Artists painting murals with NYC high school students as part of the City Artist Corps program (Courtesy Van Vorst Films)

A new program spearheaded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will provide guaranteed income and jobs for up to 2,700 artists living throughout New York State.

The $125 million initiative, Creatives Rebuild New York (CRNY), will issue monthly, no-strings-attached payments to up to 2,400 artists with financial need over the next three years. The program will also fund the salaries of an additional 300 artists, who will be employed by dozens of partnering community-based organizations across the state, for two years. The artists employed through the program will receive a salary commensurate with New York State median income data in addition to benefits and dedicated time to focus on their practice.

“Support for New York’s artists and for the organizations that support their vital work is critical for a full economic and social recovery of the state, which relies on the arts and culture for 8 percent of its economy,” the program’s website says. “CRNY aims to catalyze systemic change in the arts and cultural economy, recognize the value of artists’ contributions, and reshape society’s understanding of artists as workers who are vital to the health of our communities.”

New York’s arts sector was one of the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report by the state comptroller last February. The report found that two-thirds of arts, entertainment, and recreation jobs in the city evaporated in 2020. Statewide, about half of these jobs were lost. An even deeper crisis faces immigrant artists in the city, who report diminished livelihood sources with little to no aid from local authorities. 

According to the nonpartisan organization Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, cited in CRNY’s website, guaranteed income “is meant to supplement, rather than replace, the existing social safety net and can be a tool for racial and gender equity.”

The program, first announced in June 2021, is led by arts administrator Sarah Calderon, previously the managing director of ArtPlace America, a 10-year grantmaking effort that ended in 2020. According to the original announcement, artists will serve as “critical partners” in the design and implementation of the initiative as key members of an advisory group that also includes researchers, organizers, and leaders of local arts organizations.

Funding for CRNY comes primarily from the Mellon Foundation, with $10 million from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) and Ford Foundation. Application guidelines for interested artists will be released on February 14.

The initiative joins NYC’s $25 million City Artist Corps program, announced last May, which promised to create jobs for more than 1,500 artists — some of whom have already been employed to beautify and activate public spaces with murals, public artworks, and performances. It’s worth noting that both CRNY and City Artist Corps will only benefit a fraction of more than 56,000 artists living in the city (as of 2015).

Last year, the City of San Francisco launched its own Guaranteed Income Pilot for artists, which provides monthly payments of $1,000 to 130 local artists. Originally conceived as a six-month program, it was later extended and expanded with funding by Twitter Founder Jack Dorsey.  

“Simply put, we must move beyond valuing the artistic product and begin to value the humanity of the artist,” CRNY’s website says. “Artists need and deserve to be paid predictable and regular incomes.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at 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...