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SF Chinatown artists receive guaranteed income during pandemic

by Akemi Tamanaha, AsAmNews Associate Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic left many artists struggling to find the resources necessary to produce their art.

“It can be devasting, and it was devasting for me,” Jeanette Lazam an illustrator from San Francisco said at a press conference attended by AsAmNews.

Now, thanks to a new local initiative, Lazam and nine other artists based in San Francisco’s Chinatown will receive $1,000 monthly payments to support their work over the next 18 months.

The grants are part of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ (YBCA) Creative Communities Coalition for Guaranteed Income program. The program is funded by Jack Dorsey’s #StarSmall Foundation and Mackenzie Scott.

YBCA partnered with six San Francisco arts and culture organizations to provide 60 eligible San Francisco artists with monthly funding. One of the organizations YBCA partnered with was the Chinese Culture Foundation and Center of San Francisco (CCC).

“The artists that make up this community have created a space and place that has made Chinatown in San Francisco one of the most iconic places in this country,” Christian Medina Beltz, Senior Communications Manager at YBCA, said at a press conference Wednesday announcing the Chinatown artists who received grants.

“We are very excited and just so proud to be supporting the work you all are doing here,” he added.

Christian Median Beltz, Senior Communications Manager at YBCA, speaks at the press conference. Photo by Akemi Tamanaha

CCC took a grassroots approach when searching for eligible artists. Most grant programs release their applications and wait for applicants to contact them. CCC went searching for applicants in their community.

“The way current funding works, artists need to jump through multiple hoops to justify why their livelihood needs to be sustained. We wanted to create a process that is rooted in listening, empathy, at a grassroots level,” Vida Kuang, CCC’s Community Arts Program Director said in a press release.

The culture center worked with Community Artist Advisor David Huang to identify gaps in the application process with a particular focus on “non-English speaking low-income immigrant artists.”

The result was a diverse group of ten artists spanning different age groups, cultural backgrounds and disciplines.

Illustrator Jeanette Lazam, Photo by Akemi Tamanaha

Four of the artists, including Lazam, spoke at Wednesday’s press conference. They discussed their passions as artists and thanked CCC and YBCA for the grants.

Zushun Lei, an 88-year-old cartoonist, is hoping to spread joy.

“Over the past few decades, one of my greatest purpose as an artist is to bring joy through my art,” Lei said through a translation provided by Kuang.

Cartoonist Zushun Lei, Photo by Akemi Tamanaha

Wednesday’s press conference was the first time the artists who received grants got to meet one another.

“It’s really cool to hear the different backgrounds and diversities within our age ranges and where we come from and what we mean to do with this grant,” Kylie Panday, one of the grant recipients, told AsAmNews in an interview.

Panday is a 19-year-old arts educator at Cameron House, an organization that helps empower Chinese families in the San Francisco community. The grant has enabled Panday to work on a mural at Cameron House. It is the biggest solo project she has ever worked on.

Arts educator Kylie Panday, Photo by Akemi Tamanaha

The press conference ended with a performance from the chair of the Baht Wor Charity Foundation, a Cantonese opera foundation that will be receiving the YBCA grant.

The artists hope that YBCA will continue to support local communities.

“I am hoping that YBCA keeps this up, makes those links in the communities, brings in artists that don’t have the resources and tools and supplies necessary to produce their art,” Lazam said after thanking YBCA and CCC.

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