Where Hope Lives
Responding to the economic meltdown last year, the San Francisco Foundation downsized and began reconsidering what a community foundation needs to be in the present environment. As a result of this rethinking, in addition to the arts portfolio, I now have multiple tasks including managing programs for LGBT organizations, diversity in philanthropy, and a new initiative supporting mergers, closures, joint ventures, and back office collaborations. During this process of transition, I found myself having to be comfortable with ambiguity, as the importance of the arts was weighed in relation to the enormous safety net issues of food, clothing, shelter, job losses, and mortgage foreclosures. Funding cuts decimated education, health, and human services; the arts should not be exempt. Looking at any community holistically, an argument can be made for how essential arts and culture are to its vitality. Yet, this can only be argued when a community has affordable housing, jobs, access to heath care, quality schools, parks, and libraries. As the very tenets of civil society are being rewritten in the current recession, and the social safety net is ruptured, support for the arts is understandably imperiled.
Of course, there are the economic arguments. Multiculturalism and innovation are key components in Bay Area life and arts are a powerful tool fueling our economy. San Francisco’s nonprofit arts organizations' employ over 10,000 people, and this does not include jobs from hotels, restaurants and parking that serve arts audiences. More than our numbers though, the arts must be held sacred and our intellectual, creative, and social capital contribution not underestimated. There can be no creative economy without the arts. The role artists play in creating metaphor, defining space (real and imaged), commemorating losses and victories, and articulating the unconscious must be valued. Children and marginalized communities find their first voice through cultural expression. Artists and arts organizations often create a safe space for unsafe ideas, a necessary role in our profane world. The arts are where hope lives.