Honoring the Ghost Ship Tragedy, Our Public Launch



On December 2, 2016, 36 people lost their lives in the Oakland Ghost Ship fire. It took such a senseless tragedy to bring attention to conditions under which so many of our emerging artists live in the Bay Area.  Surely we can do better, for these people who give us things we love and enjoy, and make sure it never happens again.  We mourn the lives lost to teach us this lesson, and dedicate our work to their memory.

Dear Friends,


As many of you already know, I have spent the last few years moving towards the establishment of artists’ live/work spaces and venues in San Francisco, a project called Bohemia Redux. It has been slow going, as I am struggling to survive here as well. But slowly, one piece after another has fallen into place, bringing the project closer to a launch. After the nightmare of the Oakland warehouse fire, however, it’s not possible to move ahead slowly any longer.


A couple of years ago, I came up with a win-win solution. It capitalizes on the fact that people buy buildings and leave them empty to show tax losses. But people can show the same loss by buying buildings and leasing them to the nonprofit for a nominal fee—with an agreement that, in 10 years, when the buildings no longer qualify as losses, the nonprofit buys them. We can use the tax code to create a high social impact, public benefit project—the stuff of legacy.


The Bohemia Redux blog looks at the question of why we need artists in our cities. Everyone generally accepts that the arts are beneficial to humanity. No one talks about why artists themselves are valuable to the social fabric, even though they clearly give us things we love and rely on to soothe our distress: music, books, poetry, film, performance, and visual arts.  Their neighborhoods are always vibrant—because they’re there.


This project offers a way to create spaces for artists and give them venues to market their work—not relying on government, but making it happen by citizens’ initiative. You can read about the basic plan at www.bohemiaredux.org.  To read about it further, you can request a business plan.


Starting a nonprofit is hard when progress is incremental by necessity. The urgency of the situation demands that I find collaborators and work-arounds to get things in motion quickly. We could use many different kinds of help to move things forward.


Here are some of the things we need:


Ø  People to join the board and actively engage in meeting objectives

Ø  A nonprofit accountant willing to join the board or offer initial assistance pro bono

Ø  Fiscal sponsorship, to enable us to pursue agreements and accept donations, until our own 501(c)3 status is in place

Ø  Alternately, we could take over an existing 501(c)3 that is not being used any longer, as long as it’s unencumbered by debt or legal issues

Ø  Introductions to people who would value tax losses and would partner with us to acquire buildings

Ø  Writers, bloggers, social media personalities, reporters, and others who would like to help get the word out

Ø  Professionals or organizations willing to help us navigate contracts, agreements, real estate options, bureaucracy, construction, and other thorny aspects of the project

Ø  Buildings currently not in use that could be donated to the project. It would be ideal to have mixed use buildings, but it would be fine to have separate residential and commercial spaces, We can use almost any kind of space.

Ø  Empty storefronts donated for pop-up fundraising sites

Ø  Companies interested in partnering with us to assist in a various ways

Ø  Arts organizations interested in collaborative efforts

Ø  Fundraisers, PR, media, and IT people who can offer some vital help (for example, we still don’t have an email address)

Ø  People to spread the word socially

Ø  Computer gear not on the verge of planned obsolescence

Ø  An intern to help keep things together, perhaps for college credit


And of course…


Ø  Donations!


Here’s the deal about donations. Donations to a pending nonprofit are only tax deductible for a certain amount of time. Donations made to the project now are not tax deductible, until we have fiscal sponsorship in place, get our designation, or take over another exiting 501(c)3. However, they couldn’t be more needed and appreciated. If you would like to contribute something to the effort now, please scroll to the bottom of this page:





Thank you for reading through this far! I hope there’s something on our list that you would like to do with us to solve this one very fixable problem. I fully believe that restoring the city’s creative community will go far towards building an intangibly happier new year for everyone. There’s real magic in bringing together a group of people to make something happen. I hope to do it with you, and make this particular—and long overdue—bit of magic happen in 2017.

To a happier new year!

P Segal



What Is It About Burning Man?

