Forty artists and community members began planning to fight Inner Mission's impending eviction in April.

In a turnaround aided by a Saturday morning panel, the director of Inner Mission said he is ready to fight an eviction meant to clear the way for a major block-sized development.

“I’ll keep this space open as long as reasonable people fight for it,” said Mike Gaines, one of the founders of Inner Mission, previously CELLSpace, a theatrical arts space that has been on Bryant between 18th and 19th for 20 years and is supposed to close by June 30th.

San Francisco-based developer Nick Podell, who bought most of the real estate on the block on which Inner Mission lives – including its space – plans to build an entirely new condo development on the site, and up until Saturday, Gaines had resigned himself to that inevitability.

His turnaround, he said, followed a panel and open discussion hosted in the space on the “State of the Arts” in the Mission and San Francisco as a whole. It’s too early to tell how realistic the Gaines’s plans might be, but Station 40, another group planned for eviction on 16th Street, fought and has entered mediation with the landlords there.  The Bryant Street development, however, is much larger and Podell, the developer,  has been working to prepare the block for the changes.  Mission Local has not yet spoken with Podell and will update this story once we do.

“I was truly opening up the space for people who created it for celebration. I had no intention of it turning out the way it did,” Gaines said of the morning panel. “The original intention of today was just to offer this space up for people to pay homage.”

Little homage was paid. Instead, the roughly 40 attendees, mostly local artists and non-profit workers, took up a collective rallying cry to attempt to save the location they have all grown to love. They were inspired by the stories from nine panel members who discussed the desperate state of affairs for art spaces in San Francisco.

Inner Mission, its former name still prominent above the front door, is nestled in an area in which its bohemian look has become increasingly rare among the shiny, new condo buildings.

Krissy Keefer of Dance Mission sat on the panel and vehemently expressed her anger about artists being pushed out of the city to make room for tech workers and their offices.

“I think most of you are aware that we have been in a song and dance with our landlord forever,” she told the crowd, adding that the owner of their building at 24th and Mission raised their rent to $25,000 last year and only allowed them to renew the agreement for a single year.

The woes continued as each panelist explained their own situation.

Todd Brown from Red Poppy Art House at 23rd and Folsom expressed concern over his lease being up in three years time.

Joe Landini of SAFEhouse Arts-Saving Art From Extinction, also shared his fear that they will have to leave San Francisco in three years because he knows their landlord, Burger King, wants them out of their Tenderloin-located space.

Deb Walker, a local artist and San Francisco Building Inspection Commission member, said that she knew of at least a half dozen arts spaces in the city that were currently facing evictions.

Jonathan Youtt, one of the founders of CELLSpace, patiently waited as the other eight panelists discussed their views and stories. Sitting all the way at the end of the line, he listened and then spent his opening statements taking up the cause of the building in which everyone was gathered.

“Every culture in the Bay Area has done some event here. I want to find a way to put some teeth into our planning,” Youtt said.

“We have political power, and we need to use it. I refuse to calm down and relax…We may not win this one, but we will have a system in place,” responded Keefer from Dance Mission.

With the spirit to fight in mind, the panelists and audience members split into two groups to start the plan of action.

Amrit Kohli, a musician recently evicted from his home, suggested a mass movement of people refusing to pay rent. Another woman proposed creating short performance pieces to be displayed at City Hall. Nathan Holguin, a resident artist at Inner Mission, wondered if recruiting and educating tech workers behind the effort could help.

“They love the city we built. They will help us. They take our classes and visit our spaces,” Holguin implored.

“I’m wondering where the banners are on the building to let people know this is happening,” Carin McKay, a local chef, called out from the back of the group.

As the sessions wrapped up, everyone agreed that they need to form a mission statement and steering committee to continue the planning for direct action against the eviction.

“Going into this, I was very skeptical. We had resigned ourselves that the fight was finished. I realized the fight is way bigger than us. We are potentially collateral damage, but the fight is not finished. There’s no reason to accept defeat…This is the first time people in this space decided that we could make a stand,” Holguin said following the event.

