San Francisco Mayor London Breed has announced the city’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan, and parts of the cultural sector will take a piece of the pie. Among the plan’s most notable features is a $1,000 monthly stipend for 130 selected artists during a period of six months starting early next year.
The stipend is part of the city’s larger Basic Income Pilot for Artists program, which will funnel nearly $6 million in funds to arts organizations as well as individual cultural workers, like teaching artists. The Office of Economic and Workforce Development will also set aside $265,000 to commission artists to paint murals on boarded-up businesses, and performers to promote coronavirus-safe practices in high-traffic public areas.
San Francisco is facing a budget deficit of $1.6 billion due to the pandemic. The new plan hopes to bring some relief to the city’s hard-hit ACHE (Arts, Culture, Hospitality, and Entertainment) sector, which is expected to have a slower economic recovery than others, according to the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force report released last Thursday.
Artists living in San Francisco were already facing financial hurdles due to rapidly rising rents in the city. According to one 2015 survey, over 70% of respondents were forced to move out.
At a time when 95% of US artists reported losing income during the pandemic, the move to secure a monthly stipend for even a small group of creators was seen by many as a cause for celebration. But some critics of the measure say the pool of recipients is too limited.
Still, Max Ghenis of the Universal Basic Income Center told the libertarian magazine Reason that the program is particularly laudable because it is unconditional — meaning selected artists won’t have to fulfill work requirements and can use the money for any purposes, unlike some other welfare programs.
In addition to its direct aid initiatives, the city’s Arts Commission plans on funding an online Arts Hub to help artists and organizations network and access financial aid and employment opportunities.