Gallery view of Jenny O’Dell’s ‘Infrastructure’ (February—March 2014) at Intersection for the Arts, curated by Kevin B. Chen (photograph by Dorothy Santos)

SAN FRANCISCO — Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco’s oldest alternative arts space, has suspended curatorial programs and halved its staff, KQED reported last week. According to a May 23 letter sent to the community by the organization’s board of directors, all “visual arts, and education and community engagement programs” have been canceled, and programming directors Kevin B. Chen, Rebeka Rodriguez, and Sean San José, as well as communications staffer Rebecca Ahrens, have been let go due to financial strain. The same correspondence named Randy Rollison, previously director of artist resources, as interim executive director. Though the organization will no longer produce its own exhibitions, it will continue to use its non-profit status to operate as a fiscal sponsor for artists and projects, presenting their work through its long-standing Intersection Incubator program.

In a May 22 farewell letter to community members released as a statement to other media, the outgoing programming directors expressed the importance of Intersection for the Arts to the San Francisco’s art community:

For the decade-plus that we have been able to work together, we have collaborated and worked for varied and multiple voices – the marginalized, under-represented, young, immigrant, queer, people of color, disenfranchised voices.

While the downsizing may not be a surprise due to the rapidly changing urban and economic landscape in the Bay Area, it marks yet another disheartening turn for the arts scene in San Francisco. Formerly based in the city’s Mission district, the organization relocated to the first floor of the former San Francisco Chronicle building in 2011, a move that saw then-director Deborah Cullinan announcing a new strategy of “cross-sector partnerships in an urban campus for creativity.”

Reached by telephone earlier today, interim director Randy Rollison told Hyperallergic that Intersection’s present fate has “nothing to do with the whole tech tensions, it’s just the organization itself.” Citing a “steady erosion in donations and grants,” Rollison spoke to the structural issues now facing the organization. “We need to rethink the support mechanisms … for smaller organizations, these things are very fragile, it’s a much more difficult [financial] model to sustain,” he said.

With additional reporting by Mostafa Heddaya.

Dorothy Santos is a writer. Born and raised in San Francisco, she holds Bachelor's degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco. As arts editor and curator of Asterisk San...

2 replies on “Oldest San Francisco Arts Nonprofit Suspends Curatorial Programs”

  1. Tragic, but beware of mission creep…
    Open the books. There’s much to learn beyond simply pulling the plug on non-profit efforts.
    The daft proliferation of NPOs carry administrative costs that consume resources better utilized on the organization’s stated mission. Moves to preserve the “core” often translate to a level above actual intersection with the public good.

  2. Randy (Rollison) is correct in the latest statement that he released on behalf of Intersection that Intersection’s Board is fully culpable for the position that Intersection is currently in. However, some questions that do come to mind are:

    1. What is the current business model? – my understanding was that one of the primary reasons Intersection entered into the collaboration with The Hub initially and subsequently Forest City was to develop a new model of sustainability for the organization. What is the point of being a part of this new “innovative” model if rather than providing sustainability, it instead ends up destroying the very orgs that are creating capital for their for-profit partners? I consider that a failure of the public-private partnership model. And this is just speaking to the organizations who are part of the project and new to the neighborhood – that doesn’t even get into the impact on the actual community that has been there in the neighborhood and has created that neighborhood.

    2. Why have individual donations been declining? One of the statements that has been used as a representation of success for the 5M project is that it is home to 2,500 individuals and organizations – if Intersection – as one of the founding and most active members of this collective project were to collect just $20 from each of these individuals/orgs – that would be $50,000 – if Intersection collected $50 – it would be $125,000 – $100 would be $250,000. I realize that they’re using Intersection and Intersection’s fiscally sponsored projects as part of this number – but even without those numbers – their could be significant support.

    3. Why have foundation funds been declining? Foundations should be doing better now than ever, considering that the stock market is doing better than it ever has – and foundations are required by law to give 4-6% of their interest income annually. What are foundations saying about their decrease in funding?

    4. Regarding the statement that this is unrelated to tech and gentrification – I wonder then – why isn’t Intersection collecting more support from this sector – given their position as one of the key members of the 5M Project and the access to this new money – I would also put this question to the statement about Forest City having no relationship to this – Forest City being an extremely wealthy – $9 billion corporation with lots of access to deep pockets – individuals, as well as other corporations …

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