The tragedy at Oakland’s Ghost Ship two weeks ago was a stark reminder that the most vibrant cities for art around the country are pushing its artists into the shadows, and sometimes sending them to their deaths. The tech boom, gentrification, bureaucratic paralysis and foolhardy anti-development policies have sent real estate prices into the stratosphere, forcing young artists to live and work in unsafe spaces.
The non-profits that try to support them are also losing their homes.
CounterPulse, a San Francisco-based presenter and incubator of activist performing arts, lost its longtime SOMA perch when Twitter and others in that cohort cast their long shadows over downtown San Francisco. The Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) staged an 11th hour rescue, and, after an extensive overhaul of an old theater at 80 Turk Street, CounterPulse’s new home feels like a sanctuary in the grim Tenderloin: warmly lit, spare but functional, sleek and welcoming, with its audacious crimson neon sign signaling the venue’s past as a burlesque club.
“Sanctuary” is also a fitting term for the twin bill from artists SAMMAY (a.k.a. Samantha Peñaflor Dizon) and dana e. fitchett that ran at CounterPulse on the weekend of the Ghost Ship fire. They are the newest resident choreographers in a long-established program at CounterPulse known as Performing Diaspora.
Both dance works are preoccupied with tensions over real estate that threaten the homeland of native peoples and force migrations that tear the fabric of society. Read my review of this program in KQED Arts.
CounterPulse has seven years to raise the funding to make 80 Turk its permanent home. May it continue to provide sanctuary to performing artists of the multitude of diasporas that make San Francisco great.
Meanwhile, Bay Area bureaucrats have started to crack down on underground venues that they’ve turned a blind eye to for decades, anxious to prevent another tragedy. Unless they also provide alternative venues for our young artists, we will see a forced exodus to cheaper cities. And that will turn the Bay Area into another soulless strip of Starbucks and CVS stores, and the liveliest entertainment in town will be chasing Pokémon.