Guest Post: Zeitgeist San Francisco; Community Arts Under Attack, by Guillermo Gómez-Peña
I left San Francisco 2 months ago for my last tour of 2011. I started my journey in Los Angeles and Miami, and then I proceeded to Sao Paolo and continued to Ljubljana. Then came Amsterdam, Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro. Today I am back for one day in SF, en transit to Brussels. I am exhausted, no shit!
It sounds quite glamorous but in actuality, it isn’t. This wild touring life affects my personal relations and my ongoing relationship to the San Francisco arts community. I truly wish my touring life was more humane but I am part of a growing milieu of US-based performance artists who are being forced out of the country by antagonistic political and economic conditions. Like a Mexican writer said, “It’s the end of Empire and the spiders are running amok.”
Paradoxically the funders in my city tell me that this year my troupe “didn’t do enough local projects,” and “if we don’t increase our local visibility, we might lose our funding for next year.”
It’s truly an impossible situation. The fact is that SF has the largest community of artists per capita in the country and 75% of the projects we do here are freebees, which means others produce them and therefore these events don’t count to the funders.
But our problems are mild in comparison to other organizations.
Today, as I was packing for the next leg of my tour, I read in the SF Gate that Galeria de la Raza, the oldest Chicano organization in the country and an SF landmark as important as City Lights, is being critically targeted for having received “12 grants over 5 years.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. If you put together all those menial grants they don’t even amount to 1/5th of the yearly operational budget of the Opera, the Ballet, the Symphony or SFMOMA.
Targeting Galeria and similar organizations is just the pretext. The real attack is directed to the Cultural Equity Grants program of the Arts Commission, one of the few funding bodies devoted consistently to servicing communities of difference in our ex-“city of diversity.”
I have watched Galeria over the years produce more exhibits and ad hoc cultural events than most organizations their size, and they manage to do it with a shoestring budget and a handful of part time staff members and volunteers. And their extremely well attended shows always get good reviews in the local press. So, the issue here is not “unfair funding” to a shady organization but rather a racist view on arts funding: THE FUNDING OF COMMUNITY ARTS IS UNDER ATTACK! The establishment is closing ranks and, I dare to say, would even consider unthinkable that the city’s large white arts organizations fairly share the ever-shrinking funds for the arts. And they will use audits, lawyers and the mainstream press to state their case.
If this trend continues, soon, not only the experimental and politically-minded artists will be expelled out of the city but the many non-profits of color that give SF a special character will have to close their doors due to insufficient funding. Then, the city will become what so many wealthy people and white politicians secretly wish: A bohemian theme park…minus the bohemians. And all the middle and upper class people will wake up one day to a world of unbearable sameness.
Paradoxically, this year the extremely “favored” Galeria was forced to let go of two precious staff members and to cut the salaries of the rest of the staff, including the director. So this coming Saturday they will do an emergency fundraising event titled PACHANGA. They will be auctioning affordable art starting at $50. How dare you loc/as! This amounts to one ticket to watch #@$%^^^^$#@!
If you wish to help Galeria and the future of the city’s community arts programs please write a letter to the SF Gate editor, circulate this email, and most importantly, show up this Saturday and buy some art. Here’s the link to make you angry:
Editor’s Note: Guillermo Gómez-Peña is a performance artist, activist, and a core member of La Pocha Nostra troupe. We interviewed him and his collaborator Roberto Sifuentes when they were in residency at Santa Fe Art Institute in 2010.