The TL Arts Advisory & Friends meeting, June 2014.

We had an especially well-attended Tenderloin Arts Advisory & Friends meeting this summer. Our friends at CounterPulse kindly hosted at their new home at 80 Turk. Representatives from 35 organizations attended including major arts funders as special guests. As usual for the TL Arts Advisory it was a very diverse crowd.

I reported to the group that we need a new format and organizational structure. Our great, collegial and informal gatherings have worked very well these past 5 years but the issues are now too big and too complicated – special use district for arts legislation; cultural equity funding; divisions between disciplines and neighborhoods, new facility development – for a one-person volunteer facilitating 90 minute meetings a few times a year.  We need systematic organizing and advocacy.

Over the years I’ve heard calls to expand the TL Arts Advisory to include friends and colleagues working in other neighborhoods.  My reaction was always concern that the needs of Tenderloin groups like the Vietnamese Youth Development Center, the Shih Yu-Lang Central YMCA, TL Boys & Girls Club, i.e. the small guys (my peeps), would quickly be lost in a larger circle.  One of the wonderful aspects of our advisory is to see these groups sit alongside larger organizations like American Conservatory Theater, LINES Ballet, and form collaborative projects for the benefit of the neighborhood residents.  Community development through the arts; it’s been a wonderful development to watch unfold.

But we’ve now arrived at a place where the Tenderloin groups would be best served by being part of a larger, more powerful whole.  Perhaps, like Arts for LA, we can keep our neighborhood collaborative going while engaging with our colleagues from the rest of the city who would form neighborhood groups that would be part of the larger whole.

The TL Arts Advisory has a lot to be proud of. It was the well from which inspiration was drawn that gave rise to the campaign to build 950, the creation of CAST, the impetus behind special use district legislation for the arts.

After June’s meeting I was approached by a brilliant friend who leads a wonderful arts organization in the Mission.  She asked me “Why the Tenderloin and mid-Market?”   A neighborhood arts center. Special use district legislation for the arts.  Why us?

The answer: years of dogged, extremely difficult, extremely frustrating, at times militant, at times diplomatic, in-the-trenches advocacy by the TL Arts Advisory and the Tenderloin Economic Development Project.  I’ve been picked up and dusted off more times than I can remember by the Arts Advisory and my old board of directors at TEDP.  Nobody gave us anything for free, and the fight is not over.  (Really, with mid-Market business booming, why bother with the arts?)

Any neighborhood can do it.  All should.  I’ve heard arguments that the Mission has been more heavily impacted by the tech-fueled real estate boom than the Tenderloin/mid-Market has.  I don’t know the Mission community well at all but we are happy to break bread with our peers and see what we can build together.  And with the next community.  And the next.

Let’s see where we can all take this.