Guaranteed Income Pilot Story

Learn more about how the San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot works from the team that launched this groundbreaking initiative at YBCA.


At YBCA, we are committed to exploring and testing new economic models that address systemic racism, inequity, and economic insecurity in the arts and culture sector and in society. We believe that guaranteed income has the potential to provide a path to building sustainable economic opportunities for artists in communities that have been historically underfunded, specifically in our Black/African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Latinx, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and immigrant communities. Our goal with the first phase of the San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot is to provide direct, unconditional support to artists who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as important, we aim to test and learn from this model so that we can demonstrate its efficacy and advocate for systemic change in the arts sector and in society at large.

What is Guaranteed Income?  

Guaranteed Income is an economic model that provides regular, unconditional cash payments to individuals or households with no strings attached and no work requirements. According to Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, “A guaranteed income is meant to supplement, rather than replace, the existing social safety net and can be a tool for racial and gender equity.” This model differs from other social safety net practices by providing a steady, predictable stream of cash to recipients to spend as they see fit without limitations. While guaranteed income is not a new concept, the model has gained considerable traction in the United States over the past year due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasingly stark reality that our social support systems are not adequately addressing the fragility in our sector. Cities across the country are launching guaranteed income pilots to supplement the existing social safety net for individuals who have suffered severe financial losses during the pandemic.

Unlike the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI), which refers to a government program that gives regular cash transfers to all citizens, this Pilot is targeted to a specific group: artists living in San Francisco facing pandemic-related economic insecurity.


Why create a Guaranteed Income Pilot specifically for artists?

Artists play a critical role in the well-being of our communities and in the economic, social, and cultural fabric of our cities. At YBCA, we believe that communities are the best builders of their own futures and that artists are essential to the work of reimagining, reawakening, and rebuilding our country. Artists bring unique talent and skill to fostering cohesion and belonging, building trust, activating civic engagement, addressing mental health, cultivating collective safety, and celebrating community identity. Artists will do the essential work of helping us make meaning of these times.

Yet, though we know that artists are essential to a more just and equitable future, this past year has revealed the inadequacy of our existing social support systems, and in particular, the fragility of our arts and culture ecosystem. The economic disruption across our country in the past year has specifically devastated the creative, hospitality, and entertainment industries. Americans for the Arts’ report COVID-19 Impact Survey for Artists and Creative Workers found that 62% of artists have become fully unemployed because of COVID-19 and 95% have experienced income loss from COVID-19.

By implementing a Guaranteed Income Pilot that concentrates on a specific community or region, in this case San Francisco artists who have experienced extreme economic hardship, we are able to focus our research to learn more about the impact that this kind of no-strings-attached income can have on an artist’s life. We are able to explore in particular impacts on artists who create positive ripple effects in their communities. What impacts will we uncover that go beyond direct, immediate impact? In what ways are artists transformed by guaranteed income?

As an organization on a journey toward an aspiring shared future with artists—one that leaves behind transactional relationships that are destabilizing and creates transformational relationships that are ongoing—how can we reflect this ethos in society? We dream of a just economy that cares for its people by not only having basic needs met, but by allowing people to thrive. Guaranteed income for artists. And guaranteed income for all who need it. We know we need new ways of understanding artistic return and value that go beyond a monetary exchange. And so, in that context, how might we reshape our economy to provide for everyone, including our essential artists and culture makers?


Why is YBCA doing this work?  

YBCA is proud to serve as the implementer for the Guaranteed Income Pilot for artists and is committed to creating initiatives that challenge inequitable systems and address the economic inequity and insecurity both in our communities and in the arts and culture sector. As a longstanding cultural anchor in San Francisco, we have a track record of designing and implementing many grant, funding, and open call programs that focus on artists, organizations, and communities that have been historically underfunded, including Black/African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Latinx, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and immigrant communities. Recent examples of these initiatives include the COVID-19 rapid response relief fund we developed in collaboration with ZooLabs, Always Win Together, and Black Joy Parade, which awarded immediate $500 relief grants to 345 recipients, 80% of whom identified as BIPOC and 25% as LGBTQIA+, and the launch of an artist-led Giving Circle, a form of participatory philanthropy where artists from Black/African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Latinx, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+, and immigrant communities have complete ownership over the design of a pooled fund. Together, they will collectively decide where to make grants and/or investments in their communities.

Given our organization’s mission and experience in working on these types of programs, we knew that we could support the timely need of providing financial support to the San Francisco arts community while also contributing to the growing movement for guaranteed income across the country. We also had a high level of confidence that we could raise additional private capital to extend the San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot and launch a new pilot to complement our learnings and expand the impact. Therefore, we applied to partner with the Honorable Mayor London Breed and the City of San Francisco to serve as the administrator of the San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot for artists.  As we move forward, YBCA will continue to respond to the pressing concerns in our community through a combination of programs, pilots, and services to meet artists’ needs and to advocate for structures and policies that address systemic issues.


What is the San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot?

