Jan 24, 2014 | Katie Fahey from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation Arts Blog
Tensions around space and housing amid San Francisco’s red-hot real estate market are about as high as, well, the high-rises currently being constructed in the city. Discouraging are some of the reactions fueling the mounting pressures, eager to pin the blame on one party or another. The majority of mainstream media coverage has contributed to the situation by offering only superficial accounts of the issue. Simply said, there’s a lot more to the equation than “hipsters,” artists, and the tech industry.
Boom & Bust
The space crisis is not exclusive to nonprofit arts organizations and its effects are far reaching to be sure. This issue is not just about affordability; it’s about availability. Ellis Act evictions, generally implemented to change the use of the building, are on the rise as the city grows further out of reach for families, long-time middle-income residents, and other vulnerable populations. As a generally low-income group, artists and nonprofits are often among the first to feel the pressures of an ascending market. San Francisco is already the city with the nation’s highest rents and many artists have migrated to the East Bay. No coincidence, ArtPlace America named Downtown Oakland, as one of its Top 12 ArtPlaces of 2013.
Yet among the arts organizations that remain in San Francisco, the space crisis is increasing in urgency, especially for the smaller ones. Nonprofits are facing evictions, renegotiations of their leases, and a lack of viable alternatives within the city. In the absence of outside real estate expertise, navigating the tumultuous market of San Francisco is close to impossible for these organizations, a great number of which are under-resourced and understaffed to start.
The adage may be true: All organizations have a lifecycle. However, many of those faced with space-related challenges in San Francisco are not failing by other measures. Some even receive operations funding from the city government. Women’s Audio Mission, for example, has been on a long and exhausting hunt for a new space. As the only professional recording studio and music production training facility in the world run entirely by women, they are trying to meet growing demand for their successful programs.
Other organizations are testing collective strategies. Having relocated to the Central Market District in recent years, Center for New Music, PianoFight and A.C.T.’s The Costume Shop constitute tenant organizations whose spaces have become community hubs through encouraging membership, co-working, resident ensembles and service sharing with independent groups. In Oakland, Ragged Wing Ensemble will open collaborative arts space, The Flight Deck, in spring 2014 and similarly institute a sophisticated tiered membership program.
Read the entire blog article on the Kenneth Rainin Foundation website