Good news for NYS artists: Creatives Rebuild New York launches $125 million initiative to help 2,700 artists across state

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on New York artists has been immense. In an industry where employment opportunities and decent salaries are scarce, the pandemic has worsened hardships already felt by the artistic community. Now, brighter days may be ahead for the state’s artists thanks to a new initiative launched this week.

Creatives Rebuild New York launched a $125 million initiative on Monday, February 14 to provide guaranteed income and jobs for up to 2,700 artists across New York State.

I sat down with CRNY’s Managing Director Sarah Calderon and Outreach Corps member Cjala Surratt to discuss details of the two programs launched, the application process, what types of artists are encouraged to apply, and the response from creatives in the Finger Lakes region.


Two programs for New York artists

CRNY’s initiative includes two programs: Guaranteed Income for Artists and Artist Employment Program.

What are the differences?

In order to be eligible for the Guaranteed Income for Artists program, “you have to be an artist living primarily in New York State with financial need and over the age of 18 as of January 1, 2022,” explained Calderon. “And how that will rollout is it will be $1,000 a month for 18 months, and it is no-strings-attached.”

This means artists who are accepted into the program can spend the money at their discretion- it’s up to the individual artists. Funding is available for up to 2,400 artists with demonstrated financial need. For the Artist Employment Program, things work a bit differently.


Artist Employment Program is available for 300 artists working in conjunction with 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, government instrumentalities, or organizations fiscally sponsored by 501(c)(3)s across New York.

“The Artist Employment Program is a two-year initiative,” said Calderon. “…it is a full-time salary for artists at $65,000 a year plus benefits, and it is in partnership with community-based organizations across the state.”

Notably, CRNY’s definition of an ‘artist’ is intentionally broad and includes a vast array of artistic disciplines. Artistic and cultural practices under the scope of CRNY’s initiative include: Craft, Dance, Design, Film, Literary Arts, Media Arts, Music, Oral Traditions, Social Practice, Theater, Performance Art, Traditional Arts, Visual Arts, and Interdisciplinary Arts.

More info on how CRNY’s defines an ‘artist’ can be found here.


How to apply

The Artist Employment Program requires a joint application between artists and organizations who have agreed to work together at the time of application, according to CRNY’s Artist Employment Guidelines.

For artists applying to the Guaranteed Income program, Calderon says the best way to apply is by heading to CRNY’s website. There, artists will find guidelines and frequently asked questions available in both English and Spanish, with more language options on the way. Those with additional questions can contact the Help Desk on Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m EST.

Central NY and Finger Lakes artists

Region-specific information is available through CRNY’s Artist Outreach Corps. Cjala Surratt, the Outreach Corps member for Central New York and the Finger Lakes, touched base with me on Thursday, February 17 to talk about her experience as an upstate New York-based artist, the importance of having “trusted messengers” to under-resourced communities, and upstate artists’ response to CRNY’s initiative.

Surratt has been involved in the in the Syracuse arts scene for over 20 years. She has been with Light Work, a non-profit photography organization run out of Syracuse University, for six years. She launched a small business called the Black Citizens Brigade Vintage Co. in 2019 and hopes to open the doors to a physical shop in September 2022. Surratt sees her work as CRNY’s Outreach Corps member for Central NY and the Finger Lakes as a chance to reach artists who have been historically left out of past funding opportunities.

“My first thought was, okay, how do I make sure I’m fulfilling the intention of what the [Guaranteed Income for Artists program] is for, which is reaching out to oftentimes disproportionately affected communities,” she added.


For Surratt, the community response to CRNY’s initiative has been encouraging.

“That’s been quite powerful, because of a lot of artists, or people that work with artists that are in the categories that they define as diverse, are very reticent for various reasons,” Surratt continued. “And then very moved that [CRNY] was thinking about them, as every profession, that they should be able to thrive, they should be able to strive, they should be able to keep their lights on, and food on their plate—all of that—and also feed all their passion into their practice and not worry about these kinds of everyday things.”

Potential applicants for either program who are based in Central NY or the Finger Lakes region can find information to get in touch with Surratt here under ‘Artist Outreach Corps.’

CRNY has partnered with the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) to co-host several online information sessions ahead of the application due date. Details regarding those information sessions can be found here under ‘Information Sessions.’


Background on CRNY

CRNY started with Elizabeth Alexander, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, who was part of the Reimagine New York Commission created by former Governor Andrew Cuomo in May 2021. According to Calderon, Alexander’s participation in workforce development led her to consider an essential question: What would it look like for artists to be employed?

“The Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the New Yorkers Foundation have all contributed funds to this initiative. But basically, Mellon decided that they would fund…the initial investment of $115 million, then the Ford Foundation in New York followed with $5 million to get this work up and running,” said Calderon. “They decided to launch a new organization, a new initiative, so that it was independent from the three of them…I became Executive Director of [CRNY] officially July 1 of 2021.”

Additional funding for CRNY also comes from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Final notes

Applications for both programs are due through CRNY’s online application portal by March 25, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

For the Artist Employment Program, there are two rounds of the application process, with employment starting at the beginning of June 2022. The selected organizations and artists will be announced in late June.

For the Guaranteed Income for Artists program, funds will be dispersed in late June to early July 2022. CRNY will not be announcing the individual recipients of guaranteed income as such a practice is not traditional, but selected applicants can expect to see their funds in the same timeframe.


Calderon notes that after people complete their application, they will be prompted to fill out information to help CRNY gather data on artists throughout New York. Choosing to answer these questions will not impact the applicant’s likelihood of receiving funding and all answers are confidential and anonymized before review.

“A lot of arts funding has gone to organizations. So that’s the data we have, but we’re hoping folks are willing to take this survey at the end of the application to help us gather data this way,” said Calderon. “This will help us advocate on behalf of folks; this will help funders understand what folks need, and we’ll create a really nice portrait of the entire state and [its] artists.”

Detailed information for prospective applicants can be found on CRNY’s website.


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