Tech needs arts in San Francisco
Publisert i Kunstforum 20. februar, 2018. (In English only).
After almost ten years of hard work Gallery owner Jessica Silverman is relieved: The commitment is finally paying off. 2016 marked a turning point induced by the reopening of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Even more important is that the thriving tech community seem to realise that they need the Arts.
The last time I was in San Francisco was in 2000. Returning one late evening 18 years later in January 2018 the change that first struck me was the new skyline. I arrived the day after the opening of the tallest building of them all; The Salesforce Tower which comprises offices for the Salesforce Software Company. Located a block away is The Freemont housing Facebooks first downtown office counting 3,000 of their employees. Approaching the city a second change became obvious: numerable homeless people trying to find shelter for the night in the streets.
The tech boom during the last decade and the resulting economic expansion has led to soaring real estate prices. By 2016 San Francisco was the most expensive city in the USA. The Arts community was by now broke, pushed out of the city centre, and fleeing the bay area while the Tech industries are taking over the city.
The Bay area including Silicon Valley has the second largest concentration of billionaires in the world, but until recently the new tycoons did not seem to patronage art like previous generations. Silverman must have seen this development since she established her downtown gallery in 2008.
Before embarking on the extension of SFMOMA in 2013 the museum did a major study revealing that 60 percent of the population of the San Francisco Bay Area expressed an interest in art. But of these individuals only 5 percent felt proficient in arts and culture, while more than 80 percent stated a desire to learn more about the arts. It might indicate that many people have been reluctant to invest in art due to a general lack of confidence when approaching art. No wonder there are impressive initiatives in art education everywhere in the San Francisco art scene.
Disrupting business and art
The tide started to turn in 2014 when initiatives were taken to stop the severe drainage of the arts ecosystem. In 2018 the tech community seems to be a driving force in building a vibrant art scene. What has happened?
Jo Sletbak at the Norwegian Consulate General gave me a better understanding of the San Francisco Tech scene and I could see how this relates to the Art World.
-“Pay it forward” and “disruptivness” are two important philosophies in the SF business life, the Consul General says. If you are not able to think in completely new ways your business will not make it.
We are discussing the fact that adapting to the technology driven solutions have an important social impact. Facebook has given people new possibilities of connecting, but might get disrupted by another start-up in a couple of years. In San Francisco Uber has more or less killed of the taxi driver profession, but if you open your uber app, uber drivers are virtually all over, increasing the traffic jam and pollution more than ever. Uber seem like a wonderful user-friendly, less expensive and safe solution. Probably the former taxi drivers are now uber drivers but what about their working conditions as competition is increasing. And in a few years perhaps there will be autonomous cars…
Walking away from the shadows of the hard edged high rise skyscrapers in San Franciscos financial district I approached the SFMOMA. The facade of SFMOMAs new ten story addition designed by Snøhetta is covered with white uneven fiberglass bands that forms an organic embracement. I reminds of a white silk cocoon – and a cocoon is an incubator for transformation. Just like good artworks might give the visitor a sense of revelation and recognition. SFMOMA states that their “ultimate goal of every museum activity is to foster a rewarding in-person encounter between a visitor and an artwork, for such encounters can open us to new ways of thinking and seeing”. Disruptiveness is something that typically charaterizes a work of Art or an art experience.
Pay it forward street
The Minnesota Street project is another example of helping ease the tension between art and tech. After being exposed both to the tech world and the art world, Andy Rappaport realised that there are many similarities between the artist and the technological innovator. Creative processes that engineers, or musicians, writers and visual artists follow are common threads of creativity, imagination and ingenuity that runs through a wide range of creative pursuits.
Together with his partner Rappaport established the Minnesota Street project (MSP) in 2016. They wanted to create a new ecosystem, a physical place where critical parts were gathered. They bought several warehouses in the former industrial area Dogpatch. Their vision materialized in state-of-the-art facilities containing artist studios, galleries and a space to display art of all kinds. There is also an non-profit Art Education Center, public spaces and cafes that include the people from the surrounding society and visitors. The low rent makes the whole collaborative complex viable and attractive.
One of the buildings comprise the MSP Art services, a non profit company taking care of safe storing, packing and transportation of artworks and art collections. When I visited two years after the opening the MSP project seems to be a success. All of the MSP buildings are filled up with artists and galleries and educational activities.
The San Francisco Dogpatch area still contains several empty industrial buildings, but gradually these are making room for new galleries and new apartment buildings. The MSP public spaces seemed to be popular for people living not only close by but also from the surrounding living areas. The artist hardly uses the MSP Art services, but commercial galleries and other private art collectors do. The surplus of this business goes back to benefit the artists by decreasing studio rents. The entire Minnesota Street Project is a long term break even project for the Rappaports. A project which pays forward to help making contemporary artist thrive within the city limits. After all the real estate investment is quite safe in this area and it seem to be a very good solution for the whole community.
A new world model?
Recently the tech firm Adobe has partnered with the Minnesota street project. In a press release Adobe underscores that they understand that the arts matter to technology. That is also the reason why they are not only sponsoring but are also there as resident artists themselves, with an on-site studio in 1240 Minnesota Street. Adobe’s aim is to make a hub for cross-pollinating ideas with the artists community.
Their vision ranges from creating digital projects, new educational experiences and large scale experiments in creative tech, VR/AR, machine learning and 3D printing. With Adobe moving in it seems like Rappaports vision to bridge the gap between the tech world and the art world is evolving. However, Rappaport explained when interviewed by Andrew M. Goldstein in 2016 that it is dangerous if the artist are too concerned about the technology. He points out that one of the things that define a really great artist is their level of creativity and the degree of which they experiment with lots of different things and don’t accept the world as it is and sometimes rebel against the status quo.
What is evolving in San Francisco is more complex than a tension between the Tech and Art. San Francisco tech innovations have after all influenced how people all over the world interact, with its fantastic new possibilities but also involving new disturbances. Managing a disruptive world might need that we all continue to be good at what we are doing, but also to cooperate to better see the whole picture and the social impact when new solutions are evolving.
In San Francisco Tech patrons and dedicated locals are nourishing the cities still on-going art world resurgence. They have realized that art is both urgent and useful to themselves and to a sustainable society – since the best ideas are needed to look into the future in an increasingly disruptive and complex world.