Gina M. Contreras, "Something Someone Cared About" (2020) (all images courtesy the artists and the Svane Family Foundation)

A new infusion of arts funding is coming to the Bay Area, as the Svane Family Foundation announced support for programs totaling $3 million to be disbursed before the end of 2023. The foundation was founded by Mikkel Svane, author of Startupland and cofounder-CEO of software company Zendesk, with the intention to offer unrestricted funding to Bay Area artists and arts organizations. In 2020, the foundation’s inaugural Ark program issued $1 million in commissions from 100 Bay Area artists, and announced the intention to replicate that commitment again in 2022. Additional grant-making will benefit the Headlands Center for the Arts and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

In support of these aims, 94 artworks produced during the initial Ark cycle are now open for online bidding in a virtual benefit auction that is also physically on view this month at the San Francisco Art Institute’s Fort Mason campus. The show includes interdisciplinary works, including paintings, digital prints, photography, sculpture, and even a ball gown made of brown paper and bubble wrap (by Nina Wise), with initial values ranging from $350 to over $50,000.

t.w.five, “After the Pillow Fight” (2020)

In an effort to extend the impact of direct investments in programming that benefits the art ecosystem of the Bay Area — a model that the foundation calls a “giving loop” — Svane Family Foundation will also donate $1 million to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, earmarked to enhance the museum’s collection of Bay Area artworks. Claudia Schmuckli, the curator in charge of contemporary art and programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, will disburse these funds by identifying Bay Area artists for acquisition, and the effort will result in an exhibition at the de Young Museum in 2023.

“The Bay Area Fund affords us the opportunity to strengthen our longstanding commitment to acquiring the work of Bay Area artists for our collections, and to significantly advance our efforts in supporting emerging and underrepresented artists,” states Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, in a foundation press release. 

The foundation has also announced partnership with the Headlands Center for the Arts, committing $1 million over the next two years to launch the Headlands Center for the Arts’ Bay Area Fellowship: the Svane Family Foundation Inaugural Artists. The program will provide stipends of $20,000 to eight artists over the course of two years, as well as health insurance, resources to alleviate the tax burden of the stipend, and up to $8,000 per fellow to underwrite travel, classes, fabrication, and other opportunities.

“By not only bringing artists to Headlands, but meeting them in their communities with resources to help sustain their practices, the fellowship is an important new tool to preserve the health of the arts in the region,” said Headlands Center for the Arts Executive Director Mari Robles, in the press release.

Tammy Rae Carlan, “Queer Like Me” (2020)

Start-up culture and the tech bubble has radically altered the economic landscape in the Bay Area over the last several decades. While it is surely positive to see an effort made to directly support artists and preserve their ability to live and work in one of the most expensive cities in the United States, $3 million doesn’t go all that far in a place where the median home cost is above $1 million. Hopefully, the inroads made by the Svane Family Foundation are just the beginning of meaningful direct support from a dominant economic sector to preserve the communities that have given the Bay Area much of its unique spirit and perspective.

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....