There are other festivals in kinder environments. There is art on display in many places. And we have no dearth of places where people parade fabulous costumes. None of those things are what makes Burning Man a globally appealing event. In this booklet, assembled as a playa gift to give away at Burning Man 2016, I address what it really is about Burning Man that compels us to brave the dust of the Black Rock Desert—and how this nonprofit concept makes the spirit of Burning Man available to everyone in our cities.

There are other festivals in kinder environments. There is art on display in many places. And we have no dearth of places where people parade fabulous costumes. None of those things are what makes Burning Man a globally appealing event. In this booklet, assembled as a playa gift to give away at Burning Man 2016, I address what it really is about Burning Man that compels us to brave the dust of the Black Rock Desert—and how this nonprofit concept makes the spirit of Burning Man available to everyone in our cities.

 What Is It About Burning Man?

Why does Burning Man sell 30,000  tickets in the first 30 minutes they’re on sale?

Why do people value this experience so much?


It’s not the playa, which is a blank slate. It’s not the sparkle pony costumes, or the accommodations. You could have the same camping experience in a much more hospitable environment. And you can see the same kind of wild costuming almostanywhere in the Bay Area. It’s not just the art. If it were just that, our museums would always be packed. It’s not even the sense of community, although that is a strong part of the draw for many. Most of us belong to social groups in other parts of our lives.

 It's this:

At Burning Man, you are in the world of artists, of people making art. Burning Man was conceived by artists, for their own pleasure and the entertainment of each other. It's not the products that these artists give us, the art itself, that is so compelling. It's being in the milieu of the people who make it.

Burning Man has been, since 1990, a philosophical, cultural, and visual De Vinci's Workshop—artists working together to make the civilization of their dreams.

What Is It About Artists?

People love being in artistic environments without even knowing why. There are many reasons, including some I haven't thought of yet. Here are a few:

Artists are completely authentic. They have to be themselves, absolutely original. They don't want to be like anyone else, which makes it fine for everyone to be themselves in their company.

In the world of artists, there is something more important than money. They need it to survive in the world, so they have to think about it. But they are much more concerned with creating a thing you will love.

The artist's greatest desire is to produce the music, book, painting, sculpture, or performance that will completely wow you. People in the arts have always been part of the natural gifting economy.

With half of artists' minds in the practical world, and half lost in the realm of what no one has ever seen, heard, or read before, artists have little bandwidth for conventions. Unconventional environments let everyone relax, because there are no expectations.

Watching an artist work triggers our creative impulses, as we anticipate their next moves.

There is a buzz in the air of artistic communities, all those minds concentrating on things that are new, moving, powerful, and original.

And in this age of mass and robotic production, the bespoke is increasingly an object of desire. For artists, every work is one of a kind.

For these reasons and more, people are drawn to places where artists live and work. They want to be in the presence of the creative buzz. Every great city districts famous of its artists has beome a highly desirable place to live, and as a result, few artists remain. Think Montmartre, Greenwich Village, Mitte—and in San Francisco, North each, the Mission, SOMA, or the Haight.

As artists are displaced from the districts they made fascinating, they take with them those qualities that make tickets to Burning Man so valuable: authenticity, originality, generosity of spirit, and unconventionality.

People have always loved the milieu of artists and wanted to be part of those places. The most prestigious men's club in the country, The Bohemian Club, was started by a group of artists and writers for themselves. The club, and its Burning Man equivalent, the Bohemian Grove, now only has famous artist members—or associate members invited to join because, for example, the string quartet needs a viola player.

Cities full of artists, like Black Rock City, compel us, entertain us, and inspire us. Cities devoid of artists suffer. They're less relaxed, more divisive, and more combative, as we see now in the city of San Francisco.

On the other hand, when a city has a large and diverse community of people in the arts, every day contains the essence of the Burning Man experience. Towards this end, I've started a nonprofit, Bohemia Redux, to provide artists' live/work spaces and venues in the city.

As a native San Franciscan, I grew up in a culture of artistic innovation. In my lifetime, a dozen art movements of global consequence flourished here. The last great development in the arts here was Burning Man, which was planned, in the early years, in my living room.