In collaboration with San Francisco Mayor London Breed, YBCA is implementing  the San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot that is specifically for artists living and working in San Francisco and from communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic, including Black/African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Latinx, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and immigrant communities. This first phase of the Pilot is providing monthly payments of $1,000 to 130 eligible San Francisco artists for six months, which began in May 2021.


Who has funded the Pilot?

The funding for this six-month Pilot was awarded to YBCA by the City of San Francisco’s Arts Commission’s (SFAC) Arts Impact Endowment Fund, established through Proposition E, to provide funding for community-driven initiatives. Funding was provided in partnership with The Office of Racial Equity at the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. YBCA applied for this grant through an open application process and was selected to receive the grant based on SFAC’s evaluation process.


Who is participating in the Guaranteed Income Pilot?

The Pilot includes 130 San Francisco-based artists who are contributing to the social, cultural and economic fabric of our city and doing work that is essential to our recovery and regeneration. This past year has revealed that so many artists are doing powerful work with little to no safety net, creating an urgent situation. For these reasons, this Guaranteed Income Pilot is focused on reaching those artists who have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

All 130 artists (100%) randomly selected for the Pilot are:

Artists with very low incomes (according to San Francisco-level Housing and Urban Development guidelines).

Artists facing loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Artists that reside in a program-eligible San Francisco zip code. 

Artists that have an artistic practice rooted in a historically marginalized community.

Demographics of the 130 selected artists: 95% identify as at least one of the following demographics: Black/African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Latinx, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander; LGBTQIA+; disabled; immigrant. 64% identify as Black/African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Latinx, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander. 35% identify as white. 2% wrote in their own race/ethnicity. Close to half (49%) identify as LGBTQIA+. Over half (52%) identify as disabled and almost a fifth (19%) identify as an immigrant.

Zip codes of the 130 selected artists: Approximately 24% represent 94110. Approximately 15% represent 94117. Approximately 10% represent 94112. Approximately 9% represent 94102. Approximately 9% represent 94103. The remaining less than 30% of applications represent 94109, 94124, 94134, 94107, 94115, 94158, and 94108.


How was the Guaranteed Income Pilot designed?

The San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot was designed based on significant input from community members, research across the growing field of Guaranteed Income experiments, and learnings from existing programs in the field, including the The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED).

 YBCA worked with the following arts and community organizations who represent and are comprised of Black/African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Latinx, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, immigrant, and LGBTQIA+ artists, in addition to diverse arts leaders in San Francisco, to ensure that the process was accessible and that these communities were not only aware of the Pilot opportunity but also encouraged and supported to apply.

SOMA Pilipinas

Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center

Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco

Dance Mission Theatre

Galería de la Raza

San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company

Members of the Racial Equity in the Arts Working Group

Two individual artists, poets Tongo Eisen-Martin and Kim Shuck


How did you reach the hardest hit communities?

YBCA and our partners built a comprehensive and community-centered outreach strategy to ensure that the Pilot reached artists in communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, including Black/African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Latinx, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and immigrant communities. This reflected in the Grantmakers in the Arts Racial Equity in the Arts Statement of Purpose and San Francisco’s Cultural Equity Endowment Legislation. Our outreach led to more than 2,500 applications, two thirds (67%) of which were from Black/African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Latinx, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander applicants. YBCA also consulted with and hired seven San Francisco artists and culture workers, with experience supporting artists in our focus areas, to ensure that the application process was accessible and reach the artists in communities hardest impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

How were the eligibility requirements determined?

The first phase of the San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot is funded by public dollars and focused on reaching artists who have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. YBCA worked with our city partners and our community advisors to determine a set of eligibility requirements in accordance with California Proposition 209 that would enable us to meet the Pilot goals and to reach artists most in need, including Black/African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Latinx, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and immigrant communities. The following are those eligibility requirements: zip code, income level, loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and artistic practice rooted in a historically marginalized community.

Specifically, how were the eligible zip codes determined?

Twelve of the program-eligible zip codes were determined by the city of San Francisco’s data on areas hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic (as determined by case count) and one was determined by input from leaders of San Francisco arts and culture organizations. All 13 were reviewed by SFAC.

The 13 program eligible zip codes included the following neighborhoods:

94102 : Chinatown, Mid-Market, Hayes Valley, Tenderloin, Western Addition

94108: Chinatown, Downtown, Lower Nob Hill

94110 : Bernal Heights, Mission, Potrero Hill

94112 : Bernal Heights, Crocker Amazon, Excelsior, Ingleside, Merced, Mission Terrace, Outer Mission, Oceanview

94124 : Bayview Hunters Point, Potrero Hill, Silver Terrace

94134 : Excelsior, Portola, Visitacion Valley

94103 : SOMA

94107 : SOMA, Potrero Hill

94109 : Chinatown, Tenderloin, Western Addition

94115 : Western Addition

94117 : Western Addition

94130 : Treasure Island

94158 : Mission Bay


Who applied for the Pilot?

