Artists are fleeing the Bay Area. Here’s where they’re going.

http://www.sfgate.com/expensive-san-francisco/article/Artists-leaving-sf-bay-area-grass-is-greener-12382578.php

‘It’s harder to be an artist here than ever before.’


Updated 9:32 pm, Sunday, December 3, 2017

  • fc166 920x920 Artists are fleeing the Bay Area. Heres where theyre going.

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Claire George, lead singer of Heartwatch, moved to Seattle from San Francisco one year ago. The musician plans to move to Los Angeles next year.

Claire George, lead singer of Heartwatch, moved to Seattle from San Francisco one year ago. The musician plans to move to Los Angeles next year.

Photo: Courtesy Claire George


Illustrator Anya Sapozhnikov, who grew up in the Bay Area, moved to New York City in 2016. She now resides in Brooklyn.

Illustrator Anya Sapozhnikov, who grew up in the Bay Area, moved to New York City in 2016. She now resides in Brooklyn.

Photo: Courtesy Anya Sapozhnikov


Visual artist Michael Kershnar, who manages the San Francisco artist residency The Growlery, has lived in the Bay Area on and off since 2008. He moves to San Clemente, Calif. in January.

Visual artist Michael Kershnar, who manages the San Francisco artist residency The Growlery, has lived in the Bay Area on and off since 2008. He moves to San Clemente, Calif. in January.

Photo: Fiona Lake


Painter Kate Kuhne called it quits with San Francisco after living in the city for five months. She now lives in Los Angeles.

Painter Kate Kuhne called it quits with San Francisco after living in the city for five months. She now lives in Los Angeles.

Photo: Courtesy Kate Kuhne


Musician Erica Zappia moved to Dallas, Texas, after living in San Francisco for four years.

Musician Erica Zappia moved to Dallas, Texas, after living in San Francisco for four years.

Photo: Courtesy: Erica Zappia




Anne MooreYes, in many ways we were. Bellingham has a wonderful quality of life, close to Canada, people are even healthier there, even more outdoorsy than here, close to Cascades, very creative, lots of beauty, no traffic, friendlier, slower pace, great people. Only ONE thing was wrong with it, and that was enough to make us move back – it is cloudy and gloomy there most of the time! The light is dimmer, you never see a big bowl of clear blue sky, and you can get chilled to the bone with the damp and dark. I so missed our radiant California sun melting the heat into my bones. less

Photo: X-Weinzar, Wikimedia










“The Bay Area arts scene is disappearing.”

It seems that such a grand proclamation is issued every few years with a rotating adjective ­– dying, dwindling or any other d-word that signifies departure and diminishment.

But when artists leave, and they most certainly are leaving the Bay Area, they do not necessarily announce their departures with such vague, spectacular statements. They often go with a whisper, a quiet slinking away.

In the spirit of our ongoing “Grass is Greener” series, which chronicles the stories of those who left the Bay Area for elsewhere, SFGATE spoke to a handful of artists who fled the Bay Area, or plan to leave soon, to learn why they left and where they went. Some lived here a short time, trying the region on for a few months before moving on. Others grew up here, spent their childhoods doodling graffiti in San Francisco’s alleyways and penning songs about the fog to be played at a warehouse gig.

An expensive city like San Francisco sometimes seems as if it’s full of transients – young people looking to give the Bay Area a shot before heading to a place where a house can be purchased and roots laid down.

One study estimated that somebody must make more than $110,000 to live comfortably in the Bay Area, and that’s not necessarily conducive to a thriving arts scene.

“Rent is too steep for a full-time artist without a steady income,” said Michael Kershnar, a visual artist with a background in skateboarding. His artwork is visible throughout the Bay Area, in murals, on skate decks or at The Growlery, an artist residency and gallery space in the Lower Haight, which he manages.

Kershnar lived in the Bay Area from 2008-2011, but left when the cost of living spiked and studio space became hard to come by. He returned two years ago to manage The Growlery, but with his contract up at the end of the year, he’s on to the next residency. Such is the reality for many artists, who must go where opportunity presents itself, whether in the form of a residency, teaching gig or grant.

In January, Kershnar heads to San Clemente, Calif., for a three-month residency at The House of Trestles. After that, he’s not so sure.

Related video: Where people move when they leave the Bay Area 


Bay Area residents are leaving for these US cities.


Media: Ted Andersen, SFGATE, Getty


•••

Claire George, frontwoman of indie band Heartwatch, moved back home to Seattle last year. She lived in San Francisco for five years, and enmeshed herself in the region’s lively music scene. In that time, she says she saw “lots of people leaving,” but at that point, the artist exodus was standard fare — “San Francisco had been hemorrhaging artists for a long time,” she said.

During her San Francisco tenure, George worked a full-time job in addition to making music, which she says was common practice in the scene.

“Pretty much everyone in my band had a full-time job or was in school,” she said.

A high cost of living doesn’t just hamper the ability of an artist to make a living wage, but can also take a toll on the viability of art spaces, which often struggle to compete with the competitive set by other neighborhood tenants, like for-profit companies and businesses.

