Learnings on Equity and Solidarity

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YBCA strives to create programs that make a real impact on the artist communities we work with. As we uplift each artist and their own story demonstrating the power of unconditional cash through the San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot for Artists (SF-GIPA), we also acknowledge where we have more to learn. Feedback from our community partners specified that community engagement efforts did not meet standards for equity. We seek to ever-improve our work toward equity, fairness, and inclusivity in how we design and implement artist investment models, across the entirety of this organization, all programs and processes, and in community with each other.

Opened to the public in 1993, YBCA believes that artists, creative workers, and culture-bearers are uniquely equipped to meet our hardest challenges by bringing curiosity and creativity together with social, racial, and economic justice. 

Championing investment models with a racial equity lens furthers YBCA’s commitment to dismantling structural racism and oppression not only in our economy, but in the everyday lives of artists of color, their families, and their neighborhoods. 

Our “why” for this work is in our origin story. The name “Yerba Buena” comes from Spanish colonizers of the land now called San Francisco, and our building sits on a sacred Ramaytush Ohlone shellmound built by the Yelamu. YBCA was created by the City as an act of urban renewal, displacing residents, including the Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Filipino and AAPI elders, families, artists, and businesses at the heart of the SoMa neighborhood. 

As a San Francisco cultural institution that has benefited from the labor, contributions, and artistry of communities grappling with past and present inequity, we acknowledge this history to recognize our role in community displacement and upheaval. With this, we also acknowledge our duty toward clear, meaningful action to dismantle harm–namely, the root causes of inequality, including structural racism, that undergird our laws, policies, and economy.

The San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot for Artists (SF-GIPA)

With initial public funding from the San Francisco Arts Commission, and later expanded through additional private funding from #StartSmall and Mackenzie Scott, YBCA launched the San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot for Artists (SF-GIPA) in May 2021.  

The positive impact was immediate. We heard directly from artists about the “breathing room” created by a guaranteed income: sustaining colleagues and each other; meeting loved ones for the first time; creating and continuing to fuel Black and Brown queer/trans spaces and solidarity movements–and, relatedly, the infinite ways artists uplift and unite their communities.

At the same time, we heard from many community leaders, activists, and organizations the ways in which our outreach and engagement efforts for SF-GIPA fell short. Pivotal conversation that followed affirmed that the pilot design process diminished authentic community input and created barriers around the application process most hurtful to BIPOC artists.

As guaranteed income implementers have long documented, effective, equitable, and just policies must center those who have been excluded from or penalized by our economy due to systemic oppression, discrimination, and structural racism. 

Despite the clear need for economic models with an equity lens, the legal consequences tied to public funding for guaranteed income can hinder the ability to target core demographics such as race and gender. In order to navigate these public funding restrictions, YBCA was confronted with, and at times, selected, imperfect proxies and practices during the SF-GIPA design process. Additionally, rapid timelines foreclosed community members from providing meaningful input. In these moments, we did not move at the pace of equity, to the detriment of our stakeholders, including those closest to the structural racism undergirding our workforce and the arts.

As SF-GIPA implementation began and the COVID-19 pandemic continued to magnify economic inequity, we sought to balance care and urgency. While working to ensure that the artists selected to participate in SF-GIPA could successfully receive their cash payments, we heeded stakeholder calls to pause, listen, and reflect, not only in the field of guaranteed income but within and across our organization.

These challenges, and the collaboration required to meet them, affirm that SF-GIPA would not be possible without the San Francisco Bay Area artists and organizations contributing invaluable time, talent, resources, and care to realizing a guaranteed income. Leaders of these organizations are anchors of their communities, particularly San Francisco’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color & LGBTQ2S+ artists, and therefore represent the communities served by this program. Guided by their expertise and wisdom, YBCA owns where we have more to learn, laying the groundwork for actions to address harm.

YBCA acknowledges the artists and advocates who never ceased to give voice to their communities during and beyond the guaranteed income design, engagement, and implementation process. We are grateful for the stakeholders who reached out to program staff to share feedback and advocacy, and all who never stopped calling us in, trusting that we at YBCA could do and be better.

We also acknowledge that this guaranteed income program, while finite, is part of an ongoing reckoning with inequities in our cultural investments and economy. We at YBCA are committed to prioritizing care and accountability, to ourselves and our stakeholders, to shift systems, decisionmakers, and funding toward centering BIPOC, LGBTQ+, immigrant, and disabled artists and communities disproportionately denied access to power, safety, and dignity.

The Creative Communities Coalition for Guaranteed Income (CCCGI)

As a result of iterative learnings and partnerships from SF-GIPA, six San Francisco Bay Area cultural organizations and previous SF-GIPA advisors joined with YBCA to form the Creative Communities Coalition for guaranteed income (CCCGI). In October 2021, CCCGI launched its own guaranteed income demonstration, with funding and technical assistance from YBCA, to distribute $1,000 in unconditional cash to sixty San Francisco artists for 18 months. CCCGI prioritizes artist communities at greatest risk of displacement, including those 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 overpolicing and the carceral system; housing insecure and unhoused artists; and senior and youth artists.

CCCGI’s core organizations, Black Freighter Press, Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco (CCCSF), The Transgender District, Dance Mission Theater, Galeria de la Raza, and the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company (SFBATCO), co-implement the guaranteed income program with YBCA while stewarding their local artistic, cultural, and political communities. These Coalition leaders holistically support the artist participants in CCCGI and one another, modeling for YBCA what it means to work in true partnership.  

In closing, we acknowledge the civil and human rights leaders who paved the way for the contemporary idea of a guaranteed income, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Poor People’s Campaign, the Black Panther Party and the Ten-Point Platform, and the National Welfare Rights Organization’s call for economic justice. Their advocacy has allowed other champions to enter the space, pushing us to rethink the ways we care for and uphold one another’s dignity and livelihoods.

Together, the SF-GIPA and CCCGI guaranteed basic income programs join a continuum of learning that demonstrates how unconditional cash can change lives. Pilot programs such as these, experimental at their core, build on collective knowledge and exist to imagine a more fair and just world.

As we move forward, we return to our “why”—to invest and repair with intention, grounded in the belief that guaranteed income is a model towards economic liberation. We seek to apply this equity-driven commitment to not only our investments at YBCA, but to all work that directly impacts the communities we serve, are accountable to, and collaborate with.