Anniversary Post: From An Interview On The New Economy in 2000

Finally, I'm finding the time to actually launch what I'd initially intended Subtexts to be. It's been listed on my site since it started and last spring, the blog was ready to go, and I posted an announcement for an upcoming exhibit I was having -- not my original intent for the space.

Subtexts is an online interview of artists, curators, gallerists, and cultural workers that poses questions on current issues.

To kick off the project, this first post is an anniversary issue of interviews that I conducted over five years ago that inspired the idea for Subtexts. At that time, I was doing research for an article that I was writing for Artspan on the effects of the New Economy and dotcom boom on the San Francisco arts community. I was interested in hearing from artists, gallerists, and arts administrators themselves and sent out a series of questions to a number of people from the San Francisco art community; the following is what came out of that process.

To give a bit of background for the climate at the time, the following is taken from an essay I wrote for a Mission Mural book that is currently being published by UC Press:

In the late nineties/early millennium the Bay Area was the epicenter of a massive transformation brought about by the dotcom boom and the new economy. Commercial rents in San Francisco skyrocketed to $80/square foot, long-time residents were displaced (by 1998 two-thirds of the residents in the Mission District were new arrivals), and 1,400 luxury lofts were approved for development in the South of Market District – rashly, as it turned out: the vacancy rate was at 45% by 2001 (year of the dotcom bust).

Many watched as the neighborhoods they had spent years building were dismantled and replaced by dotcom startups headed up by perky twenty to thirty-year-olds, often straight out of college or graduate school and seemingly under the impression that San Francisco was just another college campus. The Mission District in particular felt like a big kegger with hordes of loud, drunken frat kids pouring out onto the streets nightly from the trendy upscale venues that were popping up all along Valencia Street at the time.

In the arts community, we saw the departure of a number of artists and arts spaces. Four Walls, Scene/Escena, and ESP all closed their doors and plans were in the works for the demolition of the headquarters of the Clarion Alley Mural Project to make way for condo development, potentially ending a 7-year old organization that had given many artists the opportunity to create a public work[1]. Developers were also looking at the Redstone Building, (historically the old Labor Temple) which houses The Lab, Theatre Rhino, Whispered Media Video Activist Network, Luna Sea, and seven artists' studios (including mine) – in addition to a number of non-profit organizations.[2]

Community members responded passionately and with great resistance, determined to maintain their neighborhoods as they knew them. Protest marches were organized, rallies were held at schools, neighborhood centers, and City Hall, and organizations such as MAC (the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition) and SOMCAN (the South of Market Community Action Network) were formed. Many artists were part of this effort and also contributed through poster campaigns, performances, graffiti, murals, and other public projects.

[1] Clarion Alley Mural Project survived. The headquarters were destroyed and new condos were built, however the Project has continued to thrive, including the completion of over 20 new murals and an international exchange project with artists from Indonesia.
[2] The Redstone survived, as well as the Redstone Tenants Association, which formed during the crisis.

The members of the art community that I interviewed in 2000 were:
Valerie Soe
Harrell Fletcher
Matt Pawlowski
Amy Berk
Ella Delaney
J.D. Beltran
Aaron Noble
Andy Cox
Scott Macleod
Val F. Russell
David Lawrence
Keith Knight
Meg Mack
David Ross
Catherine Clark

Click on the links below for the responses to the questions:

1. In general - how do you feel the economic changes in SF within the arts community?

2. Do you see changes in the work being created - are there trends that you see connected to the economic changes?

3. How are the economic shifts affecting your life as an artist and your work?

4. Have you benefited from the economic changes?

5. What do you think specifically about the .com invasion to S.F.?

6. Do you see any benefits resulting from the .com-ers?

7. Do you see any benefits resulting from the .com-ers?

8. Any other thoughts or observations?

Interview with David Ross

Interview with Catherine Clark

Subtexts #2 will pose questions on cultural/religious influences, appropriations, and globalization