The last flower to be painted at the Asian Art Museum – dedicated to Candi and all the beautiful LGBTQIA spirits in San Francisco’s Civic Center and Tenderloin neighborhood.

ATA (Artists’ Television Access)
992 Valencia Street, San Francisco CA
July 20 – August, 2017

1967 Summer of Love –> 2017 Summer of Rage & Resistance is a satellite project of the Asian Art Museum‘s exhibition Flower Power

Check out the new garden I’m installing at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum:

CAPITALISM IS OVER! If You Want It featured in Huck Magazine August 15, 2015

Five Postcapitalist Projects That Offer a Blueprint for a New World
Postcapitalism: A Guide To Our Future

By Alex King


Stop The Corporatocracy – My new mural on Clarion Alley – completed August 3, 2015


Oh the not-so-satisfying feeling of “I told you so …”

It was obvious when Joy Ou / Group i evicted 150+ artists from 340 Bryant Street in 2012/13 that she was never a supporter of the arts, but rather only about her profit … likely she used the “950 Art Center” as a way to get support around her luxury condo and luxury hotel that the Art Center would have been a part of.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Mid-Market development loses highly touted arts center plan

By J.K. Dineen
Updated 10:35 am, Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Mid-Market developer is pulling the plug on plans to include a community-based performing arts center as part of a flashy mixed-use hotel and residential complex at 950 Market St.

Group I, which owns nearly all the property on the north side of Market Street between Fifth and Sixth streets, has told the city it will drop the planned 950 Center for the Arts & Education and go forward with a smaller, less-expensive development consistent with current zoning. Continue reading HERE.

From the article that I wrote for Stretcher.org in

June 2013 – The Gentrification of Our Livelihoods:

“The Rainin Foundation is also working with the developer Joy Ou / Group I, along with the San Francisco Foundation, and Thatcher Family to support the development of the 950 Center for Art & Education at 950 Market, which Ou purchased in 2013. The project will potentially include 316 residential units, a 250-room hotel, a 75,000 square-foot arts complex, and 15,000 square feet of retail space. The 950 Market project is being designed by BIG, an architectural firm from New York.

Ironically, Joy Ou / Group I displaced 150+ artists from the 340 Bryant Street Studios in 2013. The four-story warehouse built in 1952 is a large industrial space that had been divided into individual studio spaces that were considered affordable at an average of $1.50/square foot, while also providing plenty of open common space to share ideas. The building was an official site for Art Span’s SF Open Studios, for artists who wished to participate, and many did as the “South Beach Artist Studios.” According to Chris Dorosz and Paule Dubois Dupuis, two of the leaseholders at 340 Bryant, Ou attended Open Studios in 2012 and subsequently decided to make an offer and purchase the building to renovate for “market rate tech offices.”

As one of the tenants of 340 Bryant and in the context of writing an article for Stretcher on “the economy and development in San Francisco and its affects on the arts community,”[12] I met with Ou on July 9, 2012 to ask her about the potential for artists to remain in the building. Ou informed me that the current tenants would have to be out by January 1, 2013. She recommended that I look for a new studio in the Bayview Hunters Point.[13] I expressed my deep disappointment that she would be displacing 100+[14] artists, especially given that I’d heard she was such a strong supporter of the arts. She responded that developers are always getting the bad rap and that her interest is in making San Francisco a more vibrant place to live. She went on to tell me that she had also recently purchased the Warfield Building and that she and her boyfriend Elvin Padilla, then Executive Director for the Tenderloin Economic Development Project are working together to clean up the Tenderloin. She noted that the SROs in the neighborhood should all be torn down. In retrospect I wish that I had asked Ou how she planned on converting 340 Bryant from an industrial zoned space into an office building, which has become a concern for other industrial sites in the neighborhood.

Group I and Ou were also called out in March 2013 by union members from the San Francisco Carpenters Local 22 for not hiring contractors who pay union scale wages to work on office renovations at her property at 988 Market Street.

It should be noted that Ou is on the Board of Directors for the Wildflower Institute, one of the current finalists for the next round of ArtPlace grants for the project “Hidden Gems of the Tenderloin”, as well as on the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Art Institute, which did not support the successful efforts of SFAI’s adjunct faculty to unionize and join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021.”

