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A culture blog by Lauren Girardin, a San Francisco-based city girl who eats out and kicks about.

September 01, 2000

Reference to My Article, "Artists Battle the Dot-Coms for Space"

In early 2002, just as the dot-com boom was losing ground in San Francisco, I found this opinion piece written about my article for AlterNet.org. Luckily I saved it, as the hosting website - like so many others - is now defunct.

Art vs. Real Life
by Olga Gardner Galvin
September 1, 2000

I was deeply saddened to hear the San Francisco’s enclave of dancers and artists is being evicted to make room for dot-coms (Artists Battle the Dot-Coms for Space, Lauren Girardin, AlterNet, August 22, 2000). “Dancers who would soon loose their creative territory,” Girardin writes, “had expressed their outrage, disbelief, and grief” – and I mourn with them.

“The sentiments were clear and unanimous,” Girardin continues with appropriate passion, “creativity and expression had been forfeited once again to the voracious needs of business and the new economy. Financial pressures of an unrestrained real estate market ha doomed yet another community group.”

A money-hungry landlord, Pomegranate Design and Development, saw its opportunity o make more money in the grossly booming economy and bought the building where Dancer’s Group and other artists had their workshops. The rent went up to $15,500 a month – something artists and never afford, but dot-coms can. And the artists are duly upset.

“Much of the blame for this situation,” Girardin writes, “falls on he shoulders of landlords and developers, who often charge the maximum rent the free market allows and evict those who cannot pay…As Krissy Keefer of Dance Mission asked, ‘Just because you can make a buck, should you?’”

Ah, the sacramental question. Of course not. If everybody who could make a buck chose to, there would be no art left. I know a couple of things about art. The number one: art, as we established in the 60s and 70s, is anything the artist declare to e art; and an artist is anyone who creates thusly defined art. Thing number two: art doesn’t make most artist rich. Therefore, it’s up to the les artistically inclined masses to pick up their tab. A conscious decision to make a living must come with the responsibility to take care of those who have made a much nobler decision to create art instead of revenue. There’s no law to that effect yet, but there ought to be, and teams of experts are already working on it.

Property owners must be obligated to provide use of their property free or nearly free of charge to those who have higher things than money on their minds. And there ought to be a law about that, too. No, wait, there is a law sort of like that. It’s called rent control.

San Francisco is big on rent control, mostly thanks to the same passionate activists who want to keep art in and dot-coms out. Does it work? Not according to Thomas Sowell. But I have no doubt that San Francisco authorities are simply doing something wrong, and Sowell, a mere economist, just doesn’t get it. After all, who am I to doubt that artists know best? They are progressives and morally superior. They must be, if they deliberately forgo such mundane matters as making a living. They must know something the rest of us don’t.

Pomegranate Design and Development claims that their rent was significantly lower than what the building would fetch in the free market, and that the building cold easily bring in double that figure. Pshaw! “To Pomegranate,” Girardin points out reproachfully, “the rent hike was reasonable and fair within the context of the economic environment.

“…Blame has also been placed on dot-com businesses, or more broadly, on the new economy,” she comments. “The new media industry…has brought a tidal wave of money and people to San Francisco that are now hostile competitors for local services, workers, and space.

“In return, the dot-coms defend themselves by saying that they deserve space, jut like anyone else, and that their presence often brings new life to vacant buildings and distressed, neglected neighborhoods.

“Deserve” space? Deserve space? “Just like anyone else?” Oh no, they don’t. Who do they think they are, barging in and laying claim to a space occupied by artists, just because they can afford it? The dot-coms are, obviously, very small thinkers. They only care about money and more money. Their technological little minds don’t hold higher matters.

I will not tire of repeating that artists are far more progressive. In fact, the very definition of Socialism is “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his labor.” The definition of Communism, however, is “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his need.” So why not just skip a step on the road to complete social progress? Artists will produce art and take what they need to continue producing art; we’ll produce revenue and take what we can afford after a fair share of our income is handed over to supply the artists’ needs. It is resolved: I will work even harder.

The dot-com “also claim to be injecting San Francisco and the communities they move into with new jobs…However, of the 30,000 new Internet jobs created in California each year, a small fraction are now held by local residents,” Girardin states. Well, duh. What good is injecting an art community with jobs it doesn’t want, since so many local residents would rather make art than a living. All this getting up and going to work every morning is grossly overrated. I don’t like doing it myself. That’s why I freelance from home.

But you know what? Maybe I’ll change my lifestyle and get a job. Hell, maybe even two jobs. I’m not an artist. I should dedicate my life to supporting progressive struggling artists. Otherwise, consequences to all of us will be most dire. (Actually, I know any number of artists who earn a decent living and create art in their spare time, but they’re not real artists. They’re just sellouts to the booming economy.)

The San Francisco organization A.A.R.G.G. (All Against Ruthless Greedy Gentrification) promises to continue to wage a “sustained political protest” against gentrification. A.A.R.G.G.’s proposed solutions include:

  • the creation of an agency committed to the community interests;
  • more truly affordable housing;
  • the use of a portion of the city’s budget surplus towards subsidy of rent for those who cannot afford market rates or towards government purchase of property for affordable use;
  • a system that would designate certain property as space for the arts, non-profits, or other affordable housing.

Why? Because “The city has to defend, has to protect, has to maintain affordable art space,” proclaimed Jan Holden of the Coalition for Jobs, Arts & Housing (CJAH).

They are absolutely right. The city has to do all that. Yet what is a city but a sum total of taxpayers’ money, and the more revenue taxpayers create, the more taxes they pay and the bigger is the budget surplus. Which means, the despicable dot-coms should bankroll all of the above suggestions – as soon as they find a place to perch. The most progressive man of the century, V.I. Lenin, the one who had it right, said: “The capitalists will sell us the rope on which we will hang them.”

As activists remind us, “art is critical to the survival of this city.” And, as the writing on the Dancer’s Groups walls expressed it, “Art is better than money.”

Consider your options. You can put on shoes and go to work every day. Or you can stay home and create art and spend your spare time crusading to get everybody else to take care of your needs. What are you providing in return for the money? Artistic atmosphere, crucial to the survival of the city, and a moral compass for the lowbrow, greedy masses.

I’ll say, art is better.

Olga Gardner Galvin is a freelance book editor and writer from Hoboken, New Jersey, a former stand-up comedian, and an occasional contributor to www.filmsinreview.com.