October 28, 2009
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.