A Public Letter about YBCA's Guaranteed Income Pilot

There's something curious going around a new programs for artists; here's some questions I have.

Recently, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Mayor London Breed announced a new Guaranteed Income Pilot for artists, which has been billed as a universal basic income in some press reports. KQED published a piece about it as did the SF Chronicle, Mission Local, SFist, SF Examiner… You get the idea. It’s getting LOTS of press, and it is again painting San Francisco as some sort of artists haven.

The truth is much much more complicated and messy, and NONE of the reporters are covering what is a much bigger story that highlights quite clearly an issue of corruption in City Hall and with our San Francisco non-profits.

Below is a letter I sent to Chloe Veltman with KQED asking her to dig into this issue a bit more. I am publishing it here unedited. Please feel free to use it, cut and paste it, edit it, share it with others in the San Francisco arts community and beyond.

We must demand better from San Francisco arts institutions and the City itself.


Dear Chloe: 

I read your article about YBCA and their announcement of a UBI, and I am following up with some information that is crucial to your reporting. 

First, I think it is important that any article that mentioned Prop E also come with a disclaimer about who sits on the San Francisco Arts Alliance, which oversees Prop E monies. Deborah Cullinan and Jonathan Moscone, both of YBCA, sit on that committee. In fact, Deborah is the Co-Chair of the committee. Here is a Press Release saying as much from May 2020. It didn't take long to find as this is out in the open. 

Additionally, the campaign organizer of Prop E has been requesting a public account of all Prop E funds spent since it was passed in 2018. The committee still hasn't release a public accounting of funds. Prop E was voter approved to financially support Cultural Centers and Cultural Districts (both specific policies) and culturally specific programs. YBCA is none of these things. 

How is it that the Co-Chair of the Prop E Oversight Committee is also the one receiving a new investment of monies from Prop E funds? 

With the ongoing corruption scandal unfolding throughout City Hall, this strikes me as another story of corruption. 

Also, this is not a UBI. I encourage you to actually talk to UBI experts and to not rely on Deborah Cullinan or London Breed as experts on UBI. They are not. There is nothing Universal or Basic about this program. Also, it is my understanding that UBI is actually a benefit from government towards its residents. Who are the residents of YBCA? Who is YBCA ultimately accountable? It is NOT San Franciscans. It is their Board. That's how non-profits are structured. This is all to enrich YBCA and not the City. This is just a mini-grant program with good marketing. 

Also, YBCA is also a curator of arts, culture, and civics in San Francisco Bay Area. Isn't there a conflict of interest between this supposed UBI and the fact that they curate who is considered an artist? There are numerous fiscal sponsors and regranting organizations in San Francisco, Independent Arts & Media is just one, that DO NOT have curatorial departments. So why was YBCA chosen?

Moving Prop E money out of San Francisco Arts Commission also bypasses oversight of public funds. Who chose the algorithm that is choosing the artists who get UBI? How can we even know to trust that company who designed the program if we do not know what company is supplying the technology? For any SFAC grant, there is a public, open process where you can go and observe decision-making. The structure of this UBI grant avoids public accountability.

Moreover, this whole program is something that San Francisco artists have been demanding for over two decades. This is not unique to YBCA, Cullinan, or Breed. In fact, they are appropriating the work of grassroots activists that have been trying to push San Francisco Arts Commission to create a program that just pays artists to live. There has been massive push back over the years to how SFAC is structuring its grants. Mostly, artists have been requesting some sort of fund that is not tied to outcomes of production. I remember being in a meeting about five years ago with Kolmel withLove and Kevin Seaman at SOMArts about Queer and Trans Arts and Performance, which was a part of SOMArt's The News. We brainstormed there a fund for artists. This was brought up again in organizing meetings with Arts for a Better Bay Area, and I know it even made it into their list of recommendations in 2016-2017. To say that this is something new or innovative thought up by the City or YBCA is a slap in the face to the artists who have been demanding this.

And....if this supposed UBI program was housed within SF Arts Commission it would better address the demands made by artists. 

Finally, how much money is YBCA getting to administer this program? What was the selection process? Where is the sunshine? 

It is frustrating to see KQED not asking any actual questions about this and basically repackaging a YBCA + Breed Press Release.

Please consider follow up reporting on this item. We must shine a light on the ways in which San Francisco City Hall is corrupting public process, and this is a very clear example of the banality of corruption. 

Jason Wyman

image description: a play on YBCA’s marketing campaign, “center for the art of,” with the phrase being “center for the art of redevelopment & colonization.”