Holguin expressed certain reservations, however.

“I am fearful that it will be another unorganized artists movement like Occupy…We need a focus. We can march in the streets and protest, but it’s not going to change shit until we create a little army,” he said.

Gaines said he’s ready for Inner Mission to become a petri dish for how to save other arts spaces in the city. He also said that the recent momentum behind Inner Mission has made him want to become more politically active in fighting this eviction. He explained how he now sees it as the responsibility of the artists and their allies to hold the city accountable for its current eviction laws.

“I think if those people stay active and don’t go back to their own lives, something could happen,” Gaines said.

Andra Cernavskis

Andra Cernavskis is a student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. She is Canadian by birth but grew up in New Jersey and then San Francisco's Miraloma neighborhood. She has also spent time...

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14 Comments

  1. Beautiful, just beautiful! Yes, yes, yes–BEST OF LUCK TO YOU ALL.

    Do you remember when you were taught how to take charge in a medical emergency? People go in shock and panic, and need to be given clear, simple instructions (“YOU!–Dial 911! And you keep traffic clear…”) so I think it’s a great idea to post what you’re doing on your building in print.

    I think the internet breeds passivity as it divides the real world and thought (people tweet as if it’s actually them DOING something, or clicking thumbs), so I think it’s a great idea to use ANALOGUE means of reaching those likely to actually show up and do something.

    So maybe even re-create/sell zines again, with your actions, stories, plans. Something secret, arty, special to carry around and REMEMBER because it’s PRINT and PAPER.

    There’s so much destruction going on, it’s hard to organize those who’re willing to fight because we’re working tiny crappy jobs to STAY here. But I love how you’re going beyond the cute symbolism of “Occupy” and trying to organize who you can, where you can.

    Like my accident analogy, if you had different tiers of actions so that those with little time knew where to show up when they could.

    I love how you’re rebuilding arts community as a radical thing now.

    As for getting tech on board? Oh honies, I hope you don’t waste your time on a remedial education for tech folks on why to care about art and not displacing people. That’s like trying to ask a leech to eat salad instead. No–better yet is the scorpion story where he promises not to sting the frog, or whoever gives him a ride across the river. And he stings the frog anyhow, apologizing that after all, he’s a SCORPION.

    Tech people love our way of life, but as a THEORY. they’re not HERE. they never even look up at the beauty here, they never look up as they even cross the STREET. everything in the world is “theoretical” to them so cuidado on wasting your time wooing them.

    they wanna be your arty friend like having the one “black friend.” but they will sting you and move INTO the very building that’s planned on going up. they can’t HELP it. it’s everything they’ve been living for, giving up their YOUTH for and enjoyment of life.

    you are a cocktail party. your pain is drama for them to tweet. like helping an old lady across the street.

    cuidado.

    There’s no time for that now.

    but i’m excited as hell that you all are fed up and organizing TOGETHER, en masse. there are too many disparate evictions and situations. ONE organization would be just lovely and be sure not to waste what energies you do get from people.

    remember that Leno didn’t want to run for mayor because there’s not enough of us left here to vote him in, so don’t waste the fighting people who’re left and not yet evicted.

    best of luck. i’d love to help but i’m grounded by the reality of economics still. that’s how they get us. working minimum wage and hopeful that the landlord will leave us alone a little longer.

    good luck. this is beautiful.

    erika lopez

    1. Many of the people who attend events, like Tango on Wednesdays are “Tech People.” So your generalization is false. Do you have other ideas about how to increase housing in the city? We can’t build out, we have to build up, and so single story blocks need to be improved and added density, but where shall we put these?

      Do you complain about housing prices? Oh it’s expensive to live in the city? Guess what, if you’re blocking new housing you are constraining supply, against increasing demand that drives prices up. I suspect the developer in this case has deeper pockets than inner mission.

