YBCA Launches ‘Artist Power Center’ Resource for Financially Struggling Artists

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has launched Artist Power Center, a web and hotline resource. (Courtesy Yerba Buena Center for the Arts)

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Tuesday launched Artist Power Center, a web and hotline resource for artists affected by the novel coronavirus to access relief funds and peer support.

The national resource, supported by San Francisco software company Zendesk, relies on YBCA staff to alert artists to grants and other economic relief opportunities and provide personalized guidance. As Deborah Cullinan, YBCA's chief executive, described the service in an interview: “As soon as we learn of something that can help you or move you forward you’re going to hear about it.” The site also includes a forum for artists to share resources amongst themselves.

Ninety-five percent of artists in the United States have lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Americans for the Arts. In response, a growing number of relief funds have emerged. Yet confusing eligibility requirements and application processes pose barriers to accessing the aid, and demand is so great that most funds are depleted in days. Such hurdles threaten to restrict help to artists fluent in nonprofit argot who can monitor the web nonstop.

Enter the Artist Power Center. YBCA, one of few major local cultural organizations to avoid staff layoffs, has committed four workers to researching opportunities and ten to provide call and text support in Spanish and English during business hours Monday–Friday. The project is funded for at least the next six months, and Cullinan hopes it will remain a useful resource after the pandemic, especially as the forum section attracts and fosters more interaction between artists.

YBCA has taken a strong role in San Francisco arts advocacy, and the Power Center grows out of its own recent emergency grant initiative. Collaborating with Zoo Labs, Always Win Together and the Black Joy Parade, YBCA last month expended a $130,000 fund for artists who identify as women, people of color and LQBTQIA+ in a few days. “People were grateful it was easy,” Cullinan said. “So this is a quick response to help people navigate relief funds nationwide.”

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Oakland curator Ashara Ekundayo, who worked as a consultant on the resource, said the Power Center has the potential to help mitigate the economic as well as emotional toll of the pandemic on artists. “Artists and culture workers are deeply impacted by shelter in place, and applying for grants can be a huge psychic and emotional toll,” she said. Ekundayo said she personally sought several grants unsuccessfully, acquainting her with “application anxiety.”

That’s one of the initial topics in the forum section, alongside “Arts Education,” “Our Well-Being” and “Word Power.” The approach is holistic, said Lucia Momoh, a Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive curator who participated in a Power Center focus group. “It can be a resource not just for funding but the challenges that surface when you’re looking for funding.” The section currently features initial contributions by Angela Wellman and Emanuel Brown.

Sam Vernon, an artist and California College of the Arts professor who also gave feedback on the project, believes the Power Center can reinforce mutual-aid efforts that have arisen among artists. “On social media the information comes in and out of view really quickly,” she said. “This aggregates the information with a friendly user experience.” The forum and hotline services, Vernon added, can help pierce the jargon that often stands between funders and artists. “Sometimes the person you need to talk to is just another artist who’s had the same questions.”