Earlier this week, the California Arts Council portion of Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2021-2022 budget proposal was released, detailing a plan to create a $15 million artistry program that would start a COVID-19 outreach and safety encouragement campaign.
According to the budget, the California Creative Corps would “fuel positivity, regain public trust and inspire safe and healthy behavior across California’s diverse populations through a media, outreach, and engagement campaign.”
While the proposal does not go into many specifics, including how people would be hired, where the money would exactly go to, and how it would be utilized, it was noted that all state funding to the Corps would only match all other donations going into the program up to the full $15 million amount. Many other details would likely be the same as the program it is based off of: the San Francisco Creative Corps.
Begun in November of last year, the San Francisco Creative Corps is a pilot program that hired unemployed artists in the city and had them go out across the city to encourage mask wearing, PPE usage, safe social distancing, and other COVID-19 health and safety guidelines in unique ways. Created in conjunction with Mayor London Breed’s office, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and the San Francisco Parks Alliance, the city funded the Corps of 60 unemployed artists and 30 visual artists with $250,000 for a period of two months.
“Many artists and performers are out of work due to COVID and are looking for ways to pay their bills and make a living while also pursuing their artistic interests,” stated Mayor Breed in November at the start of the program. “This new program supports artists financially while also reminding community members to stay safe this holiday season. San Francisco’s artists and cultural organizations are what make our city such a vibrant place, and we need to do all we can to support them. The Creative Corps is an innovate approach to help our artists during this difficult time, and will bring some joy and fun to public spaces throughout the City.”
While the program had mixed reactions with organizers hoping that it would be extended past January 3rd, the Corps ultimately was not extended further into January.
However, key people behind the San Francisco Creative Corps have said that the program goes beyond paying artists, with some supporters comparing it to helping build up the arts similar to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression and similar public arts programs in California during the 1970’s and 1990’s.
“We’re not here asking for handouts; we are here saying, ‘Use us in service.’ In this case, the crisis is public health. There are always going to be crises,” explained executive director of Californians for the Arts Julie Baker in a statement. “If this becomes permanent, the California Creative Corps can then help combat homelessness, the opioid crisis, climate change and wildfires. We can use the creativity of artists to heal and help communicate.”
California Creative Corps detractors
Detractors of the proposed program have pointed out that while the program would hire from a large pool of unemployed individuals, that funding to promote COVID-19 safety and other issues in the future could be better spent through health departments or other government organizations more closely related to the topic at hand.
“It’s $15 million,” said Los Angeles-based community funding advocate Dustin Kolb to the Globe. “Compared to the $227 billion of the budget, you know, it’s not much. But out of that pie, LA would get at least $3 million, easy. You know what $3 million could do in poorer areas of the city? You can buy good masks, you could pay for health officials to address school children remotely, you could do so much.”
“Art is one thing. If you pay for cool-looking masks, or masks with cartoons or something kids would want to wear and be easily encouraged to wear, that would go so much farther than hiring a bunch of people on stilts. You could even cycle that money through California-based companies for PPE to help local businesses and industries. Art is good for culture, for memorializing things, and other things that benefit the public. But right now, we need to continue to encourage people to be safe, and art may not work right if just done willy-nilly like it was in San Francisco. If it did work right, then why didn’t San Francisco continue the program?”
A decision on the California Creative Corps pilot program is expected by late June, though due to being related to COVID-19 funding, it may be decided on earlier for budget funding.