Why, you might ask, is a website about the arts mostly black and white, with few images? It’s because when cities lose their artists, they lose their color.
And why are we doing this?
Long-time residents have noticed that San Francisco just isn’t the same any more. This is certainly true, far beyond the natural evolution of spaces and communities. It’s true because there’s no longer an emerging creative class of artists here, those people that gave the city so much of its vibrancy and color since the Gold Rush. They’ve been priced out by the culture of disruption, and they’ve taken with them that ineffable, quirky, whimsy that is the by-product of the creative process.
This city has been a creative hub since gold fever brought writers west like Mark Twain, Jack London, and Ambrose Bierce here. Within the last century, artists and writers flocked to the city, inspired by its beauty and drawn by it’s freewheeling lifestyle. Until 1970, it was a city with no skyscrapers and no industry except tourism. It was cheap to live in. In the rickety old buildings on Telegraph Hill, Beat writers electrified the world with an alternative view of the 1950s. Every great jazz musician in the world couch-surfed in the Western Addition in the ‘40s, ‘50’s and ‘60s. Derelict mansions in the Haight were home to musicians like the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane, who had a transformative effect on popular music. In the Mission, Santana was inventing Latin rock. Even until the early ‘90s, inventive cabals like the Cacophony Society launched whole new entities like culture jamming, urban exploration, and globally popular creative events like Burning Man.
The phenomenal growth and importance of technology and tech companies changed the nature of the bay area, and certainly in a way that is vital to almost everything in our lives. It brought us the wonders of technology and a world-class industry, but at the same time, it drove out most of the city’s emerging artists and writers. The city became a haven for the established and successful people in any field, but a hard place to remain for those still undiscovered. If it remains as it is, there will never be another wildly innovative cultural movement, growing from an arty underground, inspired by the city’s remarkable beauty. That is a loss to the artists who might have blossomed here, but even more importantly, to the social fabric of the city as well.
We have the choice, to welcome and support the development of something great and brand new, or to let it happen elsewhere. We can’t wait for our government to realize that their policies and tolerance of free-market landlordism have made our city a culturally impoverished environment, for all the erstwhile support of the arts they give lip service. Yes, the city spends money on the arts. But what about the artists?
People tend to think of art as something optional, a luxury item that serves no real purpose. Art’s purpose is subtle, but essential. Imagine the world without it: bleak, utilitarian, uninspiring, and with a manufactured sameness. The people who give us those one-of-a-kind visions of beauty, whimsy, and intellectual provocation are not optional. They are the source of stimulation, great books, stunning ideas, and unforgettable images, and the music that speaks for us when words cannot. If the city is beautiful, it’s because people with high aesthetic standards built it, and paid artists and artisans to do it. If the city has a reputation of being a creative place, it’s the writers, artists, cultural visionaries, and musicians who made it so.
Cities need artists. This city lost a fortune of creative energy when it cast out the people who give us so much pleasure and inspired new thought. Returning artists to San Francisco is like replanting native plants and reintroducing indigenous fauna, restoring a balance in the human biosphere. Unlike some modern problems, this is one that can be easily fixed and perhaps made better than it ever was. We have a plan, and it’s a win-win.