“A few years ago, you could type in ‘artist studio’ on Craigslist and find plenty of spaces in San Francisco. Now all you’ll find are a couple of spaces, and they are out of reach,” laments Chad Xavier, as he nervously adjusts his cap and ponders his future.
A quick look online this morning verified Chad’s statement, as all that could be found as an artist space in San Francisco was a 600-square-foot basement in SoMa. The price is a staggering $2,500 per month.
It’s no surprise that spaces that appeal to artists are also attractive to the tech sector: open areas with plenty of natural light. Think warehouses.
It’s anything but a fair competition.
It was a huge loss for the Mission District art scene—and that of San Francisco in general—when Studio 17’s master lease was not renewed at the end of June. That meant 73 artists, who had been plying their avocation or vocation for years on the upper two floors of the historic Redlick Building at Mission and 17th streets, had to scramble to locate new workspaces.
Many feared the Redlick Building (a.k.a., the 17 Reasons Building) would be highly sought after by the tech sector, scrambling for space in a city with a low commercial-vacancy rate. Add in the fact that many tech workers already reside in the Mission and Studio 17 is ripe for conversion to offices to meet the digital world’s needs. One example of this has already occurred: a space that was once home to the nonprofit Homeless Children’s Network is currently being rented to PlanGrid, a construction software solution company. Time will tell what the owner’s true plans are for this building.
This situation epitomizes a current theme in San Francisco. After over six decades of the avant-garde being drawn to this 49-square-mile city offering the perfect environment to be creative, it now seems as if this increasingly affluent place is returning to its mid-19th-century Gold Rush roots, with modern-day nuggets now being software as a service (SaaS). While artists are still drawn to San Francisco, based on a history of Beat Poets and experimental artists making the city their adopted home, the reality is that few can now afford to have an artist space here. Sadly, many are clinging to a notion that disappears more day by day, with the city losing some of its uniqueness.
Chad Xavier was raised in the South Bay. He received a BFA in drawing from California College of the Arts in 1995 and moved to San Francisco four years later.
“After traveling around California, I knew that San Francisco suited me because it had an existing art community,” explains Chad of his obvious move.
The young man located a communal art space in SoMa called Blue Studios, but the eight artists were compelled to move in 2003 when the monthly rent was raised from $3,000 to an unaffordable $6,000. Chad then became part of Studio 17, where a 10-year lease had been signed for a communal space on the third and fourth floors of the Redlick Building over in the Mission.
Chad loved his new space. There was 24-hour access. A wood shop. There was plenty of space to rehearse plays. It was a true community of artists. It was the perfect space for adventurous Chad to dabble in everything from painting to furniture building.
It was also affordable at $700 per month, split between Chad and another artist.
That all recently changed.
The 73 artists in the building were advised they had to vacate their spaces when the new owner decided to not renew the master lease. While new spaces for about 10 artists were offered on the second floor—still reasonable at $2.40 per square foot—these first-come, first-served rentals were not workable for most anyway.
“Unlike the fourth floor, there is little light on the second floor. The ventilation is bad. Also, the spaces are closed off. I know that some of the artists did move down there, but most of us have had no choice but to leave,” bemoans Chad.
What the future holds
Two truckloads of art are now stored at the house of Chad’s uncle in San Francisco’s Excelsior District.
Chad is looking for a space that he could build out to meet his needs. He is also open to another communal space and has put out the word.
Chad wants to stay in San Francisco, where his family and friends live … and where he and a bevy of creative types created a world-renowned art scene over the years.
“I just checked out spaces in L.A. I don’t want to move there, but for what I was paying here I can get the whole floor of a building. I have to consider it,” states Chad, one again readjusting his cap and determined to salvage his art from storage so that it can be shared with the world once again.