SAN FRANCISCO — Open up the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA)’s new Artist Power Center website and you’ll see four boxes: “I Want Relief Funds,” “I Want to Learn,” “I Want to Engage,” and “I Want to Help.” If you click on the box for relief funds, you’ll be directed to categories such as, “Funds by Region,” “Musicians,” and “Arts Workers and Freelancers.” The website is designed to help artists navigate emergency relief funds during COVID-19.
Poet and spoken word artist Tayleur Crenshaw appreciates this kind of simplicity. “I really enjoyed that the site was so easy to navigate — you can click ‘I Want Relief Funds,’ and be directed,” she said. “The buttons are very clear.”
Crenshaw was one of 20 artists who gave feedback on an early version of the Artist Power Center. She suggested that the site, which before was primarily black and white, have more color, which it now does.
The site went live on May 12, supported by a six-month grant from the San Francisco software company Zendesk. Four full-time YBCA staff members research opportunities for artists, and another 10 full-time staff members respond to phone calls and texts to walk artists through grants that might be best suited to them and how to apply.
Crenshaw used the site to search for funds. Nothing has come through yet, but she has only praise for the person from YBCA who worked with her. “We developed a relationship with her guiding me through the resources,” Crenshaw said.
As well as looking for opportunities for herself, Crenshaw, who started Gold Beams with Maud Alcorn, curating events for Black creatives, has been emailing members of the community about the site and looking for opportunities for them. She set up a biweekly talk with the YBCA staff member to talk about possibilities for them.
Staff members are enjoying helping artists find funding, says YBCA CEO Deborah Cullinan. Researching, tagging, and removing out-of-date opportunities, as well as offering concrete support and direction to artists, allows YBCA staff member to use their empathy and creativity.
“They’re people who really want to help, and activists with a point of view,” Cullinan said. “It’s really important for our staff members who have been isolating for months to feel like they’re contributing.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic devastated many artists’ incomes, Cullinan says the staff members at YBCA were looking at the role they could play in bringing arts workers together and supporting them. In April they launched the Artists Now relief fund, partnering with Zoo Labs, Black Joy Parade, and Always Win Together. The Artist Power Center builds on that, and along with funding, provides opportunities for artists to come together, such as a community forum where they can discuss subjects like health and wellness and the anxiety that comes with applying for funding.
Artist Sam Vernon, who teaches at the California College of the Arts, co-wrote a blog post for the forum about Blk Mkt Vintage’s Instagram photo essay, “We Been Inside.” It’s useful for artists just to be able to talk to one another about their experiences, Vernon says, and to offer emotional support.
“This could be completely new territory for people or maybe they lost several gigs all at once and have never applied for a grant before or haven’t in a long time,” Vernon said. “I was reading that 95% of artists reported some kind of loss of funds. People are wanting to engage and needing to seek out aid.”
Vernon also offered feedback on the site in the early stages. She wanted it to be as clear as possible, for those feeling stressed and overwhelmed, to navigate.
“One of the goals was to focus on clearly listed and available categories that made sense like ‘Small Business Owners’ and ‘Artists of Color,’” Vernon said. “We focused on how to navigate through it and the hotline is important because if you don’t understand, you can call if you have any questions in English or Spanish.”
The Artist Power Center goes beyond just funding, Cullinan says. “Our immediate and long-term vision is to be a place that focuses on building ecosystems that contribute to making a better world,” she said. “Artists are essential drivers of social cohesion.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Deborah Cullinan was the director of YBCA, rather than the CEO. This has been amended.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.