The Truth About Proposition S
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Posted by: TBA Staff
By Rotimi Agbabiaka
Brad Erickson, TBA Executive Director, at "Save the Arts and End Family Homelessness Rally"
There’s an expression in the drag community for when a performer is giving a particularly heartfelt performance: Girl, she is working it like the rent is due!
I’m reminded of that saying as Kevin Seaman, a San Francisco arts administrator who moonlights as drag queen LOL McFiercen, tells me about a performance he’s hosting at The Edge, a Castro nightclub, on November 3rd.
The event, called Drag the Vote, will give added meaning to the afore-mentioned expression because all of the acts are performing in support of Proposition S, a measure on the November ballot that aims to support the arts and combat homelessness by giving more money giving more money to family housing initiatives and increasing funding for local artists and arts groups so they can stay in the city, keep making art -- and pay their rent.
Placed on the ballot by an unprecedented coalition of large and small arts organizations, individual artists and homeless advocates, Prop S represents the unified efforts of groups that have sometimes been at odds with each other when it comes to requesting city funding.
Kevin Seaman performs as LOL McFiercen. Photo by Garaje Gooch.
“Instead of fighting over the same piece of pie we’re asking for a bigger pie,” Seaman says.
The pie in question is the amount of city funding for the arts and affordable housing, which Prop S seeks to triple without raising any new taxes. Instead the measure would restore the practice of directly allocating proceeds from the city’s Hotel Tax to arts organizations and affordable housing programs, a tradition which began when the tax was created in 1961 but was discontinued by city officials during the recession of the early 2000s.
Since then, arts funding has declined even as the city’s overall budget has doubled. In drafting this legislation, the coalition is attempting to overcome an economic situation that pits large arts organizations against small ones, homelessness activists against arts leaders, as each vie for a share of dwindling funds in a city that is becoming prohibitively expensive for artists and families.
“These are two communities that are coming together to tell the city that we need help,” says Seaman. “The city has no plan to deal with San Francisco’s loss of culture so this is the community response. And as such we really wanted make sure that it is about our community and … to include homeless families in particular.”
Supporters of Prop S point to the 55% increase in evictions over the last five years and the statistics showing that one out of every 25 students in the San Francisco Unified School District is homeless as evidence that many San Franciscans are getting priced out. In the last few years spaces like Cell Space and Climate Theater have closed because of economic pressure and many artists feel forced to seek more affordable pastures.
“A lot of people don’t know that so many artists are working in a state where they are squeezing it in,” says Monique Jenkinson, an actress and performance artist who uses the stage name, Fauxnique. “I’ve seen a lot of my friends move away [from San Francisco] or stop making art.”
Backers hope that Prop S will stem this tide with a 50% funding increase for Grants for the Arts, which supports organizations of all sizes, and an even larger funding increase for the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund, which helps individual artists and organizations rooted in marginalized communities. The War Memorial Complex, home of the San Francisco Symphony and Opera, would see its funding rise. The initiative would also create a Neighborhood Arts Program, to fund neighborhood-based artist residencies, and an Ending Family Homelessness Fund.
Kevin Seaman and other Prop S backers canvass the Castro neighborhood.
“To feel like you’re yelling into a vacuum and then to feel like it’s being reflected back to you with value and appreciation is huge,” Jenkinson says, contemplating the impact of increased funding for artists.
The measure is polling well and faces no official opposition but it requires a two thirds vote to pass, a challenge that has backers like Seaman working to woo voters in the streets, at the bars, in spaces like CounterPULSE and ODC, and even outside voting locations around the city, where some artists plan on performing and passing out flyers on Election Day.
For members of the coalition this is a fight for the very essence of San Francisco.
“We created these neighborhoods that people want to live in: the gays, the artists, the people of color,” says Jenkinson, “and if the city doesn’t take responsibility the artists will get pushed out. They’ll still make their art but they’ll have to live in Iowa.”