Read full article HERE.

Megan Wilson, Home/Casa, Art Strikes Back, Clarion Alley, 2000

The following chronicles an experience I had during the first Dot-Com bomb/bust. I share it because in many ways it mirrors the situation that we are currently experiencing in the SF Bay Area, and in particular, the responses from the tech community and the community of new money that has moved in. The interaction that I had in 2000 with a woman from New York who was working for a dotcom PR firm that I share here, reminds me of many of the interactions that I’ve had with folks who are new to SF and part of the community that is displacing longtime residents, organizations and businesses and the attitude that we (those of us who are being displaced) just don’t really get it … and we’re just not working with them enough. In other words, they view the communities that many of us have spent years creating and contributing to as now theirs because they believe they have the right to it – and they have the money to buy it – the market is the force that determines who gets to stay and who must leave – regardless of whose livelihoods are at stake.

Dot-Com Boom/Bust 1.0

In the summer of 2000 – June/July Lise Swenson and I organized the performance series Art Strikes Back (Tim Costigan was involved in the early development phase of the project). We initiated the project as a creative response to the unprecedented growth and displacement in San Francisco and the blind greed and privilege that we were experiencing at that time. We sent out an open email to as many artists as we could asking if they would be interested in participating in the project through a performative work or another medium (murals, posters, text etc). Our plan was to stage performances every Friday and Saturday night at 7pm and 9pm for 6-weeks along the Valencia corridor in the Mission District – the area that was being the hardest hit by evictions. Anyone could participate – they just needed to provide us with a description of their work and the slot that they would like to sign up for (if available). My and Lise’s commitment was that we would organize the schedule, publicize the events, and document the works via still photography and video. For those who weren’t doing performances – we also did the same.

Lise Swenson’s performance The Emperor’s New Clothes, Art Strikes Back 2000

The response was overwhelming and we ended up extending the project to 8-weeks with over 80 artists who participated. The project was not without criticism – by others as well as ourselves – often it seemed like we were just providing free entertainment for the new wealthy interlopers. However, Art Strikes Back also brought a good deal of attention via the press to what was happening in San Francisco, which was our ultimate goal. The project was featured in the SF Chronicle, the LA Times, the London Telegraph, the Drudge Report, NPR’s “All Things Considered,” as well as numerous other publications.

We did not see the situation as being about tech vs. the rest of us – as we used tech to communicate and promote the project. Our press release stated:

As they suck up the atmospheres around them and leave nothing but a cultural waste behind, it is becoming harder and harder to produce the very cultural environments they are so eagerly buying up.  The participating artists are creating work at ground zero, from nothing and for nothing.

We were referring to the people who had moved in and completely disregarded that they were moving into an existing community and that they were creating a great deal of pain and suffering for many who had spent their livelihoods creating and contributing to the communities that were our homes. Basically we saw/see it as a case of contemporary colonialism.

Later that fall in November 2000, I was contacted by a woman named Valorie in New York who was putting together a Website and listening tour about the San Francisco’s Mission District and DUMBO in Brooklyn with her co-workers. When I looked up her email address, I learned that she worked in marketing and PR for a new dotcom company. She was interested in footage of Art Strikes Back to juxtapose with work in DUMBO as a way of “showcasing various artists, musicians and dancers from both neighborhoods.” Her title with the company was “Associate Information Architect.”

Rene Garcia and Marci Klane, Art Strikes Back, 2000

Of course I was suspect of her intentions and challenged her on the underlying motivations for the project, to which she was “shocked” by my tone as I called out her company. She responded with the following:

As I made clear in my opening, I don’t wish to comment how “companies like mine” fit into this equation. This is a personal project of mine, not a company endeavor, and I feel I’ve stated to you my support of the arts. But I will respond to how I see myself in relation to the communities I wish to represent. I live a couple neighborhoods away from DUMBO, in an old-Italian area known as Carroll Gardens. Brooklyn, like all of Manhattan, has experienced dramatic rent increases over the past four years, the last two in particular. The NYT wrote an article early this summer stating that real estate has increased over 40% since January. Everyone feels this pinch. I can’t afford to live by myself even in Brooklyn so I share a tiny 2 bedroom apartment with a dancer. Her and I have discussed extensively the “new economy,” how it’s affected her, her friends (both here and in San Francisco), and never has blame been placed on me personally. We worry about the use of technology and if it inhibits interpersonal communication and people’s relationship with their bodies, not my employer. We both question the cultural benefit of this New Age, weighing its pros and cons. But both my roommate and I feel in order to temper a new technology, one needs to know how to work with it. And that is what I’m learning at my company. Additionally, new media indisputably serves as a global distribution vehicle for all artists. I believe this is a benefit. Technology in itself is not inherently evil, nor are the people creating it.

Thus, to summarize my relationship to the art community, I see myself as a patron and legal supporter. I attend gallery openings and exhibits in DUMBO and encourage my friends to support local Brooklyn artists as well. We help them financially and through word of mouth. I do not apologize for my profession nor the fact that I’m not an artist by trade. I leverage my network of friends and colleagues to help DUMBO’s artists as well as promote legislation that protects and funds the profession of dancer, musician, painter, sculptor.

Your comment “we don’t want companies like the one you work for in our neighborhoods, nor do we want the culture that has resulted from the “dot-com Spring” in our neighborhoods” saddens me. Your experience compared to mine differs dramatically. Talent, energy and passion are the three adjectives I use to describe my coworkers and therefore our environment. Those are values I want governing my community, all tempered by a civic sensibility. That sensibility is what I hope to create with this website.

Thus I would like to continue our conversation further. Both of us are entitled to our positions. But I believe Megan, that although our backgrounds are different, our objectives are one. I care about the borough I live in and hope to see it realize itself as an art’s bastion. That said, I ask you the similar question, “How do you see the artists’ role in gentrification and displacement?” I do not mean to be spiteful but illustrate NY’s gentrification history over the past 20 years. The Bowery and Soho, once industrial strips of Manhattan housing numerous immigrant groups, have been popularized by artists. Today they are now one of the most desired and expensive areas to live in Manhattan. Original tenants, who lived there for years, were forced to find affordable alternative housing elsewhere. When I moved to NYC in 1997, I was told that whatever neighborhoods the artists live, those areas were up and coming. DUMBO and Williamsburg prove this point. Each area has witnessed a dramatic rent increase after artists began occupying warehouse space. Thus, in NYC, artists have, indirectly, raised the rent and have driven out the Polish, Italians, West Indians and many other ethnic groups as New Yorkers have followed the artists into these neighborhoods. Therefore I was shocked at the tone of your email. In my mind, I see you holding a similar culpability, if either of us truly own one. This is a complicated matter. Gentrification and urban development are never easy questions to integrate much less experience. That’s much of what I studied in school. Yet I believe both of us acknowledge our civic and artist responsibility and are acting on it.

I don’t mean to put you with this response but if we are to continue our discussion, I want to redirect our dialogue. I want to be part of a solution and see myself as such.


The Dot, Art Strike’s Back, 2000

I responded with the following:

Valorie,

I raised the questions that I did because I think it’s important that we all do that for others and ourselves to check in with how what we do impacts our lives and others – though I am aware that I was much more direct in asking them of you because of the project that you are initiating.  Many of the decisions that I’ve made for my life, including my work, have been the result of that kind of critical analysis posed to me by others.  And as an educator and someone who works for a media literacy organization, asking those types of questions is a daily endeavor.

However, I also know that this issue is not a simple one or one that can easily be couched in terms of black and white – which is why it has become so volatile.  You also raised a good question – that of the role of the artist in the gentrification.  Sadly, we are the market indicator for gentrification.  And I’m not sure what the answer to that is given that artists move into residences we can afford – we tend to be economically poor.  But we also tend to be incredibly community-minded and put a lot of time and energy into the neighborhoods that we become a part of – and it is precisely the manifestation of that time and energy that makes our neighborhoods desirable.  Obviously we too suffer from the result of our commitment in the process – being forced to leave the communities we helped to create.

