On the Road to Recovery — Funding the Arts in San Francisco

London Breed
7 min readMay 22, 2021

The arts are such an important part of our city’s economy and soul. They draw people to San Francisco — whether that’s to live here, to visit our city, or to explore and learn about the communities that make San Francisco the special place that it is.

Here in San Francisco, we are fortunate to have vibrant and diverse arts and cultural organizations, and a strong community of artists. From performers and muralists, sculptors and singers, to world-class museums, performance venues, cultural centers, and vibrant cultural districts, San Francisco has a lot to offer.

“If we help the arts recover, the arts will help San Francisco recover.” — Mayor London N. Breed

But this community has been hit hard by the fallout from this pandemic. In this moment, we need to do everything we can to support the Arts and our artists, so they can continue helping us lead the City’s recovery.

Mayor London Breed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

As we look to the future of our City, we know that we need our arts to recover. San Francisco just wouldn’t be the same without it. That’s why, from the very beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been doing all we can to support the arts here in San Francisco.

When COVID-19 first hit in March 2020, the arts — just like everything else — had to shut down. And while some museums were able to reopen, we know the past year has been especially tough on smaller organizations and performance venues, and the artists who depend on these spaces for their livelihoods. As a City, we’ve been working to help arts organizations reopen safety, and have provided financial support through a variety of programs — but we know it has still been really challenging for the arts.

Thankfully, we’re in a much better place than we were a year ago. San Francisco is reopening and I’m confident that we’re coming back even stronger than before. As we move forward, I want to make sure that the arts are able to bounce back, recover, and keep growing.

Mayor Breed with Jenny Leung, Executive Director of the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco

City Support for the Arts

Yesterday I announced that my proposed City Budget, which will be submitted June 1st, will include a significant investment of $16.2 million to fill the gap in arts budgets due to COVID-19. This money from the General Fund will ensure arts and cultural programs are able to operate, grow, and recover in San Francisco. This funding will fill the gap in arts funding that has resulted from lower than expected hotel tax revenues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and will support San Francisco’s Grants for the Arts, Cultural Districts, the Arts Impact Endowment, Cultural Centers, and the Cultural Equity Endowment.

This infusion of City money builds on our support for the arts over the past year, which has been a combination of continuing funding for our existing programs and creating new programs to meet the needs of artists and arts organizations that have arisen due to COVID-19.

Guaranteed Income for Artists

Most recently, we launched the Guaranteed Income for Artists pilot program, which provides 130 San Francisco artists with $1,000 per month for six months with City funds. The first round of payments were issued yesterday. The program is going to be extended for another 12 months and support even more San Francisco artists, thanks to a $3.46 million donation from #Start Small, Jack Dorsey’s philanthropic initiative to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which is administering the program.

We created this program to support artists living and working in San Francisco who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including Black, Indigenous and People of Color, immigrant, disabled, and LGBTQ artist communities. The guaranteed income program is part of our efforts to support individual artists and arts and culture organizations, particularly under-represented and often under-resourced artists and organizations, and is one of several guaranteed income programs that we’re piloting in San Francisco.

COVID-19 Arts Support

In addition to continuing investments in existing programs like Grants for the Arts, the City has advanced several programs in direct response to the pandemic. In some cases, the City has adapted existing funding and programs to meet the needs of artists and arts and culture organizations. This includes things like helping the arts sector reopen and providing operating grants, rather than project-based grants.

Just yesterday, the City launched the “Together We Heal” campaign, in partnership with the San Francisco African American Arts & Cultural District. The community campaign features residents from San Francisco’s African American communities and is as part of the City’s continued COVID-19 recovery efforts.

Relief Fund for Artists

In March 2020, the City launched the Arts and Artists Relief Fund, which provided $2.75 million in grants and loans for artists and arts organizations. This Fund provided financial support for the local arts sector struggling from substantial income loss due to COVID‑19.

Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund

We created the $3 million Music and Entertainment Venue Recovery Fund to provide financial support for San Francisco venues that have been closed due to COVID-19. These venues are such a big part of our nightlife and culture, and it was important that we do what we could locally to prevent their permanent closure.

Arts Hub

The City is supporting arts educators and teaching artists most impacted by COVID-19 and has funded a web-based Arts Hub, which offers a one-stop resource for organizations to find information about funding, grants, and other resources.

We have also funded the Sankofa Initiative, which supports the healing and creativity of communities of color most affected by COVID-19. The Sankofa Initiative’s focus on Arts Education prioritizes access to creative exploration for those most in need through three project areas: cultural preservation, professional/wellness development, and access to technology and art supplies.

Artists in Residence Program

San Francisco also selected four regional artists of color to serve as the Artists in Residence at the COVID-19 Command Center. Each artist, two photographers and two comic artists, spent three months embedded at COVID Command and in the field with various outreach and support teams. During the residency period, the artists created photo and illustration portfolios that will become part of the San Francisco Public Library’s COVID Community Time Capsule.

Creative Corps Pilot Program and Paint the Void

In November 2020, the City launched the Creative Corps pilot program, which has employed local artists to create COVID-related public health PSAs. The City has also funded murals throughout San Francisco in partnership with Paint the Void, which has created jobs for artists and helped to build community with volunteer painting days.

Paint the Void mural

The City also commissioned a mural in the Mission District’s Clarion Alley, which was conceived of and painted by a local emerging artist, Elizabeth Blancas. The mural features large portraits of nationally acclaimed Latinx poet and public speaker, Yosimar Reyes, embracing his grandmother, Mardonia Galeana, an 86-year-old entrepreneur known as Mama Doña. The City worked with the Clarion Alley Mural Project to create a mural that delivers a message of safety, love, and hope for the Mission community.

Mural in the Mission District’s Clarion Alley, which was conceived of and painted by a local emerging artist, Elizabeth Blancas

Commissioning Artists for Poster Series

In summer 2020, San Francisco commissioned 10 artists to create posters to celebrate healthcare workers. The poster series, HEROES: San Francisco Thanks Frontline Healthcare Workers, celebrated and thanked healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients.

Left: artwork by Nicole Dixon; Right: artwork by Juan R. Fuentes commissioned by the City for the poster series HEROS: San Francisco Thanks Frontline Healthcare Workers

Continuing programs that support artists

Grants for the Arts

In August 2020, we awarded $12.8 million in grants to 277 arts and cultural organizations, with a focus on ensuring we were allocating funding equitably. These investments help enhance the City’s public spaces, provide employment and enrichment to residents, and continue to expand San Francisco’s artistic and cultural diversity.

A wide range of organizations, parades, and festivals were awarded funds including Project Level, San Francisco Transgender Film Festival, and the Northern California Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Foundation. These general operating support grants increase funding for organizations deeply-rooted within the Black and trans communities by an average of 34% over the prior year.

San Francisco Arts Commission

In June 2020, we announced grant awards totaling more than $4.6 million to 154 individual artists and arts organizations. $1.4 million will go to 71 individual artists and 83 organizations will receive $3.2 million.

Just this month, we announced a total of $4.1 million in grants to our arts sector. Thirty seven organizations received $2.8 million and $1.3 million was awarded to 65 individual artists.

Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative

In April 2021, we awarded funding through our Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative to several organizations in San Francisco, including a program that program music, dance and arts access at an affordable housing site in the Mission. The Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative helps stabilize nonprofits that provide services and support to residents as part of the response to COVID-19 and beyond. Grants are administered by Community Vision, which will announce the next request for acquisition proposals in June 2021 and will offer several workshops with more information.

Recovering Together

The arts are going to continue to be an essential part of our economic recovery and the future of San Francisco. I am looking forward to seeing more arts return to in-person events — from plays, musicals, parades, community cultural celebrations, gallery viewings, concerts, and more — all across San Francisco.