As the city has grown more expensive, artists have been priced out or evicted. It's been international news, especially in countries that value what artists do and give them stipends. We've replaced our artists with different kinds of innovators, but we've also taken something vital away. Bohemia Redux wants to fix this.

The "social fabric" is a subtle, organic thing. Each player has a role, and what artists do is keep people sane. There are reasons why we're attracted to places artists come together, why we come to Burning Man. It only makes sense to provide affordable places fo artists to live, work, and play, making the rush of being at Burning Man accessible every day.

It's up to nonprofits and philanthropy to do this. Fortunately, the Bohemia Redux project is good for everyone. The city benefits from the the fix of an international scandal. The artists get to return to the city that inspired them. And for philanthropists, there are the evident tax advantages,prestige, goodwill, and a profit on the investment. This is a high social impact project that will receive a lot of international interest.

This is how Bohemia Redux works:

We encourage those who need to show losses for tax puroses to buy a building and lease it to the nonprofit at a nominal rate. At the end of 10 years, when the tax benefit ends, the non-profit buys the building at a pre-arranged price. We particularly want buildings zoned residential and commercial. Commercial spaces provide venues for the residents' work and other businesses that contribute to the nonprofit fund.

If you would like to see a business plan, please contact me:

P Segal, mspsegal at gmail dot com, @mspsegal

Cover art: Lizzy Laynewww.lizzylayne.com

Glass: Java Flame Glass, javisima at gmail dot com, @JavaFlameGlass













The Artist in the Age of Automation

Human history has come to this: for the first time since the dawn of man, work is disappearing as an inevitable part of life. Automation has replaced people already in many jobs, like receptionists and factory workers. Self-driving trucks are already on the road, and machines can now do things we thought would always be human tasks, like anesthesiology, surgery, sports reporting, and investment analysis. Many of our highest paid professions will soon be extinct.


As humans are replaced in the workforce, the idea of Universal Basic Income seems inevitable. Instead of dozens of government programs designed as a safety net for job loss, disability, poverty, and other problems, everyone might get a check each month, just for being a citizen. The machines do the work we used to do, and we get to do what we wish with our cash.


Canada, Scandinavian countries, and European countries are already testing Universal Basic Income. A Silicon Valley group is doing the same, and everyone is speculating what will happen when people suddenly have money, free of labor or the stigmas associated with welfare. Everyone gets the same amount, rich or poor—but as theorists and researchers are documenting, the same check has infinitely more value to those at the bottom of the economic ladder.


Everyone is also wondering what will happen when people suddenly don’t have to work. Some argue that it will turn people in couch potatoes, but studies are showing that it actually does the opposite—it enables people to do things they value, not things they are forced to do to collect a paycheck. It would not be enough money to finance a luxurious lifestyle, and people will always be looking for ways to have more income. Research suggests that many are inclined to start their own businesses. People will always feel a desire to work, somehow, because what we do is a major part of our personal identity. As Freud told us, everything in human life comes down to two things: love and work.


When paying work no longer defines us, and we can pursue work we love, how many people will use a universal basic income to create? Creativity comes in so many forms, and in the business world, that creativity has invented the things that are making work unnecessary, a brilliant creative strategy. But now that we have the machines that can replace us, how will humans adjust?


For a while, there may well be a dissonance, as our previous, work-related identities fade away, and we need to reform those identities in some meaningful way. I’m envisioning a new world where many, many people turn to acts of creation, not necessarily of fine art, but the making of things. When an automated world produces everything, there is sudden intrinsic value in things made by human hands. Value is always a function of scarcity.


Making things already captures the popular imagination, as we’ve seen in the rise of the Maker Faires and the community that has emerged around them. Without jobs, a lot more people may try their hand at making, to create their own furniture, knit their own sweaters, design gardens, and invent things—and given the opportunity, more people will probably make art.


Producing works of art, even if they don’t meet the critics’ arbitrary standards of greatness, is one of the few processes on earth that demands complete uniqueness. Art is the antithesis of manufactured sameness. Works of art, even if they don’t meet those criteria, are one of a kind, a personal visions we couldn’t see ourselves without it. In a world of robots, the emotionality, passion, and unpredictability—the humanity— of art takes on new meaning, along with those who make it.


