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A protesters at a rally for increased city funding of the arts at Foley Square in Manhattan on May 8, 2021 (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

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In May, the City of New York announced the program City Artist Corps, a $25 million New Deal-style initiative to put artists to work. At the time, it was estimated that the program would provide employment to just 1,500 artists, but in an announcement yesterday, June 7, the city revealed the full details of the program, which will employ thousands of artists via public art projects.

A major highlight of the initiative is the distribution of one-time $5,000 grants to more than 3,000 artists to create public art across the city’s five boroughs. The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) will begin distributing the grants through local arts organizations in July. The first cycle of funding opens on June 8, and additional cycles will be announced later this summer. Artists working in any discipline are eligible to apply on NYFA’s website.

The program will provide much-needed relief, as New York’s art sector was hit hardest during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report by the NY state comptroller in February, the city has lost two-thirds of its arts and recreation jobs. Just last month, a group of over 100 workers convened at Foley Square in Lower Manhattan to demand immediate city relief for artists and art organizations who have been gravely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The rally was held on May 8, two days after Mayor Bill de Blasio first announced the City Artist Corps initiative with little detail about its concrete plan of action. “The devil is in the implementational detail,” Jazz musician Jerome Harris told Hyperallergic in response to the announcement of the program. “There’s not a victory until we see that the application process is easy and that the distribution of jobs is equitable.”

With yesterday’s announcement, the “implementational detail,” as Harris phrased it, has become more clear.

Another project within the program is City Canvas,  in which the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the nonprofit ArtBridge will commission 60 artists to install temporary murals and other artworks on sidewalk sheds and construction fencing throughout the city’s public housing system. The project, which provides a $6,000 stipend per artist, is an expansion of a pilot program launched by the city in 2018. The deadline for applications is June 28.

A third component of the City Artist Corps program is led by the NYC Department of Education, which will recruit more than 400 artists as instructors at its free Summer Rising program. The selected artists will engage students of all ages in collaborative mural making and performing arts activities at over 200 schools throughout the city. A spokesperson for the DCLA told Hyperallergic that the funds were distributed directly to schools to recruit and work with artists. Each participating artist will receive approximately $9,000 for the six-week program. 

Overall, City Artist Corps is expected to provide work to around 3,460 artists for a limited period of time. That number may increase in the coming months as the DCLA releases more information throughout the summer, but it remains a negligible fraction of more than 56,000 artists living in the city as of 2015.

Editor’s note 6/9/2021 12:33pm: This article has been updated with comment from the DCLA about the salary for Summer Rising instructors.

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...