      Good luck. I will miss CellSpace since I danced there for years, but without more housing this city is doomed in other ways. How many jobs does InnerMission create? 2-3? How many people live there? 4-5? Hmmm

      1. The incessant drumbeat of build-more-to-bring-down-rents b.s. is most tiring. (Nobody REALLY believes that trickle-down stuff anyway.)

        But, hey, Mr. Triplett wants to sell you a Restoration Hardware design for your new condo!

      2. I think you may be overlooking the reason why more people want to live in the city, and why the (maybe not) inevitable gentrification is taking place.

        Usually, a city or neighborhood that has a rich artistic culture attracts people because of the vibe it has. If developers completely ignore this, then you kill this aspect of the location.

        It happened in London in places like Brixton in particular, with Sydney in Glebe, Bondi, then Blackstown. The resident artists that made up the hood, along with cheap eats etc… attracted those that wished to live the artist life vicariously.

        It happened during the first .COM, local cultural centers that taught Art, dance etc… had their rents jacked up 3-10x causing them to have to leave. Did the neighborhood benefit more from additional housing? Not if the developers simply saw an opportunity for profit and the expense of what made the neighborhood desirable to live in. And when the .COM crashed, several of the developers were left hanging. Some even tried to get the old tenants back. Hmmmm, wonder how many returned.

        Some cities are now considering this aspect (hence the current growth of the Makers movement), and pondering whether to ensure some of the arts warehouses etc… remain to allow for the diversity and creativity.

        At the rate were destroying parts of the city to allow population increase, it won’t matter for much longer. It’s not sustainable, and I think most of our politicians don’t see that, along with a lot of profit minded folks.

        my $0.02

      3. There is a much larger conversation about evictions and rising housing costs that are detrimental to the deep roots of families who have lived in the Mission for decades. The demolition of CELLspace is one of example of a community being destroyed.Can’t the developers go elsewhere and not ruin the cultural roots of families and organizations that have lived and been part of the mission and other SF neighborhoods? The increase in demand for housing does not justify shoving out communities who can’t afford the rising prices. Building a set of condos in place of CELLspace isn’t going to create lower housing prices in the Mission. It just isn’t.

        There is another answer, there is another way. The problem is much more complex.

      4. Im sure some Tech people have attended events and so what? How does that change the fact that over 455 art/creative spaces have been evicted in the 90’s and hundreds more since. How many coffee shops have gone under the axe. How many homes under the axe. The oldest black owned bookstore in the country under the axe. Its endless, its a tsunami of culture devastation. Im always stunned when artists take a stand there is always someone to present questions that try to force the voices of dissent into having all the answers and solutions to the problem. One thing I know as a fact, building thousands of Condos will not change the housing crisis. It did not solve anything in NYC, it just bought more high rollers from the fashion industry into the city. All the new condos will do is provide housing for corporate America. Google is constantly expanding non stop. Twitter think they have no impact but they are one of the worst, their workers cop more attitude than most. Facebook is not going to stop. The city is full of smalls gangs of boys walking the streets, sporting their company caps and tshirts. Believing their app will change the world when really all its done is evict an art space and will vanish into obscurity within a year. You talk about building up and adding density. I guess you long to live like Hong Kong. Density adds a whole other set of problems. When a city can no longer house its working class and middle class and evict 98 year olds there is something very very wrong.

  2. Nice piece, I just wanted to add, as one of the organizers of the event ….that much homage was paid…we did two days of events honoring the space and all that has occurred there over the years.

    As cellspace, the space was a place of great discussion and activism so simply holding the panel was an homage.

    We also had a procession through the streets to mourn the loss, transform the grief into action and plant seeds for the bright future we wish to see.

    All of this was followed by a cabaret and dance party attended by over 300 people who have been going to this space for the last 19 years , many of whom had not been there in 5-10 years. It was an epic homage to the space enjoyed by all who attended.

    Kate Gibson

  3. I knew that the amazing community of SF artists, organizers, and activists would never let this go down without a fight!!!! YES YES YES!!!!! So proud of my people. Xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

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