Artists’ colorful rally drums up support Mayor’s performance space rescue plan addressed

The Associated Press
Friday October 06, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO — Dancers and artists pranced on the steps of City Hall to a driving drum tattoo, protesting rising rents and dwindling rehearsal space and demanding more from the city they’ve helped define. 

“Wake up San Francisco. No Art No Soul” read one protest sign as stiltwalkers teetered above a crowd of more than 200 performers Wednesday, vowing unrest until city leaders come up with a rescue plan. 

“The city needs us to keep it a vital city,” said Jo Kreiter, an acrobat who shimmied up 15-foot-tall pole for a slow, bird’s eye ballet of twists and turns. “They need us to thrive here. Not just scrap out a living.” 

The musical call-to-arms came in the midst of a political tug-of-war over spiraling office space rents, driven up by the dot-com companies that are creeping into nearly every nook in the city. 

Performance studios in San Francisco cost an average $12.70 per square foot. But the market rate for the same space is an estimated $55 per square foot. 

That leaves places like Dance Mission left out in the cold, no longer able to afford rising rents. The instructional group is scheduled to close its doors Nov. 1 after 30 years of samba, flamenco and tap dance lessons. 

“I’ve been here a year and half. In that time there are six main dances studios in San Francisco and four of them have closed,” said Tara Brandel, a community outreach worker for Dance Mission who moved here from London after learning of the city’s rich dance history and the storied careers of Anna Halprin and Isadora Duncan. 

After the rally, the Board of Supervisors’ Finance and Labor Committee began meeting inside City Hall to discuss the displacement of artists and nonprofit groups. 

Up for discussion was Mayor Willie Brown’s plans to offer $7 million in city grants to build space for performers and artists, $5 million going to capital improvements for non-profits and more than $1.5 million to arts and cultural non-profits through the city’s Art Commission and Grants for the Arts. 

“With a red-hot economy has come a red-hot real estate market, and our non-profits are getting burnt. We must intervene,” Brown said in a statement. 

Many of the artists losing their regular haunts are musicians from Downtown Rehearsal, the city’s largest rehearsal space, closed late last month in preparation for the building’s reported $14 million sale.  

The musicians, which include Chris Isaak, have taken the $750,000 offered by the building’s owner to find a new home. 

At Wednesday’s protest, Krissy Keefer grabbed a microphone and told the crowd that the show of unity would send a message that politicians could not ignore. Keefer said she wanted the city to buy buildings to house nonprofits, help artists pay for maintenance and the projects that emerge from the space. 

“We might be rabble rousers, but we are not isolated,” Keefer said.