Street artist Nelson Rivas (aka Cekis) is one of the recipients of the Creatives Rebuild New York (CRNY) guaranteed income grants. (all images courtesy CRNY)

Beginning today, November 17, 2,400 artists and cultural practitioners will receive their first no-strings-attached paychecks from Creatives Rebuild New York (CRNY), the largest statewide guaranteed income program in the country to date. They will receive $1,000 per month for a year and a half, with a cumulative sum of $43.2 million to be distributed over the course of the initiative. 

“Scrambling at the end of the month to make rent because a gig’s check hasn’t come in the mail yet has become my reality. I didn’t realize how stressful that was until I received this funding,” Kristen Brooks Sandler, a Guaranteed Income for Artists participant, said in a statement. “The relief isn’t just financial; it’s emotional, physical, mental, and artistic.”

First announced in June 2021, the $125 million initiative is backed by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and Ford Foundation. Its program design draws on insights from precursors like the New Jersey Graduated Income Work Experiment — a direct cash transfer experiment conducted in the 1960s that showed that sending people money didn’t stop them from working in meaningful ways — and current pilot programs launched under the auspices of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. In San Francisco, the city launched a guaranteed income pilot in 2021 that disbursed $1,000 per month to 130 artists for a period of 18 months. Also in 2021, the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota, and the non-profit Springboard for the Arts collaborated to administer a guaranteed income pilot that disbursed $500 per month to 25 artists for the same period.

In total, 22,000 people applied for monthly payments; the 2,400 lucky recipients were selected through a weighted, randomized process to ensure an even geographic distribution throughout the state and to privilege those with the greatest need. Some 62% of recipients identify as BIPOC, 51% identify as LGBTQ+, and 21% identify as immigrants. About 65% live in New York City.

Artists are disproportionately financially burdened, despite being integral to New York’s cultural identity and economic health. According to a report by the state comptroller in February 2021, employment in arts, entertainment, and recreation in New York City experienced the biggest blow of all industries in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic — a stark reminder that the arts sector remains precarious in times of financial downturn. “CRNY’s Guaranteed Income for Artists program is built on the premise that all artists are deserving of financial security, and was designed to help artists meet their basic needs,” CRNY said in a press release.

Direct income programs have gained in popularity in recent years, with several experts suggesting that a universal basic income hovering around $1,000 per month would help reduce poverty while compensating people for unpaid labor and aiding their pursuit of creative ambitions.

Jasmine Liu is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University.