Artist Impact Stories

Marika Brussel

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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.

San Francisco-based instructor and choreographer Marika Brussel remembers when she fell in love with dance. While watching her mom, a modern dancer, rehearse on a studio floor misted by sweat, a new world opened. “It smelled like work, and also like love,” said Brussel, naming the childhood revelation that became a career.

A teaching artist, writer, and contemporary ballet choreographer, Brussel reshapes narratives by crafting dance pieces on stigmatized issues, including mental health and homelessness, that touch her family and community. “I want to tell stories that mean something, and choreography is my medium,” said Brussel. “I want people to feel like they can change things after being in a theater, as they would at a rally.”

The COVID-19 pandemic forced Brussel to bring the studio to her home, beginning a grind of virtual teaching from her attic. Keeping a “relentless” schedule while doing her best to support colleagues and students, the physical, financial, and emotional tolls converged.

“As dancers, it’s really hard to keep in shape without rehearsal space. I’ve never been more injured than during the pandemic,” she said, listing a pulled calf, three torn hip muscles, and knee damage as injuries not fully addressed, largely due to the systemic inadequacies of medical care. “Health care, physical therapy, [and] insurance coverage—it’s not built for artists. I just had to keep going.”

For every moment of levity, including the joy of connecting remotely with dancers across time zones and continents, the loss of Bay Area students and friends was constant. “So many people and young dancers left. There aren’t enough resources for artists, which means everybody is vying for the same money [and the] same space.”

Grappling with the pandemic and theater closures while racing to make ends meet, Brussel applied for the San Francisco Guaranteed Income Pilot for Artists (SF-GIPA) in early 2021. As a participant, she sees guaranteed income as a guide “to put one foot in front of the next… making space to move forward and plan.” The monthly cash payments were pivotal to help Brussel complete a pandemic-era ballet she created, as well as to sustain her entire
10-person dance company.

“Our production, House of Names, was shut down. When I got SF-GIPA funds, I was able to pay the dancers with the money,” Brussel said. “Though the pandemic is not over, it’s been a huge relief.”

Brussel looks ahead to upcoming productions and projects, including choreography grounded in healing and repair. In a call for continued action, she lifts up the connection between economic and mental health that SF-GIPA bridges.

“There is the eased stress of paying bills and rehearsal space, having to go month to month,” she said. “More importantly, the arts and artists aren’t appreciated across America, and I hope guaranteed income will be a part of changing that.”

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

Lead image: Dance choreographer and instructor Marika Brussel weaves history, emotion, and advocacy into her productions. In this sequence based on her family’s escape from the Holocaust, she guides dancers Sasha Gologorskaya and Ismael Acosta in movements evoking love and remembrance between siblings. Photos of Marika Brussel by LexMex Art.