Inside the Movement for Guaranteed Income for Artists

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On a sunny afternoon, Erica Madera is giving a video tour of the Castro alongside her trusty camera operator, Nestor Aquino. The banter between them is easy and lived-in; they’re best friends, and Nestor’s deadpan delivery is a perfect companion to Erica’s infectious energy. She’s giving it her all, chatting with friends in Dolores Park, then taking us along to a drag show and then to catch a drink at a local bar.

The tour is part of Erica’s vlog, “The Beautiful Parts of San Francisco,” where people who can’t be in San Francisco on a day-to-day basis get to experience Erica’s life as a trans woman in one of the most iconic cities in the world. Each 30-minute episode tours a different SF neighborhood, focusing on LGBTQ+-friendly spots. The vlog is an opportunity to share the places in her city that have welcomed her, shaped her and provided her a safe environment to live as a trans woman. It’s a much-needed resource Erica wishes she’d had growing up in a small town outside of Stockton.

“My trans experience is my art,” says Erica. “Through my tour vlog and my podcast, I try to be as vulnerable as possible. I don’t want to portray myself as the perfect portrait of an internet personality. I have a lot of issues and it translates. I feel like it’s my duty to post my authentic self.”

Across town at Dance Mission Theater, Jocquese Whitfield ― known professionally as SirJoQ ― is teaching a lively cast of characters how to Vogue at Jocquese’s weekly Vogue & Tone class. Vogue was a dance that began in 1930s New York City, then was resurrected by the queer community after Stonewall as an act of defiance and celebration of their identity. Vogue is characterized by model-like poses inspired by Vogue Magazine integrated with angular, linear and rigid arm, leg and body movements and includes famous moves like Catwalking, Duckwalking and Dipping. The dance style has influenced all types of modern dance, from hip-hop to contemporary. If you don’t know how to Vogue, here’s a quick tutorial, taught by SirJoQ themselves.

“Vogue saved my life,” says Jocquese. “Vogue was the reason I came out. It has a special place in my heart. Every day I teach, I think about how Vogue helps anyone express what’s really inside.”

To Vogue is to express something about oneself that elsewhere may be obscured or overlooked. For Jocquese, it’s not only a way of expressing themselves as a non-binary person of color, but it’s a way of paying it forward to a community that has embraced them. Those taking Jocquese’s Vogue class leave feeling empowered, and hopefully able to carry the momentum that validation brings with them into their everyday lives.

Both Jocquese and Erica are artists engaged in an important cultural project. Because culture drives social change, the art made by these vital Bay Area artists is helping reshape how Americans think about gender, sexuality, race, and class, the goal of which is to live in an equitable society that celebrates our differences.

In September 2021, YBCA convened six Bay Area community leaders, activists, and artists to implement a new guaranteed income program. The community-led initiative, funded by Jack Dorsey’s #StartSmall Foundation and Mackenzie Scott, implements a $1.3 million, 18-month guaranteed income program focused on San Francisco artists grappling with the harms of structural racism, displacement, and inequity exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a coalition-led effort, sixty San Francisco-based artists will receive an unrestricted $1,000 per month. The first payments began in October 2021, with the program expanding over subsequent months to encompass all sixty artist participants.

By providing a monthly stipend for artists, especially those adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCCGI is creating a pathway to economic security for artists of communities typically overlooked and underserved by traditional funding sources ― namely, artists of color; immigrant, refugee, non-English speaking and undocumented artists; queer and trans artists; sex working artists; artists in communities grappling with over-policing and the carceral system; housing-insecure and unhoused artists; and senior and youth artists. Leaders of the organizations in CCCGI are cultural, spiritual, and political stewards of their communities, particularly San Francisco’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color & LGBTQ2S+ artists, and therefore represent the communities served by this program. YBCA took in account feedback received from the community to create CCCGI and ensure equity and transparency amongst the participants and supporting organizations.

“Shout out to YBCA ― they showed me so much love!” says Jocquese. They admit to falling into a depression when they were separated from their studio during the pandemic. When the CCCGI first began providing funds, they wept. “The program has allowed me to cherish my art. I can use the money to collaborate with other artists and survive.”

Erica faced similar challenges during the pandemic, noting that before she was a participant in the program, she was often housing-insecure. Having moved from Stockton to escape an environment where it wasn’t safe to be herself, Erica struggled to pay rent in exorbitantly priced San Francisco.

“The program 100 percent saved me from being evicted,” Erica recalls. The program allowed her the flexibility to continue making her art while she looked for a good job. Now Erica works as a full-time YouTuber, producing content for her YouTube channel as well as creating content for a high-profile tech company. Between the CCCGI program and her new salaried job, she’s finally housing-secure and able to focus on helping others. 

“Everyone’s definition of success is different,” she says. “For me, it’s living in the Castro and making my art.”

Both artists see their work as necessarily political, reflecting the Coalition’s individual and collective ongoing mission. In addition to advocating for artists’ guaranteed income, the Coalition calls for a pivot away from merit-based arts funding and, instead, toward economic models that unconditionally trust people to make the best decisions for themselves and their families–ultimately placing artists and community at the helm of sustainable investment strategy.

The CCCGI program is part of a global, national, and statewide trend of guaranteed basic income programs. California has set aside over $35 million for a basic income program providing $1,000 per month to qualifying pregnant people and young adults leaving the foster care system. Cities like Oakland and Compton, plus Marin, San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties, have all launched similar programs. 

The need is pressing. A graduate of UC Berkeley, Erica says it took a year of working with a local nonprofit Transgender District – which is part of the Coalition – plus her community-led selection into the CCCGI’s guaranteed income program to save her from a life on the streets. Her friend and fellow UC Berkeley grad wasn’t so lucky and is currently living unhoused.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to be involved with the program,” she says. “If you’re struggling with finances, gender identity, mental illness, school, find someone to help you! In turn, if you’re in a better place, ask others if they need something. It’s all about cultivating a supportive community.”

The Coalition’s mission goes beyond artists. Everyone deserves economic security. When our residents are financially secure, it leaves a direct, lasting impact on our collective health and well-being, creating the conditions for healthy, cohesive, safe and engaged communities. 

“I’m humbled and honored to be in the program,” says Jocquese. “Life is short, and everything is not promised to you. So when you get a great opportunity, you gotta pay it forward.”

To learn more about the Creative Communities Coalition, visit 

This piece originally appeared as part of SF Gate’s Story Studio.

Lead image: Erica Madera. Photo by LexMex Art.