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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

San Francisco's "Chinatown" artists to receive monthly funding of $1,000

Artists of Chinatown in San Francisco
Artist Jeanette Lazam interviewed by Jiatian Wu, CCC's engagement and evaluation analyst. (Photo courtesy of David Huang with Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco via Bay City News)

Ten artists from Chinatown in San Francisco were selected for monthly funding of $1,000 for 18 months as part of a guaranteed income pilot program for artists.

So, this Wednesday, the San Francisco Chinese Culture Center announced the artists selected for the program, part of a partnership with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where they each shared stories about their lives and what they hoped to accomplish with the funds.

"Artists in our communities need sustainable support that can also be compatible with overall safety net programs with no strings attached," said Jiatian Wu, engagement and evaluation analyst at the Chinese Cultural Center. 

"We hope that with this community pilot of guaranteed income, we can show a model that can be supportive for these artists who are often forgotten," he abounded.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts first launched the guaranteed income pilot in May 2021, which was born out of the idea of supporting artists living and working in the city of San Francisco, disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The first cohort of beneficiaries was selected through a public application process, but the results generated controversy among the public for not prioritizing those with the greatest needs. 

For the second cohort, Yerba Buena Center adjusted the selection model, working with six community organizations and allowing each to nominate 10 artists based on their own criteria. The Chinese Cultural Center was one of the organizations.

"All artists have a path to give back to the community," said Jenny Leung, executive director of the San Francisco Chinese Cultural Center, in discussing some of their selection criteria.

To make the selection process more empathetic and grassroots, the Chinese Cultural Center decided to tap into community stakeholders and talk to the nominated artists in their homes and studio spaces over a 10-month cycle. 

They prioritized those who actively contribute to the community, mentor other artists and those who have not been supported or recognized.

The ten winners ranged in age from 19 to 88 years old. They are photographers, painters, art educators, filmmakers, illustrators and Cantonese opera artists living in San Francisco's Chinatown. Four are over 65 and five are monolingual immigrant artists.

"In reality, there are many barriers for local artists in our community who contribute a lot to our community but are not fully recognized in mainstream funding sources," Leung said.

Due to language and technology barriers, traditional funding methods are often inaccessible to Chinatown artists, many do not have a translation, and it can be particularly demanding for seniors to apply when everything is online.

Artist Minxiong Li showing his negatives of his photos of Chinatown. (Photo courtesy of David Huang with Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco via Bay City News)

Leung recalled the Chinese Cultural Center staff helping an elderly Chinese paper-cutting artist apply for the Central Subway Public Art Program. They had to provide digital scans of his work and translate his biographical statement, all of which were required for the nomination process, actions that could hardly have been done by the artist himself.

"All of that creates barriers for someone who is very good at their craft and their art, but not familiar with the system," Leung said.

The 10 artists have already received monthly funding starting in February, which will continue for a total of 18 months.

During Wednesday's event, the selected artists shared how the guaranteed income affected their lives so far, from how the funds allowed them to reside and stabilize in Chinatown, to how they were able to purchase materials to sustain their art.

Leung said the Chinese Cultural Center will communicate with artists to see how the funding will continue to impact them, and hopes the event can lead to more accessible funding opportunities in the future.

With information from Bay City News

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