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October 28, 2009

sota.jpg Articles about how the recession is affecting the arts in San Francisco are commonplace these days. Janos Gereben's October 25 piece in The San Francisco Examiner brought the point home once again.

But it's hard, as the article's headline states, to think that "optimism abounds" when you visit a place like the San Francisco School of the Arts High School (SOTA.) I visited the school for the first time the other day for a meeting and was shocked by the state of the buildings. They were more run down than any other school I've ever seen (and I've seen some pretty run down schools in the Bay Area.) The walls were dirty, many of them covered in graffiti. The corridors were grimy, the restrooms had dripping faucets and smelled bad. The classrooms were similarly derelict. The teacher with whom I had my meeting says he didn't have a desk, chairs or pencils in his classroom for the first few weeks after he arrived. He had to beg, borrow and steal these basic items. In the middle of our get together, a rat scuttled across the room. We had to leave.

How have things gotten to this point? SOTA is an amazing institution which turns out incredibly accomplished students, some of whom go on to forge successful careers in the arts. The environment in which people are forced to learn and teach is scary, frankly. I'm amazed that anyone can learn to play a concerto on the cello or rehearse for a play in this setting.

We do not live in a third world country. We need to do something about this fast.


  • We live in a country that is way over its head in debt. It is a country whose "prosperity" is defined by faith in the artifacts of Wall Street, rather than anything of hard value. The only reason we are not a third world country is that we are so good at proselytizing that faith.

    By Blogger Stephen Smoliar, At October 28, 2009 at 11:05 AM  

  • As a former SOTA student, this story saddens my heart. At the same time though I'm not that surprised, the school started falling apart long before the wall street crash. Let's not forget that SOTA had all a huge portion of its funds stolen several years ago by someone in the school district, which not only put in motion the move to the destitute McAteer campus, (As opposed to an ideally renovated campus on Van Ness) but also aided in prompting the school district to grow the size of the student body from 400 students to a near 600. They also now share the building with another school, School of the Arts Academy, which has a completely different mission statement, and attract a totally different kind of student. So though the teachers are still amazing people and the general idea of SOTA is still there, what made it a good school, the sense of community and loving the place that you go every day ,is gone. In short, yes the recession has hurt the school district, SOTA in particular, but the school district has had it out to bring SOTA down for a good 7/8 years now.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 28, 2009 at 11:34 AM  

  • A a current parent at SOTA, I think its fair to say that these things have greatly improved since the blog posts were made. Also, when you see the fantastic work the students are doing, you really don't lose that much sleep over the state of the campus, you're way too preoccupied with their optimism and incredible talent. Although it would be nice if the greater SF Community would recognize and support this incredible treasure of performing and visual arts right in their own backyards- if only by filling the seats at every show.

    By Anonymous Julie Glantz, At August 11, 2012 at 3:03 PM  

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