Abundant Birth Project, where about 150 Black and Pacific Islander women in San Francisco would receive $1,000 monthly income without conditions for the duration of their pregnancy and for the first six months of their baby’s life .

Last month, Breed and Board President Shamann Walton announced a plan to use an initial $60 million in repurposed law enforcement funding on programs to help the Black community which included $7 million for a guaranteed income pilot program. The detail for this effort have yet to be released.

The City has talked about a guaranteed income program at least as far back as 2016 as the tech boom exacerbated San Francisco’s income inequality.

At that time, the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector submitted an application for a $100 million grant to the MacArthur Foundation, in partnership with New Haven and Detroit, to pilot a universal basic income project where select low-income families with toddlers would receive $1,000 or $2,000 a month for two years, as previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner. The application was unsuccessful.

YBCA intends to notify selected applicants by April 20 and they must confirm their participation by May 4.

Eligible artists must be aged 18 and over, have suffered loss of income due to the pandemic and have an artistic practice “rooted in a historically marginalized community.”

Artists are broadly defined to include music, dance, creative writing, visual art, performance art, installation, photography, theater, or film. Teaching artists are also eligible.

There are both income and residency requirements. For a single household an artist could not earn more than $60,900 a year to qualify, while for a household of four the household’s income could not exceed $87,000 a year.

Artists must be living in 13 of San Francisco’s 27 zip codes, which were selected based on factors including COVID-19 case counts. This includes neighborhoods like the Bayview and the Mission.


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