A controversy is brewing over Rec and Park’s plans to lease the Palace of Fine Arts, one of SF’s premier cultural properties. Over 21,000 people have signed a petition to preserve the Palace of Fine Arts as a multi-cultural Arts/Education Center. As one of our artist put it, “If not now when will City Hall act to protect our precious cultural institutions?” How much money is enough for the city with a 9 billion dollar budget?
It may not seem that way if you’re an artist struggling to pay the rent, but San Francisco is one of the world’s leaders in supporting the arts.
Last weekend the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Cultural Affairs Director, Tom DeCaigny, joined delegates from 31 cities around the globe for the World Cities Culture Forum in London to discuss how civic leaders can keep economic growth from coming at the expense of a city’s cultural soul.
The forum was founded in London in conjunction with the 2012 Olympic Games, with the idea that as people gather in peace to celebrate sports, they should also acknowledge the way arts and culture do that same thing every day.
KQED talked to DeCaigny about what he learned at the forum and what might make San Francisco and other cities around the Bay Area even more vibrant and harmonious.
The forum was trying to answer this big question: does a city’s growth come at the expense of its cultural soul? We’ve certainly seen this played out recently in San Francisco where the tech boom is pricing artists and arts groups out of their homes, offices and studios. So what solutions did you discuss at the forum?
The one thing we know is that urbanization is on the rise around the globe. So more and more people are moving into cities because they want the arts and culture the city has to offer, but land becomes more valuable. So it’s about how we create pathways of ownership for artists and arts organizations so they’re not forced to deal with the broader markets that tend to be more aggressive than artists can afford.
And how do you do that in San Francisco?
They’re also the organization working in partnership with the Northern California Community Loan Fund to stabilize those non-profits funded through $2 million through our Board of Supervisors and Mayor’s office.
Of course that doesn’t help the many individual artists who have lost their studios to a tech company. Any ideas from the forum that might help them?
One thing we’ve looked at locally, something other cities have had success with, is the zoning of space that is most conducive to artists. In the US and San Francisco that is referred to as PDR, or Production, Distribution and Repair space. So if you’ve wondered why artists often find studios in spaces that are near auto repair or warehouses, it’s because that’s usually zoned PDR. So one of the things we’re looking at here at the Arts Commission is how do we work with the Planning Department to ensure a good proportion of PDR, because that creates a market that artists can access. So the cost per square foot of that space tends to be lower. Other cities like London and Shanghai have found great success with equivalent zoning that protects space for artist use.
Underlying the London forum was this idea of “creative placemaking,” where the arts are a key part of city policy. So what did you bring back from the forum to help maintain that ideal?
As important as creative placemaking can be to improving the quality of life of a city, I think we also have to be concerned with creative placekeeping. It’s a term coined by Roberto Bedoya of Tuscon-Pima Arts Council, and it’s really about how do we insure as municipal governments that artists and arts organizations continue to thrive where they are. These are the people who have made our neighborhoods unique — that people want to come and be a part of. We want to welcome new people to the party, but we also want to make sure that they’re respectful of the people who made this city such a great place to live in and play in in the first place… (more)