Art, Tech, and Gentrification in San Francisco

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The panel at ArtUp and ArtPractical’s “Re-engineering: Arts and Tech in the Bay Area” (photograph by Joshua Kim)

SAN FRANCISCO — As fleets of shuttle buses take employees to their respective Silicon Valley campuses, resentment and tension grows in the Bay Area. Last week, protesters blocked one such Google bus in an effort to draw attention to the widening gap between the technology industry and the communities it affects; a union organizer impersonated a tech worker to incite dialogue through performative gesture. Within days, further demonization of tech figures, like the entrepreneur Greg Gopman — guilty of making crassly disparaging remarks about the Tenderloin area of San Francisco — continued to fuel divisions across the city.

In an effort to broaden and expand the conversation, ArtUp, a “community blog, meetup and monthly grant,” partnered with online magazine Art Practical to host the “Re-engineering: Arts and Tech in the Bay Area” event at Ratio 3 gallery in the city’s Mission district on December 11. The night started off with a panel discussion between Anthony Discenza, Josette Melchor of Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA), Olof Mathe of Art Hack Day, and Dena Beard with the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

The discussion was supposed to relate to the ongoing talks in San Francisco regarding art, technology, and gentrification, but this didn’t quite pan out; the marginalized communities that were barely discussed that evening were the same people that were not a part of the discussion. The very few people of color present at the event, which is a part of a larger and more complex conversation, was indicative of the lack of diversity in the ongoing dialogue as well.

The crowd at “Re-engineering: Arts and Tech in the Bay Area” (photograph by Joshua Kim)

The discussion that did ensue was clouded by a lack of definitions: the very terms art and technology are far too vast and broad for one evening. Dryhurst suggested that the audience present proposals to explore the intersection of arts and technology, and indeed future conversations ought to include tech organizations and educators like Black Girls Code or Ben Chun who may provide insights on the integration of technology into educational systems in the Bay Area and its effect on the creative process. Another idea would be to examine how artists, programmers, engineers, or urban planners use different media and pedagogical approaches to look at how to create an urban landscape that is mutually beneficial and may bridge communities.

For example, Oakland-based new media artist and educator Nick Lally gathers artists and community members passionate about and dedicated to learning programming and coding to create artwork. In thinking about the creative process, it would be fascinating to hear a panel discussion on the notion of ownership or authorship and how open source platforms such as GitHub or BitBucket present different ways to collaborate. It may also be prudent to partner with long withstanding entities such as Piero Scaruffi’s LASER talk series where artists, scientists, and writers are invited to be in conversation, share their work or research, and ask questions to each other, which would an array of multi-generational voices.

While it was not necessary to read these texts prior to the discussion, I highly recommend reading parts one and two of the online dialogue between Dryhurst and Rogers for a bit more context on the evening’s objective. During the talk, Dryhurst mentioned the Bay Area’s potential to produce great art due to its proximity to tech resources and organizations. As I looked around the standing room only crowd, coupled with my experience of the intense conversations that followed, the challenges of defining the terms art and technology emphasized differing priorities without much traction or dialogue around issues of gentrification and the economy’s impact on negatively affected communities.

The Bay Area has long been known for its diversity, activism, and social justice, which is a heritage we can be draw from to deal with these changes. But to truly understand how art and art practices may be able to help address what is driving the soul of the city away, it may be best to not succumb to the jargon based within institutionalized frameworks for legitimacy. Ultimately, the art and technology markets are just that — capitalist endeavors. A tension will always exist. Yet we need to be willing to build new infrastructures or models, such as The Bay Area Public School, Noisebridge, or Codame, to help advance and evolve the conversation on how we can reengineer arts and technology in the Bay Area.

“Re-engineering: Arts and Tech in the Bay Area” took place at Ratio3 gallery (2831 Mission St, San Francisco) on December 11. 

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