Responding to economic downturn and vacant storefronts

Robynn Takayama, San Francisco Arts CommissionIn 2008 then-Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, wanted to address the problem of vacant storefronts in certain areas of the city. Lead by the Office of Economic and Work Force Development (OEWD), local Community Benefits Districts - with revenue from 'curb to property line' improvement taxes on property owners - and the Arts Commission and aided by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Art in Storefronts program placed its first installations in Market Street in 2009.

More than just canvases hanging in windows, the initiative involves artists creating new works, including murals and installations, with a remit to ensure the artworks have a strong connection to local communities. 

“We picked the four neighbourhoods based on areas that OEWD were already working and decided to prioritise artists who live or work in that neighbourhood to celebrate the neighbourhood,” says Robynn Takayama.

“At times OEWD can be seen, negatively, as ‘gentrifiers’ because they’re investing in the business in the neighbourhood. They’re sensitive to that criticism and so, by saying that the artist should be from the neighbourhood or have a connection to the neighbourhood, what we’ve seen are proposals that the community can call their own.  It’s not an outsider coming in and imposing art or dropping art in for a moment. They were projects that largely the community got behind and in some cases participated in.”

By the end of 2011, four neighbourhoods have seen Art in Storefronts projects, The Mission, Chinatown, Central Market/Tenderloin and Bayview. As political decision-makers were keen to focus on the Central Market district, the program returned there for a second time in 2011.

Image Caption: Robynn Takayama, Manager, Community Arts and Education, San Francisco Arts Commission.  Photo: Lisa Andersen