It’s a terrible irony that jobs will have to be obliterated before being an artist has value in the American zeitgeist.  Art with a capital A is sacrosanct, but there isn’t much concern for unknown artists. In the America I grew up in, people were rarely encouraged to be an artist or writer, professions guaranteed to pay little until fame brought fortune, which it rarely does. Success in the arts has a lot to do with who you know, what the critics say collectors should buy, and the artist’s ability to do the work without crippling financial anxiety. But as the machine made world overtakes us, that made by human hands becomes much more valuable, which does a lot for the social position of the artist. When computers can replace just about everyone in the workforce, except for those who manifest and maintain the robots that make us expendable—and a few other professions—being an artist will have more consequence.


Computers can even replace artists in these turbulent times.  San Francisco’s Gray Area, an organization dedicated to the convergence of art and technology, just exhibited a show of art produced by artificial intelligence, Deep Dream. This undeniably beautiful machine-made art certainly has as much passion as we see in the human art of the design age, where something that looks like a 6’ strip of shag carpeting drives critics into ecstasies.  


There will no doubt be a trend towards art produced by artificial intelligence, because, for a while, it will be the newest, most unexpected thing. But eventually it won’t be the all that new, and the public taste for something else will draw attention elsewhere.  It seems likely that when robots run the earth, what is authentically human will become increasingly longed for. When that day arrives for the human race, we may finally see the age of the artist.

Enlightened Self-Interest: Directing Philanthropy to Nonprofit Housing

A Fresh Vision For Philanthropy in the New Year


We enter this new year with a load of social problems, but also the vision and hope to do something about them. Here in San Francisco, few issues have more impact than that of income disparity, clearly visible in the housing crisis for those at the lower end of the income scale—a place occupied by most struggling artists, who haven't launched successful careers. This is a situation shared by many in the community, like our teachers, hospital employees, clerical workers, food service personnel, and others.


The more arrogant among those at the higher end of the economic spectrum dismiss the problem, with remarks like, “If you can’t afford the rents here, move somewhere else,” as seen in discussions on sites like Disqus. This short-sighted position would be laughable if it weren’t a recipe for disaster, and most especially for the very people who would move the lowlyriffraff out.


A recent example of how this reasoning plays out is the closure of a restaurant in the city that had been doing business in the same place for 100 years. For once, it wasn’t a matter of escalating rents that forced another beloved city institution to close. It was the fact that the pool of restaurant workers in the city has diminished dramatically, and they couldn’t keep the place staffed. This was not just their problem. Restaurants all over town are struggling to keep workers, because they just can’t afford to live here.


Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows that the one person most responsible for the smooth functioning of a food establishment is the lowest paid employee, the dishwasher. You can have the most amazing chef in the world, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t have a steady supply of clean plates and scrubbed sauté pans. When your dishwasher doesn’t show up, the smooth, professional flow of a great place to eat becomes a nightmare. Every restaurant needs more than one dishwasher, but few of them can afford housing here, even with the rise in the minimum wage. I know whereof I speak; I owned a restaurant here during the last tech boom. Even then, a lot of our kitchen staff lived 10 to an apartment, sleeping in the beds in shifts, so they could get ahead. How do they have to live now?


We have indisputably become a service economy, and most of the people at the highest end of the income spectrum rely heavily on service industry people to facilitate their luxury lifestyles. But as it becomes harder and harder to live in San Francisco without a six-figure income, the very people who provide the services are driven away. If the current trend continues, those high-level corporate executives will, sooner or later, find it immensely difficult to get served at all. And then they will see why we need low-cost housing. In the meanwhile, countless businesses that can't find workers will close.


The city of San Francisco functions on an annual budget of $9 billion for a population of about 825,000 people. The budget for a city of 49 square miles is greater than the budget for some states. And yet, the city can’t find the money to build low-cost housing. The city’s current policy is to rely on developers to build here, whose investors insist on high profit margins, and they can’t make any real money building low-end housing. So it doesn’t get built, and the cornerstone of the service economy—the service personnel—goes elsewhere. The utter insanity of this policy defies logic.


