Twitter C.E.O. Jack Dorsey Just Gave $3.5 Million to San Francisco’s Experimental Program Offering Guaranteed Income for Artists

Artists will receive monthly payments of $1,000.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Guaranteed Income Pilot. Courtesy of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

As San Francisco prepares to begin offering guaranteed income for artists, Twitter C.E.O. Jack Dorsey has donated $3.46 million to the pilot program through his charity #StartSmall.

News of the gift came as the city announced that it had selected the inaugural cohort of 130 recipients, all of whom were set to receive $1,000 a month for six months. But thanks to the new funding, the program will now be expanded to run for a year and a half, and payments will be extended to an additional 50 artists.

Mayor London Breed first announced the basic income program, which is administered by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in October as part of the city’s economic recovery plan.

“To know that we have the confidence of #StartSmall to be able to truly pilot this, to grow from the six-month pilot the city has funded to an 18-month pilot, to be able to deepen the learnings and also to be able to add artists, is truly extraordinary,” Yerba Buena C.E.O. Deborah Cullinan told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Guaranteed Income Pilot. Courtesy of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Guaranteed Income Pilot. Courtesy of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

The Yerba Buena Center will work with five other San Francisco arts and culture organizations to each select at least 10 participants to receive the payments. There will be an emphasis on communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic, including Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander, disabled, immigrant, and LGBTQ applicants.

Cullinan sees the program as an expansion of the center’s “commitment to advancing new economic models that address systemic racism and inequity and historic financial instability in the arts sector,” she said in a statement. “The learnings from this expanded pilot will ensure that we can pave the way for local, state, and national policies and models that are equitable and resilient.”

Dorsey has expressed his support for universal basic income, also known as UBI, in the past, Tweeting that “UBI is a great idea needing experimentation.”

The first round of applications for the program was open from March 25 to April 15. Applicants had to live in one of 13 zip codes identified as being the hardest hit during lockdown, and make less than $60,900 a year, among other eligibility requirements. The recipients were chosen at random from the 2,594 applications, and 95 percent were either persons of color, LGBTQ, immigrants, or disabled. Only 35 percent were white.

The city’s efforts to support artists have also involved launching a San Francisco Creative Corps pilot program in November, which employed 60 performing and visual artists to create public health murals in storefronts or to work as community health ambassadors to encourage safe behavior through creative performances.

As mayor, Breed has been vocal about the need for federal support for the arts. She signed a letter in May 2020 calling on then President Donald Trump to include arts funding in a federal aid package, and in January of this year, asking President Joe Biden to establish a 21st-century version of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration.

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