By Devin Holt
The KQED arts blog is reporting that one of San Francisco’s oldest community-based arts organizations is bracing for serious changes. Intersection for the Arts is closing programs and laying off several staff members. According to a press release included in the article, Intersection will suspend its Education, Visual Arts, and Community Engagement programs, and lay off long-time program directors Kevin Chen, Rebeka Rodriguez and Sean San Jose, along with several support staff and part-time contractors. It will also stop producing its own work, except for a “limited amount of funded projects already in the pipeline.”
The press release doesn’t specifically mention the city’s rising rents or the recent struggles of other arts-based nonprofits to remain in San Francisco, but it does reference the challenges of maintaining an arts organization when space is at such a premium.
From the press release:
“Our financial situation has always been fragile. Like many non-profit, grassroots arts organizations, it has been a perpetual struggle, dependent on 'angel donors,' 'heroic' leadership, and unpredictable trends. The move from our long-time home in the Mission to an improved facility in SOMA was a significant effort to address this issue, but it was increasingly clear that they were not enough to build the financial foundation we need not merely to survive, but to grow and thrive.”
While stories like this are common these days, this one is particularly bad news. Intersection for the Arts is an institution in the San Francisco art scene. It was founded as part of the sixties counterculture movement, and has hosted programs with Junot Diaz, Whoopi Goldberg and Dave Eggers, while fiscally sponsoring a wide range of emerging and cutting edge artists through its Incubator program. Groups fiscally-sponsored by Intersection include Youth Speaks, Litquake, Cutting Ball Theater, and the hip-hop band Felonious.
Chasing Mehserle, which is playing at Intersection through May 24, is a good example of what makes Intersection so vital. It’s a theater piece produced in collaboration with other homegrown arts organizations that explores issues often ignored by the mainstream art scene. The play examines race, class, and the justice system in Oakland through the eyes of a man searching for Johannes Mehserle (the BART police officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant on New Years Day in 2009). Go see it.
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Intersection is not closing. The organization will continue its Incubator program, where it fiscally sponsors local arts groups. This means, essentially, that Intersection for the Arts will move from being an organization that produces its own work while supporting local artists, to an organization that supports local artists.
But at the rate we’re going, San Francisco’s art scene could soon look less like an intersection, and more like a stop sign.
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Image from Intersection from the Arts