As the New York art world continues to reopen, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation said it would launch a major statewide philanthropic initiative to aid the arts sector’s recovery from the pandemic. The historic $125 million plan, called Creatives Rebuild New York (CRNY), aims to provide artists with full-time employment opportunities or a guaranteed income in order to revitalize the city’s cultural workers and venues, which have faced steep losses in income and revenue since the onset of the pandemic. The program will roll out over a three-year period as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s state-wide recovery plan.
The initiative, which has also received contributions from the Ford Foundation and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, will provide up to 2,400 artists with a no-strings-attached monthly income and will endow 300 full-time salaried positions at small- and mid-size arts organizations across the state.
“The artists whose work helps to sustain us have faced particularly devastating circumstances resulting from unemployment, underemployment, and a lack of predictable paid incomes,” Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander said in a statement. “It’s critical for the vibrancy of our cities that we recognize that making art is work.”
A February 2021 report from New York State revealed that as of December 2020, employment in the cultural and recreation sectors had dropped an unprecedented 66 percent. According to the Mellon Foundation, 50 percent of performing arts jobs were lost during the pandemic statewide; in New York City, that figure was 72 percent. Before the pandemic, New York’s cultural sector generated around $120 billion and provided more than 500,000 jobs.
“These funds will address the financial hardship and combat systemic inequities that have long plagued the sector,” said Emil J. Kang, the program director for arts and culture at the Mellon Foundation said in a statement. “This is particularly the case for those artists serving small-to-midsized organizations, often led by and serving BIPOC communities.”
CRNY is the latest of several initiatives nationwide to provide relief to the arts sector. On May 6, New York City officials announced City Artist Corps, a $25 million economic recovery plan. Inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal arts programs, City Artist Corps will employ some 1,500 artists in public art projects this summer. In October, San Francisco implemented a universal basic income program for artists, which promises $1,000 monthly stipends for up to 130 artists and cultural workers.
Sarah Calderon, who previously served as the managing director of ArtPlace America, will oversee the launch of CRNY later this summer. “Artists need and deserve to be paid predictable and regular incomes,” Calderon said in a statement. “They are agents of social change, strengthening equitable, healthy, and sustainable communities.”