Who cares about art when people are suffering? (Gentrification and Art pt.I)
An honest question to the moral impetus that drives to create in a place where support capital is unevenly distributed. Corporate philanthropy like that of San Joses Knight Foundation has applauded themselves for "investing more than $25 million" on "building a more engaged San Jose with a focus on public life — drawing people out of their cars and homes and into the community." My problem with the Knight foundation lies in the Gatekeeping and promotion of corporate money for a community to thrive. It greases the wheels of gentrification and displacement. I could not justify spending $25 million dollars on 'activating' or 'reimagining' spaces instead of actually harm reduction and community empowerment.
Increasing investments in formerly disinvested areas can be pragmatic, I mean shit we've been asking for B.A.R.T here since I was in 4th grade. Growing up off 15th street my grandma would drive to Berryessa Safeway to get affordable groceries when now there are several micro grocery stores nearby, I am surprised super Mercado is still around. Residents of these disinvested areas often ask for more resources. The problem exists in that gentrification is often associated with displacement, which is an interchanging or discarding of the people and institutions from these communities by affluent outsiders and interests. In some communities, residents have been in these areas for generations or were forced into these disinvested areas because of the cheap rent. They plunge their roots in and build communities and networks, but as gentrification waves flood them, they are not able to remain to benefit from the influx of investments in housing, food accessibility, or even the budding transit infrastructure. These neighborhoods have been historically ignored until something wiggles a worm into the brain of investors and the affluents thirst for 'authentic culture.'
Without dissecting the blind allegiance to all art, art funders and the effects of art to the communities where it plants its seeds, we relegate the marginalized to become even further invisiblized as the capital created through art is not distributed wisely or intentional in any fashion. It has become a backdoor into the process of renovating citified neighborhoods, an instrument to flood areas with an influx of more affluent citizens. Where art once stood before in defiance of the status quo now has the status quo riding its coattails signaling where to clear the frontier. As access to culture and community become a highly profitable source the old moniker of existence as resistance falls to the wayside. Art guised as being community driven often follows a corporate model, seeking only to gain capital; contributing to a legacy of a disproportioned power structure. Artists are struggling and have become less critical of where funding comes from as long as it comes, who they bring as long as people come, what irreparable changes come as long as they can increase capital. I am searching for options if they exist. I do not believe there is such a thing as clean money, but if we must live in this capitalist cycle, what options are available to us to ensure our collective agency is instilled? A deeper introspection is needed so that what we create and support is not widening the gap or us eating ourselves. We need to make sure that we are not riding parallel waves of gentrification. We as a community can and should be more involved and critical other than just being hand fed craft fairs guised as radical spaces rejecting the global model of how suburban cities urbanize.
Houseless deaths have increased doubly since last year, and yet Knight foundation throws $ 75,000 at a project called "Responsible Landlord Engagement Initiative" with a vague goal of, "To support safe and vibrant neighborhoods by convening community members to resolve problem properties which degrade neighborhood safety." This is something which shouldn't be ignored and for more transparency to be given. Knight Foundation former Program Director Daniel Harris was pumped to be "deeply involved in conversations about how the Diridon Station area set to be home to a massive Google campus — and the Guadalupe Riverfront should look." I could give a shit less how it looks. I'd rather it not be there, and the unused space is prioritized for affordable housing.
There is so much here that I can't even really develop as much as I'd like, but it comes back to this idea of what good is Liberation if only for the individual? How artist are not to blame, but there should be some kind of responsibility of the artist to the communities in which they create from. Also, if you follow how many art projects city wide the Knight Foundation funds it can get pretty disheartening.
Dan Harris is gone, but the ‘vision’ of activating spaces like fountain alley (pictured above in a racist ass tweet from Harris) still exist and are happening. It is also important to recognize that the social problems faced by the city one being Gentrification and Displacement are very complex monsters do not have single sources. Often amorphous structures like gentrification are not causal issues, but somewhat simultaneous occurrences culminating in the end product. Keep a watchful eye on how the city is transforming and what recurring things are brought up to hide back door dealings that effect the most vulnerable people in our community.