Elvin Padilla: Stratification

Posted on by Alex Craghead
Filed under: Reimagining the Urban

Reimagining the Urban participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Elvin Padilla, Director of the 950 Center for Art & Education.  It was originally posted in the Arts Research Center of UC Berkeley blog ARC Muses.

ruminations on the question of what preoccupies me

how to bring art groups together with affordable housing groups together with social service groups together with youth groups together with parks groups together with community health groups and now, most recently tech companies, preoccupies me.  the Tenderloin loses the struggle for equitable development because we are fragmented and undermine each other.

advocacy for the arts preoccupies me.  How does the following and Cy Musiker’s piece read: agitating?  advocating?  appeasing?  matter of fact?  demonizing tech?

KQED’s Cy Musiker aired a piece last week critical to the city’s future: San Francisco Artistic Community Wants a Piece of Mid-Market. There’s good news!  Supervisor Jane Kim, a big art and education advocate, is working on a special-use district to incentivize mid-Market developers to build permanently affordable space for art and education.  Effective incentives could tip the scale at several mid-Market sites.

At present, outstanding education groups interested in locating @ the 950 Center for Art & Education – Youth Speaks, Blue Bear Music, All Stars Project and Women’s Audio Mission – would owe the city nearly a million dollars in “impact” fees in order to revitalize three devastated blocks of blighted buildings, build the Center and bring their programming to at-risk Tenderloin youth.  Clearly this does not make sense, particularly with the backdrop of a wealthy city – one that’s not assisting with funding the Center’s development – reaping huge revenues from a surging tech-driven economy and booming real estate market.

Technically, of course, it is the groups’ funders that would owe the city for the “impact” of revitalizing three devastated blocks. Wouldn’t it be better if we could instead direct these resources to endow a 950 Scholarship Fund for low-income Tenderloin residents?  Or endow an operating reserve to help our small non-profit groups get stabilized over the first few years?

From Cy Musiker’s report: A few officials are listening, though. Supervisor Jane Kim represents Mid-Market, and she’s working on a measure to create an arts special-use district that would reduce developer fees on space reserved for nonprofits arts. It’s the kind of break that could help a Mid-Market arts company like Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, which rehearses in a building without heat or hot water.

Many hope this effort from a determined art & education-friendly supervisor, combined with the hoped-for leadership from our mayor, will give the Tenderloin a fighting chance for a measure of still-elusive equitable development (or at least heat and hot water!) in the face of the historic tech and real estate booms.

I was accused of painting an us vs. them picture that’s hostile to tech in my KQED interview.  i don’t get that.   in fact, all of my writing and work at nomnic.org and tenderlion.org has been striving toward an us and them understanding, achievable largely through the arts.  there’s so much anxiety, anger and resentment out there and it’s growing.   as i see it, projects like 950 are tech’s and city hall’s best friend against this backlash.

Assignment: Think of how to effectively communicate the need for the arts to bridge our increasingly polarized worlds.

failing the neighborhood preoccupies me.  failing the art groups preoccupies me: Will building a new debt-free state-of-the-art facility in the most ideal of visible and accessible locations be enough to position them for successful operations ongoing into the future?

social justice practice vs. preaching preoccupies me: will funders show up to endow a scholarship fund for at-risk tenderloin residents who want to study art?  or will they do so only if it satisfies some ideological construct far removed from the realities of the Tenderloin streets.

the increasing polarization and stratification of our neighborhood preoccupies me.   the housing is protected, the art spaces are largely not.  we cannot live by rooms, meds and meals alone.  poverty is more than a simple question of income.