Artist Impact Stories

Chris Watts

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Launched in May 2021 with the San Francisco Arts Commission and Grants for the Arts, and extended with additional funding from Start Small, the San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot for Artists (SF-GIPA) provides monthly unconditional payments of $1,000 to 130 San Francisco artists over a period of 18 months.

YBCA Sr. Manager of Artist Investments, Stephanie Imah, and Director of External Affairs, Aisa Villarosa, sat down with San Francisco artists and SF-GIPA participants to talk about how SF-GIPA impacted them, their loved ones, and their creative communities.

Inside Chris Watts’ home studio, the 30-year-old Bayview visual artist uses every inch of his living area to craft and create, storing rolls of canvas in his fireplace and sprawling out on his floor to paint. Watts’ philosophy, that creating is a sacred learning process, lives in his work. Brightly hued hieroglyphs—an Egyptian-influenced alphabet of his own design—line the walls, calling for the reimagination of language and communication. Creations celebrating Blackness, including a hand-painted globe spotlighting the continent of Africa, defy oppressive narratives and structures, including many Watts has experienced in the art world.

Over ten years into his practice, Watts is a pillar of his creative community as a co-founder of Nu Species, a collective for artists systematically shut out of opportunities due to inequity and injustice. While making ends meet has never been easy, Watts gives his whole self to uplifting space for his peers to simply exist. “Especially as Black and Brown people, when we get to sit down and rest, we get to contemplate,” he said. “[Nu Species] gives opportunities to artists who lack that access. There’s something that is calling me to create a world for others where they feel included.”

“Once you’re full, you’re able to share with others, provide for others. We could live in a really beautiful world if people had the resources to live out what they love to do.” – Chris Watts

Watts applied to the San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot for Artists (SF-GIPA) during a time of acute grief and uncertainty. At the beginning of 2021, he was living in flux after the loss of a romantic and artistic partnership, the recent passing of loved ones including his grandfather, and other life-altering shifts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that left him uncertain of the future.

“I have survived off of so little. But I’m not trying to survive anymore, I intend to thrive,” said Watts of how SF-GIPA gave him the relief to breathe economically, and in doing so, transformed his art and worldview. “People have been creating from struggle for so long. Imagine the ideas that can come when you don’t have to struggle, when you don’t have to worry about where your money will come from next.”

The effects of SF-GIPA—what Watts defines as “an extra pillow of security”—were immediate and clear. Beyond helping Watts pay for more known basic needs, the monthly funds led him to secure and expand his art practice—an invaluable tool to give back to and enrich his community. Through SF-GIPA, Watts reunited with his mom and family on the East Coast, including loved ones he had not seen in several years and some of whom he met for the first time. After being without a computer for a decade, he used the guaranteed income to buy a tablet and virtual drawing accessories, growing his talents and audience with technology that was previously out of reach.

Most of all, the unrestricted cash payments yield what Watts calls “emotional currency”: the ability to create out of joy, rather than conflict or suffering. With the COVID-19 pandemic magnifying housing and economic insecurity for artists across San Francisco, Watts will keep his home studio and collective open to anyone who needs room to rest, collaborate, and dream.

Learn more about Chris Watts and his practice here. More on the San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot for Artists (SF-GIPA), Powered by YBCA at

Lead image: Visual artist Chris Watts uses his entire Bayview home studio to create. Photos of Chris Watts by LexMex Art.