Art is in the wallet of the beholder.


Mrs. & Mrs. Sprinkle-Stephens

I was amused by a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle stating that former porn star/current performance artist Annie Sprinkle and her wife, Elizabeth Stephens, Chair of the Art Department at UC Santa Cruz, conducted an event in San Francisco called the EcoSex Symposium. According to Stephens, she and Sprinkle have married the moon, the sky, the ocean, the Appalachian Mountains and the snow in a series of nudist-friendly weddings that demonstrate their new gender identity as Ecosexuals. In August, they travel to Gijon, Spain, where they plan to marry coal.

At the symposium, the couple’s EcoSex Manifesto was prominently displayed. Close to it was a photograph of Sprinkle lying with her legs spread wide while Stephens watered the flowers sprouting from her vagina. The symposium also featured panel discussions, performance art pieces, lectures on theories of ecosexuality, open mikes, PowerPoint presentations and a catered vegan “ecosexi-love-a-licious” lunch. The finale was an “EcoSexual Fire Tassel Twirling Striptease” by a burlesque performer named Lady Monster.

This would be just one more harmless example of San Francisco’s tilt towards the ether, except for one nit. This symposium was partially funded by the San Francisco Arts Commission.

This is not the first time that seeing the words art and commission is the same sentence has made me flinch, so I did some basic research To quote from the introduction of the SFAC 2010 Annual Report, “Here, once again the Arts Commission stands out nationally for being one of the few government agencies that continues to provide direct grants to artists – something the federal government was forced out of during the cultural wars of the ‘80s and ‘90s.”

What kind of grants are we talking about? According to Kate Patterson, Public Relations Manager, SFAC contributed $10,000 to the EcoSex Symposium. The SFAC website states that their total Cultural Equity Grants and Community Arts & Education Grants for 2010 were $4,320,587. That seems like a lot in a harsh economy, but to put it in context, their total spending, which included many Public Art Projects, was $36,769,570.

Where did that money come from? The San Francisco Public Art Ordinance states that 2% of construction costs for all city-owned buildings must be put aside for public art. The figures for 2010 weren’t published, but in 2008, SFAC says this amounted to $30,792,591 which came from taxpayers one way or another. That’s approximately $38 per citizen. Not a huge amount, but for the average household of 2.3, it’s $87 a year, which works out to three nights at the movies if you go easy on the popcorn. You might think either of these are better uses of your hard-earned money than the grants and projects the Arts Commission gets all misty over. Here are a few of the more noteworthy ones:

$10,000 for kids to create short digital stories about the healthcare needs of Chinese immigrant families.

$12,000 to explore photographic portraiture in the Tenderloin National Forest.

$37,000 for a literary workshop that served 15 students.

But these grants are just the $4 million tip of the $36 million iceberg. Here are a just a few of the Public Art Projects that SFAC is responsible for administering:

$50,000 for willow saplings
Project: The Upper Crust
Artist: Patrick Dougherty
Location: Civic Center Plaza
Commission: $50,000 Dates: November 2009-March 2010
Description: The Upper Crust consisted of a series of conical forms comprised of 4,500 pounds of freshly cut willow saplings interwoven into the tops of the sycamore trees outside City Hall. This was a Public Utilities Commission temporary public art partnership.

$120,000 for chairs on the sidewalk
Project: Church and Duboce Streetscape
Location: Intersections of Church and Duboce and Church and Market Streets
Artist: Primitivo Suarez-Wolfe
Description: Inspired by the surrounding architecture and the history of the neighborhood, Suarez-Wolfe proposes to create a series of steel chairs that, in addition to creating a distinct identity for the intersection, will provide much needed seating. The artist will also design a vertical sculpture for the corner of Church and Market that will serve as a gateway feature for the neighborhood.
To Be Completed: June 2012
Commission: $120,000

$857,891 for a large, hollow tube
 California Academy of Sciences
Location: Golden Gate Park, Music Concourse Artist: Maya Lin
Description: Titled “What is Missing? “. This is a permanent, site-specific sculpture that is the first component of a multi-sited, multimedia artwork dedicated to raising awareness about the current crisis surrounding biodiversity and habitat loss.
Commission: $857,891

I suspect you may have your own thoughts about what is missing here. I nominate common sense.




Leave a Reply