MEDA’s Creative Strategies for Creative Placekeeping in the Mission

by Director of Community Real Estate Karoleen Feng
Contributed to by Senior Project Manager Feliciano Vera

The Mission has a decades-long history of being a hub for an inclusive community of arts & cultural institutions that reflect the neighborhood’s Latino, LGBTQ and immigrant identities. The Mission has been a home for institutions such as Galeria de la Raza, Precita Eyes Muralists, Dance Mission Theater, the Red Poppy Collective, Mission Cultural Center, Loco Bloco, neighborhood bookstores and many other arts-oriented businesses. The neighborhood has been a place of inclusion for people: an intergenerational, intercultural, safe space where children, families, youth, disabled individuals and senior citizens express themselves.

While many arts & cultural organizations and funders have driven a movement around creative placemaking — or achieving community development and other neighborhood goals through the arts — the Mission is facing the loss of this vibrant and crucial fabric of our community due to skyrocketing rents and rapid displacement of lower-income residents, nonprofits and arts-production spaces. What until even the late 2000s was a center of creative risk-taking across generations, language and gender norms is now a shadow of itself — a victim of the latest market boom.

That’s why MEDA is tackling the challenge of creative placekeeping in the Mission. MEDA is leveraging its community real estate efforts, which includes the development and preservation of affordable residential and commercial spaces, to enhance and strengthen an existing, robust arts & culture infrastructure in the Mission. The goal? To prevent the loss of culture we see daily, and to keep communities creative by stemming displacement and no-fault evictions.

Art doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The Mission’s history of engagement — intergenerational, intercultural and exploratory — actively contributes to the dynamism of its art and artists.  Creative placekeeping, as ally Galeria de la Raza shared with us, is about embedding arts & cultural infrastructure in an already creative community to keep the place (in our case, the Mission), from disappearing culturally.  Placekeepers serve as a community bridge builder between the historic communities that have defined the cultural identity of this area and yet find themselves living and working in isolation.

San Francisco’s loss
The dire situation of the displacement of the city’s arts community was documented in summer 2015 when the San Francisco Arts Commission conducted a survey of over 600 artists, finding that over 70 percent of respondents had been, or were being, displaced from their workplace or home (some from both). As for the 30 percent who were not being displaced, most expressed fear that could happen in the future. 

Since that comprehensive survey was conducted, there have been many more stories of artists priced out of their neighborhood of choice.

Take the case of the eviction of scores of artists from the Mission’s Redlick Building, with tech companies moving in, drawn to the same high ceilings and light-filled spaces creative types seek.

This has translated to far too many artists leaving San Francisco altogether. Of those that have remained in the Bay Area, many have crowded together into less-than-ideal conditions. The fragility of our arts communities was horrifically exemplified by the Oakland Ghostship fire in December of last year, an informal home to many artists seeking a supportive place of refuge in which to work.

It’s more than art. It’s a community.
When artists converge to live and create together, a community of shared values is the result. Proximity is paramount to creativity. Artists critique each other’s work. They push each other, and the envelope, so that work is taken to the next level. This work is then put forth as a way to represent — and even challenge — the values of the community at large.

Without these artistic communities, synergy dissipates and art must be created in a vacuum, with the result stifled creativity. Even if a San Francisco artist is open to flying solo, it is simply not feasible in our city of tight living quarters, with it rarely possible to eke out enough space to work in one’s home.  

To prevent the loss of our communities of artists and their shared values, strategies are needed for creative placekeeping.

MEDA’s strategies and recent wins for creative placekeeping
Understanding the urgent need for creative placekeeping, MEDA has taken on the preservation and production of arts spaces. There have been significant victories to date.

1. Embedding arts and cultural spaces in affordable housing (new and old)  

  • In January 2016, MEDA saved the longtime home of Precita Eyes Muralists, responsible for many of the ubiquitous, beloved murals adorning Mission buildings and alleyways. These murals uniquely identify the MIssion as a place and visually establish the presence of longtime residents and businesses in the neighborhood. This placekeeping of an arts community was made possible by MEDA harnessing the power of the City’s Small Sites Program, which provides succor and creative financing for nonprofits to buy properties with tenants vulnerable to eviction. In the case of Precita Eyes Muralists, their first-floor commercial space was preserved, along with the home of the tenants of the three units above. Residents included a musician, a therapist and educators.
  • MEDA is helping Dance Mission find a new home in the Mission. There are plans for Dance Mission to move into an approximately 10,000-square-foot space at 2205 Mission St., a building MEDA has purchased. There will be a 200-seat theater, three studios and office space.
  • MEDA is developing 1990 Folsom and 681 Florida (former address 2070 Bryant) to continue rebuilding the supply of affordable housing for families and to add arts and industrial space. The property at 1990 Folsom is the site of a long-vacant bakery, which will be redeveloped with funding from the passage of November 2015’s Prop A Housing Bond, of which $50 million was earmarked to the Mission. The site at 681 Florida was secured as a community benefit from a luxury-condo development next door. Each building will have over 10,000 square feet of affordable space for arts organizations and commercial tenants integrated with over 130 apartments for families.  

2. Policy and advocacy  

  • MEDA spearheaded Proposition X, passed by San Francisco voters in November 2016. Prop X called for limiting the conversion of Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR) spaces, which run the gamut from auto-repair shops to warehouse spaces for artists, so that buildings that were used for these spaces could not be completely converted into luxury-rate developments.
  • Through coalitions, MEDA supports community benefits advocacy of large. market-rate developments converting PDR spaces to luxury developments, ensuring the resulting developments mitigate for the erosion of the family orientation of the MIssion.

3. Rebuilding our neighborhood, corridor by corridor  

  • With our allies, we are also connecting the Mission, focusing our efforts on key corridors that are the arterials of public life (Mission Street, 16th Street and 24th Street). Looking forward, we are launching the Mission Artivism initiative with Galeria De La Raza, which will solidify one mile of 16th Street, between Mission and Bryant streets, anchored by affordable-housing developments such as 1990 Folsom and 681 Florida. During the next three years, until these currently empty sites are rebuilt, artists and arts groups will activate these spaces and integrate the voices of community into what could be the future of both these sites and the corridor.

MEDA vows to continue to be at the vanguard of creative strategies for the creative community. It’s all about the building of cultural capital.


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