SF Arts Commission reaches out to SF artists for work space displacement stories

Artists facing displacement from their homes, studios or apartments is a growing concern in San Francisco. The Redlick Building at 17th and Mission streets is one such place where artists face displacement because their landlord may not renew their lease. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)
 The Arts Commission has spent a considerable amount of time lately discussing the ongoing dilemma of San Francisco’s artists losing their work spaces — not to mention their homes.

One commissioner even noted that artists were once fleeing to the East Bay, but as real estate prices have risen there as well, artists have begun heading farther away to Portland.

As the stories of artist displacement mount, the commission is taking a larger role in the issue by asking San Francisco’s artists to fill out the “Individual Artist Displacement Survey 2015,”which was launched online this month.

In the survey, artists are asked questions about the square footage of their workspace, how long they’ve been there, if they are being displaced from their home and the type of eviction they might be facing.

In May, the commission discussed three separate landlord-artist conflicts that threatened to displace the workspaces of some 150 artists, such as rent hikes or development plans.

“While we have heard about a lot of these evictions and potential evictions anecdotally, we have missing information about things like total square footage, total price per square foot. So it’s kind of an incomplete picture of what we are seeing,” Tom DeCaigny, director of cultural affairs for the Arts Commission, explained to the commissioners. “I think the data will become very important in guiding a response.”

He suggested one solution is to convince developers that artist workspaces can play an important role in mixed-use developments.

“Shared workspace in a potential housing development, in terms of mixed use, could be a really great way to go,” DeCaigny said.

Commissioner JD Beltran was able to offer a fourth location where artists were facing sizable rent hikes from $1.50 per square foot to $5 per square foot at 2325 3rd St., which, she said, “is the going rate now for Dogpatch.”

DeCaigny noted “it is next to impossible to find affordable space in San Francisco that would be meeting the $1 to $2.50 per square [foot] that many artists are able to pay. It’s not the news we all want to hear.”

Artist Diana Martinez was among those facing the loss of her workspace at the Redlick Building at 17th and Mission streets — one of the three sites the commission discussed. Realizing a protracted fight was ahead, she and two other artists there decided to rent studio space nearby at the Arts Explosion Studios on nearby Alabama Street.

“Many people don’t realize how important these spaces are to designers and the design community,” Martinez said in an email to the Examiner. “Every creative professional needs to engage in a space where they can practice and experiment, and exercising creativity doesn’t all happen on computers in offices.”

She added, “I hope with continued exposure, that the arts in San Francisco, and in cities everywhere, is recognized as being worthy of preservation, and active investment by city government.”

Mayor Ed Lee announced his interest in artist housing late last month, directing the commission to work with his office to explore potential housing developments for artists.

The commission’s focus on artist displacement is expected to remain a staple of its ongoing business. “I think we are going to have our work cut out for us on an ongoing basis because I unfortunately do not see this trend shifting given the commercial real estate market for the foreseeable future,” DeCaigny said.