Artists Respond Q&A: Briauna Williams

In 2021 the City of Saint Paul launched the People’s Prosperity Guaranteed Income Pilot program, and Springboard for the Arts launched a Guaranteed Income for Artists pilot program to go alongside the City’s pilot. To deepen the impact of these pilot programs, the City and Springboard partnered on Artists Respond: People, Place, and Prosperity, a cohort of artists creating public projects that demonstrate the root causes that lead to the need for guaranteed income, and the impact of guaranteed income on families and communities. In these Q&As, hear from the artists about their work!

Briauna Williams is a dreamer. But when she’s stressed, she struggles to let her mind wander. That’s how it is for many people, but through St. Paul’s People’s Prosperity Guaranteed Income Pilot, some St. Paulites have been able to worry about 500 fewer dollars a month. To honor the pilot and the idea of breathing a little easier, Williams created a coloring book called Exhale. It includes swooping illustrations, self-care suggestions, a prosperity word find, and a snail modeled after Gary from SpongeBob. Coloring books are available at Springboard’s St. Paul office and the YWCA St. Paul.

Hi, Briauna! What is your project, and how does it connect to the People’s Prosperity Guaranteed Income pilot?

I am a visual artist, so I made a coloring book. Art and coloring is therapeutic — you can relax and relieve stress. People who don’t have a lot of income don’t have time to relax and hone in on self-care a lot — at least, that is my experience. You feel like you’re sinking, drowning, stuff like that. So I made a coloring book with images that bring joy, remind you to take self-care, and [feel] gratitude.

What interested you in this opportunity to create a project around guaranteed income?

This pilot is very near and dear to me, because I’ve worked three jobs at one time before. I think that guaranteed income is probably preventing a lot of people from being homeless, or on the verge of it, or having to make tough decisions about food and basic necessities. 

Going into my own mindframe here, it’s like, is this how life is supposed to be designed for us to live? Why are we all working? Why don’t we have gardens and sustainability and be able to have a simpler lifestyle? But since we are here, and this is the roles that we find ourselves in, I think [guaranteed income] just creates that environment of being free. Of feeling above water.

How did the cohort experience influence your project?

Actually, my pictures came from a conversation with the artist cohort we had. We gave words that came to mind when we hear “guaranteed income,” and I wrote them all down. And then I would come up with a visual. I remember one person said “breath,” so the title on the cover is “Exhale.” There were words like “dream” — when you have extra money, you can actually dream. So there’s a picture of a boy who can see hisself in three different roles: a chef, a baseball player, and there’s something else that’s a little cloudy above him. He’s dreaming of just being more.

This program is about narrative change. What dominant narrative do you believe your project might counter?

A lot of roles with work and life, they don’t allow a lot of space for you to take care of yourself and to slow down. Even drawing, I went so many years of not having the time for things that I wanted to do. I was grinding. I was hustling. I was paying bills. That rent doesn’t stop; that car loan doesn’t stop.

For about three years now, I’ve been freelance — working for myself as an artist — and it’s just like [breathes in, then out] that’s what that feels like. Being an entrepreneur is hard and stressful, and it has other barriers. But to know that I can wake up and go for a walk and not be like, “Oh, I have to hurry up” — like, I can just sit in the park for three hours if I feel like it — it made me think of the things that I now have space for that I didn’t before.

A lot of times, people will perceive rest or taking time for yourself as being selfish or lazy or something like that, but we definitely know what’s best for ourselves.

Learn more about Briauna’s work at:

Learn more about Artists Respond: People, Place, Prosperity and Guaranteed Income: