Championing The Arts: An Interview with SF Travel’s Brenda Tucker
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
by Kari Barclay
In 2018, San Francisco had a total of 25.8 million visitors who collectively contributed $10 billion to the city’s economy. Some of these visitors attend theatre and other live arts, bringing a national and international audience to the Bay’s local work.
As Director of Arts Community Relations and Marketing at SF Travel, Brenda Tucker helps promote local arts organizations to those visiting from near and far. Having worked in the Bay for 21 years and at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. before that, Tucker joined SF Travel this year. Tucker shared with Theatre Bay Area what brought her to SF Travel and how visitors relate to the Bay’s arts scene.
Can you tell us about your work with SF Travel?
I started at SF Travel in January, and I champion bringing the arts to the domestic and international visitor. Anything I can do to get them to buy tickets, to attend performance, to go to museums, to check out galleries—I feel like that’s a big part of my role. That really enhances the experiences that visitors can have in San Francisco. And we found out in the past six months that one out of every ten visitors to sftravel.com is a local, so even though my role is geared toward the visitor, we do have some influence on locals.
I do this in multiple different ways. One, I’m part of the content team at SF Travel, and we create features and collections like “Things To Do In September.” And that’s a great thing for traveling. We do features on different folks that live in San Francisco, and one of those features is called “How I See SF.” We did a “How I See SF” with one of the founders of The Stud and really encouraged people to check out The Stud, a local, legendary gem. Yesterday, I interviewed an artist at Creativity Explored in the visual arts. So that’s one way we can shine a light on the arts. We really try to keep the arts and performance realms top of the mind when people are planning their trips to the city.
As you’re trying to find folks to interview or amplify, how do you keep up to date with what’s going on in the art world?
That’s a really good question. I’m still working to keep up with everything, since there’s so much going on! I’ve lived in San Francisco for 21 years, and I worked at Chronicle Books, California College of the Arts, and KQED. I’ve really enjoyed being part of the city, and I live in the Castro. I get lots and lots of newsletters. Then I also do a great deal of research. I have relationships with folks like Charles Linder or Scott Walton at SHN.
I was just talking to Sara Waugh at Marin Theatre Company. We’re putting together a video to amplify theater in the Bay Area in the next five months. So I’m collecting b-roll and trying to figure out what content I can get for that to be able to shine a light. Video is such an incredibly dynamic medium, and I’m working with different theatres. I’m always learning what’s going on, and there are times when I’m like, “I really wish I’d known about this!” Having worked at California College of the Arts and having a passion for performing arts has served me well but I’m still learning.
After working with places like CCA and KQED in the Bay, what drew you to SF Travel?
I truly believe that it’s a hard thing to do to make a living as an artist. I think that this work with SF Travel is a great way to spend my time. My grandmother was a painter. I know how artists struggle. Actors struggle. Writers struggle. Any way I can make that easier or shine a light on terrific work makes me happy. I have also been an AirBnB host for ten years. I have a very small room in my flat where I have a twin bed. I’ve had guests from 34 countries.
I’ve learned to advocate for the city to a lot of different cultures from people who have absolutely no interest in the arts to people who want to see Miss Saigon. I’ve had the whole gamut. I’m always encouraging people during their visits to see things off the beaten path like Dogpatch, for instance, or not a lot of people have heard of The Stud, and I can get it on their radar. There’s so much here. There are festivals and a rich culture here. I feel like it’s a city that really encourages people to take chances and risks and really champions freedom. And that idea of freedom really threads through the arts in San Francisco and I feel pretty lucky about that.
The freedom to fly your freak flag and be whoever you are and express what you want to express is incredibly liberating. I feel like people here are much more emboldened to stretch themselves. San Francisco has a long history of trying out different kinds of societies and imagining utopia. Things like that have expressed themselves through the arts and through theatre. And that’s certainly something that enriches the city. There’s a personality to San Francisco that’s not the personality of any other city.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Not every person who visits the city is going to be interested in seeing something that blows their mind. I wish we were in a place to encourage more people to participate. But I’m really proud of the impact we’ve had as a marketing organization. We’ve seen a great deal of traffic to arts organizations through SF Travel. It’s tough to reach people who aren’t automatically interested in the arts but who are open to it, and we’re excited to grow that audience.
For SF Travel’s features on theater and the arts, visit: www.sftravel.com/explore/arts-culture. Tucker plans to have her “theater anthem” video released in January.
Kari Barclay is a queer director, writer, and educator completing his PhD at Stanford University. kari-barclay.com