Sacramento could revolutionize its livability by giving artists a stipend to focus on their work • Sacramento News & Review


The models and backgrounds are already there – if we take a step back from a narrow photo frame

By Waverly Hampton III

Pope Julius II paid a lot of money to have the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel painted. Michelangelo was not what one might consider a “starving artist”. This expression, along with its sister expression, “hungry student”, has always confused me. Why would someone have to starve to practice or master their craft?

I’m getting the lesson these terms try to instill: sacrifice is necessary to achieve the life you want. Yet there are basic needs that we humans must have in order to live. We all know what they are and what it costs to reach them, let’s call it the cost of living. In the United States, and especially in California, the cost of living is high. And what is it to live without art?

You thought I was going on a tangent, but what I was really doing was asking this rhetorical question to get you, the reader, to think. It’s not my best setup, but rhetoric is an art that takes practice, and practice takes time to meet basic needs, which is why I’m not Mark Twain. Although, I think even he would have a hard time in today’s economy. This is because artists today are gravely underpaid for their work. Given their contributions to our way of life, from videos and internet memes to stories and stage productions, one would think that the archetype of the creator would be comparable to that of the caregiver and paid as such.

The artist plays an essential role in society. The artist acts like a mirror, so the rest of us can see our true selves and not be blinded by our egos. The artist makes himself vulnerable, so the rest of us can experience specters of emotions and empathize with each other. The artist keeps us human, because if we only invested in engineers and scientists, surely we would all be cyborgs or jacks in the matrix by now. And, art can be fun. And what is it to live without pleasure?

I don’t want you to think too much because this is less of a reflection and more of a proposal. My point: Sacramento artists should receive a stipend, so they can focus on their craft.

In Sacramento, students from all walks of life enjoy a lot of support for their living expenses. The result of basic needs funding is that the state of Sacramento was among the best universities in the country to increase its graduation rates in 2020. It is well known that college graduates have a better standard of living. This is what you ultimately get by providing students with an income that allows them to focus on their studies and be successful. Now let’s keep artists from starving to death.

This can be accomplished using an income distribution model similar to that used in Stockton’s Universal Basic Income experiment. Stockton provided 125 residents with $ 500 per month for 2 years. Sacramento can do something similar for its artists. Sacramento’s 2021-2022 budget includes approximately $ 2.6 million allocated to support the creative economy. With that much money, 125 Sacramento artists could receive about $ 1,700 a month for a year, or more, if less of the general fund was allocated to the police department (No rhetoric. Just facts.).

My point being that more artists could create more if they had their basic needs met. It took Michelangelo five years to paint this ceiling. Imagine what hundreds of artists could do at that time. That’s the big picture, and it’s the one the city of Sacramento should want to order.

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