A current city policy, slipped in quietly while the remaining and exhausted activists weren’t looking, is to tear down parts of about 48 square blocks of four city neighborhoods, in many of which lower income people live and small businesses have existed for years; developers will build ugly new high-rises that will house people with six-figure salaries, with a grudging allowance of low-income units that are only affordable for people making a formerly middle class salary. Such a policy will make thousands of people unable to remain here, and kill hundreds of small businesses that could ill afford to relocate. If such a program came to pass, it would have horrible long-term consequences, like putting other restaurants out of business—because the dishwashers and prep cooks who live in those areas slated for demolition won’t be able to find anywhere else in the city to live.


It is virtually impossible to stop the inexorable devastation of this city when it seems to have been sold it out from under us. We can’t rely on government to act in the interests of the people. If you think City Hall cares about the residents of this city, try to get an appointment to discuss your issues with a civil servant. I spent a year trying. So those of us who still have vision and hope for a just and equitable place to live need to find solutions that do not involve City Hall.


The means, the motivation, and the benefits are all here to retain a balanced social fabric, one that has room for all the essential participants in urban life, and certainly includes the working poor of the service economy that make life a lot nicer for those at the top. They just have to be put together. I am calling for a new kind of philanthropy here, citizens working together to restore a balance, independently of City Hall, in a way that benefits everyone.


I have written about this already, in the context of my own project for housing artists, but it is a way to solve the housing crisis across the board. We have dazzling wealth in this city, and a lot of people who feel good about giving their money to good causes—and, of course, nonprofit donations have a tax incentive. Rather than donating to worthy causes in other places, I would like to propose a more immediate, person-to-person, kind of giving—to local nonprofits, existing and proposed, providing low-cost housing. In particular, I would like to see those buildings now empty for tax purposes filled with residents, which would only give the owners of those buildings the kind of wonderful reputation that money can't buy.


We know that there is now more wealth in this city than we’ve seen since the gold rush. And with wealth comes the interest in tax write-offs. People who buy buildings and leave them empty to show a loss are, perhaps unwittingly,  part of the problem. But they could provide the same buildings for a nonprofit to use, for very little money, get the same loss, and be heroes instead. The implications of putting money to this use are far-reaching. Nonprofit housing is good for the people who are not well paid and can remain here. It keeps businesses alive by providing a decent labor pool, and supports the local small business economy by providing a customer base, people who spend money in corner stores, laundromats, burrito joints, cafes, and other small establishments. It helps retain the diversity of the city population and insures that those who want good service can have it. Yes, we obviously can’t live these days without the services provided by tech industry giants. But our lives would be infinitely worse, and not better, should they be the only services left.


A push for nonprofit housing is a concept that gives us agency to change a crushing inequity, while serving many needs, and without relying on government to fix what they are obviously ignoring. Even more than simply making it possible for some people to stay here, it makes it also possible for the social machinery to keep functioning for all of us. The service economy breaks down rather dramatically when there are not enough service people here to serve, and we’re already seeing the consequences; this is only going to get worse, if nothing is done to stop it. A practical philanthropy, which creates space for everyone, has benefits for the society as a whole—the people who can remain here and work, the people they serve, the businesses that need the pool of labor to operate, the people with enormous tax burdens, and everyone who values a more relaxed quality of life.  Let’s reframe this clearly: This is not just about concern for the working poor. It’s about too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Creating low-cost housing offers much in the way of enlightened self-interest, for those at the happier end of the income spectrum. It's a solution that's easily enacted, and one that would diffuse a great deal of the acrimony over income disparity.



Artists, Anxiety, and Gentrification

There are a lot of impassioned arguments against gentrification. In San Francisco, it’s the certain death knell of an artist’s tenancy. The creative community here has watched the long, slow bleed of talent to places where they could afford the rent, dreading the day the nice elderly landlord gets tucked away somewhere and an unsympathetic property management company takes over, on behalf of the more practical heirs.


