More than 100 artists and activists from around the Bay Area gathered at the Women’s Building earlier this week to figure out how to be the next artist to become part of the federal stimulus project and create publicly funded art.
Their model is the New Deal’s Federal Art Projects that hired their depression era peers to create some 250,000 works of art. Among them
are five in San Francisco including two statues in Valencia Gardens and three murals at Mission High School including two that have survived.
“It’s inspiring just to know what was possible in the past for the public sector and what might be possible again,” said Gray Brechin, a professor at UC Berkeley and founder of California’s Living New Deal Project.
Jeff Chang, a hip-hop journalist, and Arlene Goldbard, an art activist and writer, organized and attended a White House briefing in Washington on the arts in May and encouraged those who attended the July Mission meeting to push for a movement for publicly funded art.
“All around the country cities and county’s are receiving support for infrastructure development, employment development, block grants, and other forms of public investment that have the potential to employ artist, “ said Goldbard.
“Great potential exist, but actualizing that potential means find out who administers these funds? How to approach them? How to educate them? How to apply?” she added and seemed to have more questions than answers.
Chang said other artists across the country have similar goals.
“What do we do to make a new consensus for the arts seem inevitable?,” he asked. He added that art needs to be looked at as essential for society.
Muralist Diana Ritchie, 22, said she expected a “how-to” workshop to get funding for her 16-strong East Bay muralist collective True Colors, but was glad to have a networking opportunity.
“It gets so competitive for grants,” she said.
A public art movement would allow her to do what she likes.
“It would be fabulous to have another WPA for artists to be able to live off being artists,” she said.
The Federal Art Project was the division of the WPA created by F.D.R.’s New Deal, that created jobs for roughly 5,000 artist during the depression.
San Francisco was the first and last city to be awarded funds for public art under the WPA. The first was the Diego-Rivera-inspired Coit Tower murals, which depict working class San Franciscans. The last were the Rincon Center murals, which were commissioned at the end of World War II and illustrate a history of California through the eyes of the working classes.
San Francisco passed a public art ordinance in 1969 that sets aside two percent of the construction cost of public buildings, transportation improvement projects, and new parks for public art.
This funded $1.8 million worth of art in the 2008/09 fiscal year that went to 19 artists. That compares to the previous fiscal year, which funded $435,000 for eight artist.
The current stimulus package has designated $50 million for the National Endowment of the Arts to distribute to applying organizations that’s a 32 percent increase over 2008
Christy Rodgers, one of the event organizers, said contemporary artist should take note of these great depression artists.
“We want to motivate an entire group of all of us here tonight,” she said.
She added that there will be other events to try to build momentum for this movement. The next event is a historical tour of the Rincon Annex murals on Saturday July 19 at 2 p.m.