YBCA received 2,594 applications for the Pilot. Of the total applications, 67% identify as Black/African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Latinx, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander; 31% identify as white; 2% wrote in their own race/ethnicity and 2,746 (95%) of applications reported San Francisco zip codes (i.e. were San Francisco residents). A handful of applications reported out of state zip codes or zip codes in California, but outside of San Francisco.

How were Pilot participants selected?

Our process for selecting the 130 Pilot participants was designed based on significant input from community members, research across the growing field of Guaranteed Income experiments, and learnings from existing programs in the field, including The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED). To ensure a selection process that eliminated bias of any kind, we compared several methods including weighting tools and randomizing tools. Based on strong feedback from our community advisors and regarded practice in research trials, we determined that randomization prevents selection bias and eliminates accidental bias. Based on this input, we utilized a randomizing tool to arrive at the 130 pilot participants from the 2500+ applicants. 

First, all applications were screened to meet program eligibility criteria based on their self-reported zip code, income level, loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and artistic practice rooted in a historically marginalized community.

Next, a group of 130 potential participants, plus an additional 50, were randomly selected using the randomizing software Graphpad. Once verified as artists based on a review of art submissions, the first 130 randomly selected participants were asked to submit residency and income verification documents, such as a USPS stamped piece of mail, an individual’s 1099 or tax return from 2020, to confirm final acceptance into the Pilot.

During this verification process, applicants who were found not to have met the eligibility criteria for the program were removed from the eligible pool. The YBCA team then went back to the additional pool of 50 potential participants, and selected the next applicant on the list. This process was repeated at each step an applicant needed to be removed due to not meeting the eligibility criteria. Each selected and notified applicant had 1-2 weeks to submit verification documentation for residency and income.

Once the 130 participants were confirmed, they received their first cash payment via direct deposit or  prepaid debit card (based on their preference) on or by May 21, 2021. Subsequent payments continue to be made on the first Friday of each month from June 2021 to October 2021.


How is YBCA supporting artists during the Pilot?

YBCA has employed a cohort of four BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ identifying-artists from San Francisco with experience supporting and working with Black/African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Latinx, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and immigrant communities to support participants during the first two months of the Pilot program. These artist advocates worked alongside the 130 randomly selected participants to answer questions, provide support, and build community over the first few months of the Pilot.

In addition, we provided financial coaching, with language translation support, through Smart Money Coaching, San Francisco’s free and confidential one-on-one financial coaching program.

How are you measuring the Pilot’s impact?

YBCA has partnered with the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine to conduct an Institutional Review Board-approved quantitative study as a part of its program impact measurement and evaluation process. The study will use anonymous surveys to look at changes in economic security, well-being, health, and artistic capacity over time in both Pilot participants and a control group of eligible non-participants. This research will inform advocacy efforts to advance economic security via unconditional cash transfers, with a specific focus on artists.

Already, YBCA has been sharing implementation learnings and insights with peers and communities of practice in the guaranteed income movement. Throughout the Pilot, we will continue to share what we’ve learned to support the growing field and contribute to local, regional, and national policy efforts, which are critical aspects of this work in service of economic justice.

How can we learn more about the Guaranteed Income Pilot participants?

YBCA is committed to lifting the voices of artists and community members who are advancing equity, health and well-being. Whenever possible, we work to share stories about artists and their powerful impact in communities. YBCA also respects the privacy of those who have applied to the program. We will publicly share names or personal information only if a participant volunteers to be identified.

Over the course of the Pilot, YBCA will capture and share the stories of participants who consent to share publicly how their lives have been impacted by the Pilot. We look forward to sharing the stories of these artists and learning more about how the Guaranteed Income Pilot has impacted their lives.


In addition to the six-month San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot, does YBCA plan to extend or expand on this pilot?

One of the reasons that YBCA applied to partner with the City of San Francisco on the six-month pilot is because we had already been in pursuit of private funding to continue to test models like guaranteed income. During the design phase of the current Pilot, we successfully raised an additional $3.4 million from #StartSmall in order to address some of the restrictions of public funding and so that we could incorporate community feedback. 

With this additional funding, we will extend the current Pilot an additional 12 months The current 130 artists who are participating will have the option of receiving $1,000, no strings attached, for an additional 12 months, making the duration of the current Pilot a total of 18 months. This will enable us to provide these artists with continued economic stability, while gathering meaningful data and aligning the timing with other guaranteed income  pilots across the country.

This additional funding will also enable YBCA to co-design and execute a new pilot with community partners in order to work with specific communities. We will partner with at least five community organizations who will select up to 10 artists from their community. These artists will receive $1,000 a month for 18 months.

Combined, these two pilots will enable us to support at least 180 artists over 18 months. The additional funds will also enable us to incorporate feedback from the community. We will collaborate with partners in order to build capacity and resilience in our creative ecosystem.

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about our work.

Notes on data:

All demographic data is self-reported.

The data of the Guaranteed Income Pilot is extremely sensitive. As the implementers of the Pilot, we maintain strict confidentiality with applicants and participants. We are especially cognizant of any information that could be identifiable because of the very small sample size of this Pilot.

Additional questions?

Please contact us at pilot@ybca.org.