People in the creative community of this city, if they haven’t yet become famous and bought a place, live in a state of constant high anxiety. It’s not a matter of if, but when, you’re going to lose your great place to live and work—unless you can get a day job in something like tech and pay triple the rent. The days when you could work part-time as a barista, and spend the rest of your life making art or writing novels, are absolutely gone. The neighborhoods where artists know their neighbors and merchants and feel at home in a community are being slowly leached away. Very likely, the city-wide community, built up over years, will go, too, before long, except on Facebook. The result—naturally— is a very high level of anxiety.


To the general anxiety that gentrification visits on long-established communities, you have to add all the other anxieties of life in the modern world. The fact that ISIS wants to bomb humanity out of existence does not breed relaxation. The possibility that huge corporations may kill the planet in our lifetimes for financial gain hardly brings us serenity. The chance that Donald Trump—or worse, Ted Cruz—could be president gives reasonable people hives. Given our current economic picture, if we’re poor, we can expect to get poorer, and if we’re rich, we can expect to get richer, or perhaps lose it all when bubbles burst or the economy tanks. Conservatives are terrified of socialist tendencies; progressives are terrified of fascism. Mass murderers could pop up at movies, churches, or schools. Our food may be deadly or our potential lovers infected with something. Our computers get hacked. How, exactly, are people supposed to maintain equanimity in such a world?


If you’re an artist in San Francisco, the loss of home is probably the greatest anxiety of all. Home is where you retreat to, from a world of mass insanity. It’s the place of peace (unless you’ve got relationship issues), where you can shut the door and devote your attention to the work you were born to do—work that is dismissed as “unproductive” in a country where  value is monetized. And yet, even people who think artists are a waste of space listen to music and watch movies and read books, without giving a thought to the process of producing those things, and the time, effort, and steadfastness it takes to do something well. To be an artist in America is almost by definition a lifetime of PTSD: to know that what you do is considered irrelevant by the power brokers, to worry that you can never do it well enough to earn a living, to compete in a market that is rigged, and to hear countless lectures about getting a real job does not make the creative process restful. And to know that the place of peace that is your home is threatened by gentrification is the last straw in a fragile mental wellness.


Our entire culture is in a state of hysteria, and media whips it into a deadly froth to maintain ratings. If you’re intelligent and basically sane, you can put the anxiety where it belongs and forge ahead, in spite of all the reasons to be profoundly nervous. If you’re not that smart, and diagnosable to begin with, you might react with fear and start shooting. All people, not just artists, are dealing with too much anxiety in this country, and we can see how much good that’s done us. A huge percentage of Americans need meds to keep functioning.


When we want to withdraw from the anxieties of life, what do we do, if we can’t retreat from the harshness of city life in some beautiful natural setting? Read a good book, watch a movie, go to a museum, peruse entertaining blogs, or put on music we love? Isn’t it time for our culture to recognize that the production of artists mitigates our mushrooming shared anxiety, and for this reason alone, we want them to remain productive and striving towards greatness? We need them, more than ever, to give us moments of respite from an avalanche of fears.  We need to start thinking of our artists as an antidote to hysteria, a valuable role in our traumatized culture. And we need to keep them here, or bring them back, to add their un-monetized world view to our suddenly over-monetized urban identity—in the interest of diversity, sanity, and the quality of life.


Gentrification is hard to halt, in a city where people with decent salaries want to live, and where the value of money is incontestable. It’s easy to fault the city’s current administration, which incentivized businesses to move here without considering the effect it would have on the housing stock, or landlords who got tired of dealing with potentially annoying, low-rent tenants, and turned their buildings over to short-term vacation rentals for vastly increased profitability. On the other hand, it’s very hard to find people who think they have enough money and are willing to provide affordable rents to keep the city diverse—and, ideally, full of artists, who give us things to help relieve our anxiety.


This is why nonprofit housing is essential in this city. It takes profitability out of the equation, and permits diversity—which we say we value—to thrive here; nonprofit housing enables people to remain and do work that has social value, without a sure promise of substantial income, as one might get from an IT degree. Nonprofit housing offers an antidote to the anxiety that especially cripples our creative class, and all other people who live below the current median income, who must worry constantly about the dread 3-day notice to quit. It’s one easily implemented solution to a particularly thorny issue in this city’s litany of anxieties.