“Dwindling art space is not the main incentive for artists to leave, but it doesn’t help,” said Erin McElroy, the founder and director of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, a Bay Area digital mapping and storytelling collective that charts the effects of gentrification and displacement.

Most art venues, like galleries, concert halls and collectives, do not qualify for rent control because they are not residential spaces. Rent can increase at the whim of a landlord, McElroy says, which she sees as a “big reason” many informal collectives and underground spaces have disappeared in the last 10 years.

“Community land trusts have been really useful in protecting tenant space,” she said, “but it would be great to see more land trusts for art and commercial spaces.”

Local organizations have mobilized in recent years to fight these displacements, including the nonprofit Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST). On Thursday, CAST announced a pilot grant that will award $350,000 in funding to 14 Oakland-based arts and cultural organizations seeking real estate assistance. The announcement came just days before the Dec. 2 anniversary of the tragic Ghost Ship warehouse fire, which took the lives of 36 people and spurred a crackdown on underground live-work spaces across the Bay Area.

***

“In many ways, yes, it’s harder to be an artist here than ever before,” McElroy said.

McElroy’s statement is backed, or at least correlated with, statistical trends.

In 2015, the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) surveyed nearly 600 artists living in San Francisco. The results were frightening; Over 70 percent of respondents said they had been or were being displaced from their workplaces, homes or both. Thirty percent feared displacement would happen in the near future.

“One of the things we learned through that study is that artists are very unclear about their tenancy situation, very unclear about their rights, when their leases expired,” said Kate Patterson, director of communications for SFAC. She says the city realized a major pain point in artist housing advocacy was the availability of information, especially when it came to bureaucracy-heavy endeavors like applying for affordable housing.


SFAC was intended to provide grants for local artists to create new work, Patterson explained, “But stability is critical when creating new work, and we don’t yet have a living assistance program,” she said. “That’s a need area that has emerged out of the time that we’re in.”

The commission is exploring the possibility of “developing affordable housing,” but Patterson says it could be years out.

“We need something right now.”

Earlier this month, SFAC announced plans to conduct another, more comprehensive survey of local artists in the coming year.

***

When an influx of people belonging to a certain group leave a place, a more visceral, less visible challenge arises — a lack of community, and a community forced to fight for slim resources.

Within the Bay Area music scene, George says because there are fewer players, fellow musicians aren’t always open to collaboration.

“It becomes more competitive,” she explains.

Then there’s “the monetary thing” in San Francisco, she said, where a lack of opportunity often transforms art-making into a “transactional, grabby process.”

“It can put a damper on your ability to feel open,” she said.

But a small community can create even tighter bonds among those able to make it work, those fighting to stay in the Bay Area. A group mentality materializes.

This mentality can fuel fierce divisions among residents belonging to different communities. Many of those interviewed for this story spoke in terms of us — artists — versus them: Tech.

“Unless I quit music and moved into tech, I would never live comfortably,” said musician Erica Zappia, who moved to Texas in June.

Said artist Michael Kershnar, “I guess my arts and relationship skillset is not as prized as being in tech.”

Painter Kate Kuhne left San Francisco for Los Angeles after half a year. “I found San Francisco to be creatively constipated, infested with tech zombies,” she said.

Related video: What you’ll miss when you leave the Bay Area


You may be thinking of leaving the Bay Area in search of a more affordable to live… but think of all the things you’ll miss!


Media: San Francisco Chronicle


Identifying as an artist can act as a form of cultural currency in the Bay Area, says Anti-Eviction Mapping Project founder McElroy. But the definition varies. “Artist” could be applied to muralists and painters, but also musicians and filmmakers, even those working in the tech industry.

“Designers making six-figure salaries at tech companies might identify as artists, but they’re not living as precariously as someone painting murals or creating art linked to different subcultures,” McElroy said.

“Sometimes the idea of an artist in the Bay Area is a white, bohemian creative person,” she explained, and such a person, though living outside the dominant culture, can contribute to gentrification and displacement.

She advocates for a rejiggering of the identifier “artist,” to include those making political art, or art linked to various subcultures – people of color, the working class, those threatened by redevelopment and gentrification.

Once again, it comes down to a problem of identity. At least that’s how illustrator and Bay Area native Anya Sapozhnikov sees it. She moved to New York City two years ago in pursuit of an art scene with “more freedom” and “innovation.”

“San Francisco is a tech city,” she said. “Not an art city.”

Such designations are ultimately fluid. Cities change, and the transformation of a place can play out over decades, or just a few years.

Change has come quickly to the Bay Area, but also to the places one goes to escape such instability. Said Baudelaire, “The form of a city changes faster than the human heart.”

George, the musician in Seattle, has found many similarities to San Francisco in her new home.

“I left San Francisco excited for this new creative climate,” she said. “And the exact same thing is happening here.”

In January, she’s moving to Los Angeles.

Michelle Robertson is an SFGATE staff writer. Email her at mrobertson@sfchronicle.com or find her on Twitter at @mrobertsonsf.

Article source: http://www.sfgate.com/expensive-san-francisco/article/Artists-leaving-sf-bay-area-grass-is-greener-12382578.php

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