We Lose Space, Installation by Megan Wilson and Gordon Winiemko, San Francisco Art Commission Grove Street Gallery (across from SF City Hall), San Francisco, CA, 2000, photo by Megan Wilson
The Gentrification of our Livelihoods: Everything Must Go…
by Megan Wilson
Published June 3, 2014
Preface: When I began researching and writing The Gentrification of our Livelihoods in early March 2014 one of my primary interests was the impact that the collaboration between Intersection for the Arts and developer Forest City’s creative placemaking 5M Project is having on the existing communities that have invested in and called the South of Market home prior to the tech booms. Having worked with many community-based organizations within the SoMa community for the past 18 years, I’ve had deep concerns about the development’s impact for the neighborhood and its impact on the future of Intersection.
However, I would not have predicted the announcement that Intersection made on May 22nd to cut its arts, education, and community engagement programs and lay off its program staff would come as soon as it did. What began as a reflection on the shortcomings of creative placemaking as a tool for economic development and its implications on gentrification and community displacement has become a cautionary tale for arts and community organizations to question and better understand the potential outcomes of working with partners whose interests are rooted in financial profit.
Over the past two months I’ve spoken with many of the stakeholders involved with the 5M development, as well as the creative placemaking projects that are helping to shape the changes in the culture and landscape throughout San Francisco, these include: Deborah Cullinan, former Executive Director, Intersection for the Arts; Jamie Bennett, Executive Director, ArtPlace America; Angelica Cabande, Executive Director, South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN), Jessica Van Tuyl, Executive Director, Oasis For Girls, April Veneracion Ang, Senior Aide to Supervisor Jane Kim, District 6 and former Executive Director of SOMCAN; Tom DeCaigney, Director of Cultural Affairs, San Francisco Art Commission; Bernadette Sy, Executive Director, Filipino-American Development Foundation (FADF); Josh Kirschenbaum, Vice President for Strategic Direction, PolicyLink, and an anonymous source within Forest City Enterprises.
I recommend reading the in-depth interviews with the majority of these participants. Their input helps to augment and present a fuller understanding of the complexities, concerns, and possibilities of the stories and information provided in the article. Please click on the links below to read:
Deborah Cullinan, Executive Director, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, former Executive Director, Intersection for the Arts
Jamie Bennett, Executive Director, ArtPlace America
Angelica Cabande, Executive Director, South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN)
Jessica Van Tuyl, Executive Director, Oasis For Girls
April Veneracion Ang, Senior Aide to Supervisor Jane Kim, District 6 and former Executive Director of SOMCAN
Tom DeCaigney, Director of Cultural Affairs, San Francisco Art Commission
We are in the eye of one of the most intense and thorough-going storms of acquisition and consolidation of wealth and power in history, one that is leaving a larger share of humanity out of its benefits while expanding its exploitive capabilities over them, and is able, at the very same moment, to tell the world with a straight face that it is about empowerment for all!
– From the Art Strikes Back Manifesto, 2000
Art Strikes Back was an 8-week performance series along San Francisco’s Valencia corridor in the summer of 2000 that Lise Swenson, Tim Costigan, and I launched in response to the unprecedented level of evictions and displacement that we were experiencing during the Bay Area’s first dotcom boom. Over 70 artists participated and the project was covered in local, national, and international publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle, National Public Radio, and the London Telegraph. The project was also accompanied by the installation We Lose Space that Gordon Winiemko and I created at the San Francisco Art Commission’s Grove Street Gallery across the street from City Hall. The exhibition included interviews with a cross section of members of the Bay Area’s artistic community, including dancers, visual artists, musicians, and arts administrators.
We responded passionately and with great resistance, determined to maintain our neighborhoods, as we knew them. Protest marches were organized, rallies were held at schools, neighborhood centers, and City Hall, organizations such as MAC (the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition) and SOMCAN (the South of Market Community Action Network) were formed, and many artists, like those who participated in Art Strikes Back, contributed through poster campaigns, performances, graffiti, murals, and other public projects. We rejoiced in 2000 when San Francisco elected a new, progressive Board of Supervisors, and again in 2001 when the dotcom bust hit. We thought we’d won.
March to City Hall to protest the evictions, San Francisco, CA, photo by Megan Wilson
Fourteen years later, the wealth gap has continued to grow in the U.S. with the top one percent’s share of wealth increasing by almost 8% between 2000 and 2014. San Francisco is again in the midst of a tech boom and class war that includes: tax giveaways to tech companies in the mid-market, questions surrounding the lack of regulation and taxation for private transportation shuttles (“Google buses”) and the “shared service economy” that includes companies like Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, and evictions at their highest level since the last peak in 2001/02.
However, the climate of the arts community feels very different this time around. Not as unified, not as activated, more complacent, and in general more aligned with the interests helping to gentrify the area, due in part to the rapidly changing demographics of the Bay Area (younger, whiter, wealthier), as well as an increase in funding for and opportunities tied to creative placemaking projects.
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