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San Francisco Mayoral Arts Forum: More Nodding Heads than Pounding Fists

by The Bay Citizen

For San Francisco residents looking to pick a mayoral candidate based on arts policy, last night’s S.F. Mayoral Arts Forum would offer little in the way of help.

It seemed that the most common phrase, besides “cultural diversity,” was “I think we’re all in agreement.”

The auditorium was fairly packed at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, as nine candidates ringed the evening’s moderator, KQED host Michael Krasney, of “Forum.” Before the 6 p.m. free event kicked off, murmurs of arts credentials could be heard (“I’m the development manager for….”) and maybe even a flash or two of business cards were seen.

The format of the discussion was a bit unusual, as Krasney had asked seven questions in advance (which were collated and provided to the audience) on issues like how to encourage an arts district in the Mid-Market area, and then went around the group to get one-and-half minute responses to those questions.

Arts are a powerful force in San Francisco, as Genny Lim, who introduced Krasney and kicked off the night made clear through some stats: a 2005 study, for instance, found that the local arts economy totaled $1.32 billion. And the crowd had some boisterous moments, hooting for talk of having all of the proceeds of the Hotel Tax going back into the arts (currently, around 8.5% of the Hotel Tax is supposed to go to arts funding, but that has not remained constant through recent budget problems) and loud applause for arts educational funding in the form of Proposition H, a citywide initiative passed in 2004 that has not ensured consistent arts curriculum money. It was interesting, too, to hear the question about Mid-Market area: everyone seemed positive about the ongoing project, with Ed Lee, of course, taking the lead on that discussion. Under his watch, Mayor’s Office of Economic development has continued to prod groups like Burning Man and A.C.T. to enter the still-dodgy strip.

But overall, few differences emerged —and little heat was generated from the debate. Candidates worked hard to tie their arts talk to their brand, as Joanna Rees demonstrated in her discussion of artists as innovators and entrepreneurs. Jeff Adachi, calling himself “an artist and a filmmaker”, raised the issue of arts funding (“no one is talking where the money is coming from”) before seguing into a push for his pension reform plan. Tony Hall and Bevan Dufty both took on the Entertainment Commission’s clampdown on fun —Hall, identifying himself as a “nightclub singer,” in particular, spanked the commission for focusing on noise complaints rather than encouraging nightlife.

“When I started signing in jazz clubs, they were abundant,” he said, “That is not the case today.”

Dufty, following him, added that the city now seems to shut down at 9 p.m. and “no one wants to come back to Mayberry.”

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