Amid a wave of negative attention, the LGBT Center on Wednesday erased the much-maligned fnnch-painted honey bear mural on the side of its Market Street building.
“As part of our rotating project, the mural designed by fnnch has been taken down,” the center tweeted in a statement Wednesday. “We acknowledge the fact that fnnch has engendered a host of opinions and that some of his recent comments about being an immigrant have brought pain to many members of our community.”
Instead of the honey bears painted in the colors of LGBTQ+ flags, there is now a fresh coat of white paint, and a graffitied message, almost certainly not written by the center, that reads in red: “This city means more to me than most.”
Tensions regarding whether the artist’s ubiquitous honey bears have become a symbol of gentrification came to a head last Thursday, as the activist Doggtown Dro confronted fnnch, a tech worker turned artist, while the artist was removing graffiti from the mural.
“This shit represents gentrification in my city, which you ain’t from — where you from, partner?” Doggtown Dro said in a video that has amassed more than 128,000 views on his Instagram page.
“I’m an immigrant here,” fnnch said, adding that he was from Missouri and he “immigrated” to San Francisco.
The tense encounter went on for at least seven minutes as Dro accused fnnch of enabling the displacement of local artists, while fnnch argued that the activist’s views were inherently nativist.
In the following days, the interaction sparked renewed scrutiny over whether the city has an over-saturation of those honey bears — multiple variations of which (masked, movie theater-themed, Black Lives Matter sign-bearing, etc.) can be found all over boarded-up storefronts, inside house windows, and inside Muni buses.
A multitude of organizations have worked with the artist, including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, The Cal Fire Foundation, The Roxie Theater, and St. Anthony’s. And they have received large donations from sales of the bears that can be placed inside windows. The artist has noted that he “went from raising or donating $12,000 in 2019 to $293,000 in 2020.”
But critics are now saying the honey bears’ popularity have homogenized San Francisco street art. And even those who earlier applauded or accepted his work appear to be abandoning him quickly.
“In the past 12 months, San Francisco has become so oversaturated with fnnch’s honey bears that what was once an occasional sugar rush now feels like a nausea-inducing force-feeding,” wrote KQED’s Rae Alexandra in a thorough summation of the issue published Wednesday.
Alexandra, who in 2018 included him in a list of six San Francisco prolific artists, explained she’s not alone in feeling this: A new Instagram handle, “@fuckfnnch” recently sprung up, and around the time fnnch was confronted at the LGBT center, a group called the “Coalition to Stop Fnnch” started a Change.org petition demanding the center remove the honey bear mural.
“The local street art and queer community are already blighting out his mural regularly and have vowed to keep it up until it is removed and replaced for good,” the petition says. “Remove the fnnch piece and replace it with art from a local gay, queer and/or trans artist.”
It appears the LGBT Center got the message, appearing to backtrack from its initial embrace of the artist.
In its Wednesday statement, the center explained fnnch approached the center and offered to donate the mural and its maintenance throughout the year. “We accepted this donation knowing that it was going to be part of a larger rotating mural project that we were launching,” the statement says.
“Though we believe that every artist we work with is entitled to their own opinion, the Center does not agree with fnnch’s recent comments, and we have shared our concerns about the impact of his comments directly with him,” the statement adds, referring to fnnch’s claim that he was an “immigrant.”
Fnnch responded to last Thursday’s incident in an Instagram post this morning, characterizing the incident as a “detractor” telling him that he was not welcome in San Francisco.
“I was shaken by this encounter and did not handle this the best,” the artist wrote. “In particular, I used the word ‘immigrant’ to describe myself, a person who moved from Missouri to California 16 years ago.”
“This is an insensitive usage,” he added, “and I am deeply sorry.”
The center said the next mural, which it has selected, was created by members of the LGBT+ and Black, indigenous, and people of color communities. The center will announce the artists’ names and title of their mural next month.
Clara-Sophia Daly contributed reporting.