A Quarterly Reflection from CRNY Executive Director Sarah Calderon
It’s been two years since Creatives Rebuild New York’s inaugural Think Tank session, and I’m humbled to reflect on our work, on the artists and organizations we champion, and on the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
In 2021, still in the throes of pandemic-era uncertainty, our Think Tank—a dedicated group of artists, organizers, advocates, and organizational leaders—began a months-long co-design conversation that helped distill our Artist Employment and Guaranteed Income for Artists programs. At that time, after a year during which New York State lost 50 percent of its performing arts jobs, CRNY began a large-scale investment in the lives and livelihoods of artists—in workers who have long been overlooked as pillars of our communities, of our collective cultures, and of our economies.
From that initial Think Tank assembly, CRNY launched two programs in support of 2,400 Guaranteed Income (GI) artists, 300 Artist Employment Program (AEP) artists, and 115 AEP organizations across New York State. GI artists have now received months of no-strings-attached cash payments, and AEP artists and organizations have collaborated on myriad projects within and as part of their local communities.
I am so grateful to have been part of this groundbreaking way to support artists’ futures alongside my CRNY colleagues, our Think Tank, our Leadership Council, and the incredible organizational partners that helped realize these programs. And I am equally grateful for the artists, culture bearers, culture makers, and organizational leaders who placed their trust in us during and after the application process.
Creating these programs so quickly and in response to a crisis has been at times a difficult journey as we confront our country’s deeply inequitable systems. Considering jobs and guaranteed income, we have had to reckon with the woefully below-standard systems of employer-sponsored healthcare benefits, our broken social safety net, the holes in our labor protections, and the ableism and racism upon which these structures are built. We are learning and rethinking each day.
Of course, there have been true moments of joy throughout this year as well. Our program participants have celebrated financial, psychological, emotional, physical, and artistic relief. They have been able to purchase groceries, pay down their debts, provide child- and eldercare, afford rent more easily, purchase the tools they need for their art making, and compensate their collaborators and other artists. Our program participants have been able to more deeply connect to others within their communities and to dedicate more time to grassroots work, to their organizing practices, to their commitment to justice, to their project development. Cash and jobs make these things possible.
Our goal has been to provide this kind of immediate, financial relief while also aiming for long-term, systemic change. Now that our programs are in full swing, not only are we assessing these early lessons; we are moving forward. This includes:
- Conducting a range of research and narrative change efforts with a strong commitment to equitable evaluation practices and artist-centered storytelling;
- Announcing a constellation of advocacy areas we believe in, stand behind, and advocate for; and
- Considering how best to support and advocate for artists and organizations as our programs end and as CRNY’s tenure comes to a close.
We’re looking forward to sharing our findings as part of our research and impact evaluation efforts, spotlighting the crucial stories of artists and their labor, and transforming the working and living conditions of artists in New York State and beyond through our policy and advocacy efforts. This fall across the state, CRNY is excited to facilitate 7 regional gatherings for GI artists and 8 regional gatherings for AEP artists and organizations to meet, process their experiences, and learn from one another.
All the while, we continue to ask ourselves: How do we embed our work in support of future endeavors and initiatives? How can this work move forward workforce development, labor, social safety net, and guaranteed income discussions that are inclusive of artists’ needs? How do we transform what we have learned these past two years as an organization to push for and create sustainable policies? And what can we do to continue to support artists long after CRNY sunsets? These are the questions that matter most to me—and what we’re actively attempting to answer as we move into 2024. Thank you for following along as we learn, grow, and reimagine what’s possible.