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Guaranteed Income for Artists: Reflecting and Looking Ahead

May 16, 2022

To everyone on the Guaranteed Income for Artists journey with us: we thank you. We’re deeply grateful for your patience, kindness, and flexibility while we navigate this new territory alongside our organizational partners. Our goal is to minimize the ups and downs for all artists who seek to be part of this work. While we’ve made considerable progress, there have certainly been bumps in the road, and we therefore want to continue to use this blog space to share back with our broader community.

In this post we’ll talk about the Guaranteed Income for Artists selection process, name valid critiques we hear and which resonate with us, and address our partnership with Steady—both to articulate the excitement for what’s to come and to address issues that folks have experienced.

Selection Process

After the application period closed on March 25, we implemented our weighted randomized selection process. We moved through this work with an unflagging commitment to adhere to our eligibility requirements while maintaining accountability to the overall direction and values set by our Think Tank.

We hear you loud and clear that ‘weighted randomization’ doesn’t make a lot of sense out of context—and we agree. So, what is weighted randomization, anyway? And why is it central to the values behind guaranteed income?

If you were able to join one of CRNY’s Info Sessions between February and March, you would recall our discussions about our commitment to prioritizing folks who face barriers to financial security: specifically folks who identify as Black, Indigenous, People of Color, LBGTQIAP+, immigrant, Deaf/disabled, caregivers, those who live in rural parts of the state, those without financial safety nets, and those who are criminal legal-system involved.

Weighted randomization allowed us to anonymize applicants and put them in a ‘hat.’ Applicants who identified with one or more of the priorities above were put in the hat more than once. From there, 2,400 artists were selected at random from the ‘hat,’ and a handful more were put on a waitlist. Put another way: artists who hold those prioritized identities and life circumstances were more likely to be selected. That said, all eligible artists—regardless of their identity, circumstance, and location within New York State—had a chance of being selected. 

We were able to implement this process because of the application itself. The questions we asked in the initial application were directly tied to one of three things: the randomized weighted selection process, verification of eligibility requirements, or future onboarding to receive payments. While some applicants have voiced concern about folks misrepresenting themselves on the application, our values inspired us to operate from a place of trust while likewise balancing the need for due diligence on behalf of our fiscal sponsor and funders. 

The fact that CRNY collected data for the reasons noted above has made some participants feel uneasy, particularly because we have not yet released demographics or disciplinary statistics about the artists who were pre-selected. Because the verification and onboarding process takes time, we can only share that information once those who were pre-selected are verified and/or individuals from the waitlist are moved to the final pool. We estimate this process to be complete in the fall of 2022, at which point we will share aggregate data about the pool and its alignment with our target priorities. The names and individual identities of Guaranteed Income for Artists participants’ will never be made public by CRNY, though participants are, of course, welcome to voluntarily share this information with their respective communities.  

Last but not least: applicants were invited to complete an optional Portrait of New York State Artists Questionnaire. Those additional, optional questions have no bearing on individuals’ chances of selection, but rather will provide the foundation for CRNY’s advocacy and narrative change work in collaboration with artists across New York State. That data, too, are fully anonymized and will only be shared in aggregate form to make the case about artists’ needs, circumstances, and access to future resources across the state and beyond.

Real Critiques

On April 15—admittedly much later in the evening than we had planned—we sent notification to the more than 22,000 artists who applied for this program. The fact of the matter is: the number of applicants who applied far exceeded what we could have imagined, not to mention what CRNY is able to fund. And we in no way celebrate this volume. While we felt it necessary to do thorough and varied outreach across the State of New York, we likewise understand that receiving over 22,000 applications to the Guaranteed Income for Artists Program underscores the upsetting reality that artists and culture bearers are blatantly underserved—and that sustainable support structures for artists in New York State are severely lacking.

In our last blog post we tackled the nuance around financial need and set the stage for CRNY’s decision to work outside merit-based grantmaking in a way that aligns with the movement toward guaranteed income. Even so, we heard from folks that randomization doesn’t allow for excellent artists to be visible and supported at the level they feel is deserved. We don’t have the perfect answer, but we do think there’s an important dialogue here for the entire arts ecosystem—and we hope you’ll be part of it.

So—Where Are We Now? And What Hurdles Do We Face?

At this point in our process, almost all of the artists who were pre-selected—and a portion of those put on a waitlist—have submitted documentation of eligibility. From here, we’ll work to verify everyone’s documentation so we can move on to what matters most: getting people onboarded and paid.  

Because CRNY is funded exclusively through private foundations, we have a legal obligation to ensure all funds are directed toward individuals who fit the eligibility that was carefully refined and approved by our legal team. To help us verify applicants’ eligibility around financial need, we enlisted the help of Steady.

We’re excited about this partnership because Steady understands that many workers, including artists, don’t have enough to make ends meet. CRNY joins the ranks of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income and the Workers Lab, who also partner with Steady. Steady is helping CRNY in two ways: verifying participants’ income to better understand their financial story, and, as one of our distribution partners, depositing the monthly $1,000 payments directly to folks’ bank accounts.

Artists engaged in our process have faced a number of issues while working through Steady’s platform. If you are one of these artists, we want to reassure you that we’re working closely with the team at Steady to resolve all issues. We will be in touch directly with applicants regarding status updates on all Steady issues and any necessary next steps. Most importantly, we want to reassure all the artists moving through this stage that no one will be disqualified from this opportunity if they are not able to complete the steps before the deadline because of technical problems with our process.

We acknowledge the valid frustration and burden this has caused, and we’re grateful to all of you who have stuck with us while we continue to adapt, learn, and grow. We are almost there!