Bohemia Redux wants to create nonprofit housing for artists in particular here, but the nonprofit solution works for everyone unable to pay market rents. We need childcare workers, emergency medical technicians, teachers, restaurant workers, and all those other people whose absence only raises our anxiety, when we need them and they’re gone. We almost universally suffer, as a society, from a shared diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, which will only get worse when all the people we count on to take care of the things we don’t do for ourselves aren’t there to provide what we need. It is easy to recognize the immense value of an EMT, when they arrive to save the life of someone we love, or maybe even our own life, but harder to fathom why artists serve an equally life-saving function. We can, after all, buy their products without having them around. But artists endure a great deal of rejection, financial strain, and worry to get to the place where they give us anxiety-reducing pleasure. Better we should honor them for their contribution to our mental health, doing something about their shared anxiety: loss of place in the city they love.

A Presentation Made at The Battery, to Encourage Sponsorship of Artists’ Housing

If anything ever described the tremendous allure of San Francisco, it was the phrase “bohemian charm.” Bohemia, the natural milieu of artistic personalities, attracts and romanticizes a place where artists have been, and the allure lingers, like a wraith, after the arty people are gone. What remains are pricey boutiques marketing ersatz bohemia.

Bohemian Charm

The phrase “bohemian charm” was frequently applied to descriptions of San Francisco, in the days when people could afford the bohemian lifestyle here. There’s no more real bohemian charm left in this city, for the simple reason that there is no bohemia. We have the external signs of artiness, in public art, performances, book readings, gallery openings, and all that, but what we don’t have is the bohemian milieu of artists—which is where the charm is.

Why We Need Bohemia

You walk into a room that is somehow visually attractive but is clearly not the work of any decorator. There are beautiful objects, weird objects, forgotten coffee cups, and lots of things leaning against walls or tossed in stacks. The furniture is mismatched and so are the glasses. The guests are equally mismatched. One is in jeans splattered with paint, and another is in an evening gown. The person in jeans might be a woman, and the person in the gown a man. No one cares. You’re in bohemia.

The Advantage of Watching Artists At Work

When people look at art, it affects them in some way. The beauty might stun them. The subject matter may make them think. They can be inspired, amused, entertained, surprised, or maybe even repulsed, as in the case of Damien HIrst’s cut-up cow—or possibly even bored. When a person looks at a work of art that is complete, they have reactions of one kind or another. But when someone watches an artist work, the experience is absolutely different. It triggers the creative inclinations people didn’t even know they had.

Why People Want to Live in Arty Neighborhoods

The pattern is widely recognized: the artists move into a sketchy neighborhood and make it cool. The people who love the cool stuff move in. Once their neighborhood becomes fashionable, the artists can’t afford to live there any more, and the neighborhood loses what made it cool to begin with. It has happened over and over in the cities of America, and certainly in San Francisco.

A Different Perspective on Potential Artists’ Housing

Getting away from San Francisco, where the housing crisis has driven artists to places where rents are cheaper, always provides fresh insights into how other places are keeping their creative culture alive. A recent visit to Reno provided an extraordinary possibility for artists’ housing here that does not involve buying property for that purpose—and is cheap, aesthetically interesting, and environmentally sound.

Artists and Authenticity

In a culture that is increasingly homogenized and obsessed with what’s trending, authenticity is a quality Americans tend to seek elsewhere, traveling to far-flung corners of the planet where people aren’t so desperate to fit into what the media tell us we should wear, watch, listen to, or think. People experience authenticity at places like Burning Man, where the principle of radical self-expression enables them to be as weird and goofy as they want for a week. But even at such extravaganzas of authenticity, there is style to be followed. Classic “burner” style includes things like a crushed cowboy hat, petticoats, and a general steam punk sensibility.

Taipei’s Dream Community: a Brilliant Combination of Business and Art

Gordon Tsai is a Taipei visionary and real estate developer, a generous, glowing, happy man. He has created a complex of high-end condominiums in New Taipei City, which is across a river from the city proper. When he sells an apartment, half the money goes into a foundation, which supports the building in the complex devoted to the arts, the Dream Community.