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.