San Francisco to give $1,000 a month to artists in basic income program

Guests observe an exhibit in a museum.
Guests visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on March 15. The city is launching a guaranteed income program that will provide $1,000 a month to 130 eligible artists.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Certain San Francisco artists may receive $1,000 a month under a new city program, the latest in a series of universal basic income initiatives cropping up in cities across California.

The guaranteed income pilot program will dish out the funds for six months to 130 eligible artists, according to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts website. To qualify, applicants must be San Francisco residents under certain income thresholds who faced economic loss during the pandemic.

The program is open to every artistic tradition, including music, dance, creative writing, visual art, performance art, installation, photography, theater, film, arts education and craftsmanship. The artist’s work must be “rooted in a historically marginalized community,” according to the website.


“The arts are truly critical to our local economy and are an essential part of our long-term recovery. If we help the arts recover, the arts will help San Francisco recover,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “This new program is an innovative effort to help our creative sector get through this challenging time, and come back even stronger and more resilient than before.”

Applications for the program are due April 15, and applicants should be notified if they are selected by April 20. The first payments will be issued at the end of May, according to the YBCA website.

Stockton pioneered a locally distributed guaranteed income in 2019 by issuing $500 checks to 125 mostly low-income residents. A recent study showed that the money resulted in better health and well-being, plus more success in finding full-time work, for recipients.

Other cities have joined suit, including Compton, Long Beach and West Hollywood.

The coronavirus crisis may mean that the time has come for universal basic income’s closeup.

May 22, 2020

Though tailored to artists, San Francisco’s program follows in the tracks of another recent guaranteed income initiative in neighboring Oakland.


Mayor Libby Schaaf announced a guaranteed income program Tuesday to give $500 per month for 18 months to 600 families in Oakland.

“Our vision is an Oakland that has closed the racial wealth gap and where all families thrive,” she said in a video posted to Twitter. “We believe that guaranteed income is the most transformative policy that can achieve this vision, and this time has come. We believe that poverty is not personal failure, it is policy failure.”

Oakland will join dozens of cities across the country that are testing guaranteed income and reporting results to the coalition Mayors for a Guaranteed Income.

“We understand that civil rights has always been about protection not just from police brutality but also from the brutality of poverty,” said Michael Tubbs, former Stockton mayor and founder of the coalition. “The brutality of economic insecurity, the brutality of not being able to know if your bills will be paid every month, and not because you’re not working hard.”