In reference to my comment that we don’t want companies like yours – or the culture that has resulted – in our neighborhoods, I can only speak from the experience here – as you said, yours has been different.  But I will give you a little bit of background as to why so much hostility – the energy that has fueled the communities here to band together and take action, including our efforts to pass Proposition L, a slow-growth measure that ultimately was defeated by a 1 percent margin – has been felt towards the New Economy.  I also want to make it clear that this is not directed at technology or people having jobs – as you know, it’s much more complex, as are the issues around technology and the economy.

In the past three years – though the acceleration has really been in the last two – we have watched (and responded) as the communities that we have spent years building and contributing to have been dismantled.  And by contribute I mean – we have created many public art projects, often for NO monetary compensation (projects that we are beginning to see destroyed as the buildings they are housed on are being demolished for new condos), we have created community gardens, we have patronized the small family businesses of the ethnic communities you alluded to, we have organized community events, we have taught the kids in our neighborhood, we have worked at community organizations, and we have started our own families here – in essence we have contributed an enormous amount of time and energy to our communities.  This is not just a job for us – this is our livelihood.  The destruction of our neighborhoods has happened in the form of skyrocketing rents, as well as property that’s been taken off the rental market and sold as condominiums.  Every week we hear of more evictions.  And every week we hear of more and more people that are being forced to leave San Francisco altogether.  This has also had an enormous impact on arts organizations and non-profits that are even more vulnerable with commercial leases – many of these are folding.

What we’ve watched move in to replace the community members (many of whom had been here for years and years) and the community organizations are dot-com startups that (in the Mission) are being deceitfully classified as “business/servers” instead of the correct “office” classification that would disqualify their occupancy in the live/work spaces many are now operating from (check out: http://www.sfbg.com/News/35/07/07oglvwk.html).  The office classification would also have kept many of them out – as the cap for this year was reached early in the year.  Our neighborhoods do not have the capacity to support the traffic and numbers of people this industry is bringing in.  Additionally, as you are well aware, and as many of us predicted from the get-go several years ago, many of the companies moving in here are not sustainable on their own – they are not profitable – once the venture capitalist pulls out after seeing no profit for the third year in a row with no signs of that changing, the companies are tanking.  So that the organizations – many of them very established, long-standing (10, 20 years plus) foundations to the community – that were evicted and as a result had to close, were evicted so that a startup company comprised of young, talented, energetic twenty-something transplants from somewhere other than SF could have a fun, energetic, passionate work environment for two, maybe three years.  In addition, our neighborhood also now feels like a college campus with a kegger happening every night.  The small family businesses and restaurants have had to close shop because the new patrons to the neighborhood want more upscale venues – and they can pay for it.  We also have not experienced contributions from the new boom economy to our community in the form of philanthropy.  As a fundraiser, I can say firsthand that our community organizations are not in anyway a priority to this new money.  Nor are the arts.

I also am aware that it’s probably hard for many of the young folks involved in this boom economy and these new companies to understand the impact they are having.  Many of them are just out of college or graduate school and have never known what it means to be a part of an adult community outside of the college environment – nor do they have any investment in the communities here.  And if it is their first job out of school, or even if not, it’s a really fun environment – and that is great, we should all have the opportunity to enjoy what we do for a living and feel passionate about it.  But we should also have the right to housing and the option to stay in the communities that we have spent so much energy creating and not be forced out because we do not have money.

All that being said, I do believe that you have a genuine interest in supporting the arts and I commend you for that.  I will start sending you more info specifically about Art Strikes Back so that you can begin to understand more about our role in the response here.  I will say too that Art Strikes Back was also problematic in that sometimes it felt more like we were just providing free entertainment for the people our message was targeted at.  Though much of it was very powerful and did hit home, as well as drew a lot of attention to the issue – we did get a good amount of press.

I look forward to seeing how your project takes shape and helping to work with you on it.

Megan

Our correspondence ended there. I sent Valorie additional information and images and she never responded – not even to say “thank you.” Apparently she’d moved on to the next thing. The company she worked for went under soon after our exchange. I looked her up recently and she is still doing PR/marketing for tech companies.