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Forum Borum

August 24, 2011

I knew I was in trouble last night when within five minutes of the start of the Mayoral Arts Forum, a panel discussion led by radio host Michael Krasny exploring the arts policies of 10 San Francisco mayoral candidates, the audience had already applauded several times: itself for showing up, the candidates for showing up, the woman who introduced the event for writing a book, and the noble pursuit of art in general.

I tried not to go to the event with preconceived ideas, but I wasn't surprised to leave feeling thoroughly dispirited.

There was so much hot air in the room last night, that I wouldn't have batted an eyelid if it had lifted the Novellus Theatre where the event took place right off the ground and into the stratosphere.

The main problem might be that it's too early in the run-up to the elections for the candidates to have anything grounded and specific to say about the city's cultural policy.

Most of the stuff that came out of the candidates' mouths was either very non-committal or completely unrealistic. Most of the time, the speakers used their moments in front of the mike to talk about their own track records as proponents of the arts. It was all very self-congratulatory and lacking in substance.

The only really sensible idea I heard (an idea which could ostensibly be achieved financially and make a true difference to the cultural purview of our neighborhoods) was the notion that the 1% of construction costs of big commercial developments downtown currently designated for cultural use by city ordinance could be used to fund cultural endeavors going on in different parts of the San Francisco where actual residents live. At the moment, this 1% kitty is typically used to build showy public art sculptures which sit in the vestibules of vast corporate buildings and are hardly ever seen, much less appreciated, by the general public. I can't remember who on the panel suggested this idea, but it was the one bright spark in the discussion's otherwise tedious dark.

Ultimately, I am glad I went to the forum because it galvanized me to think more deeply about the sorry state of this city's cultural custodianship. I also appreciated getting a glimpse of all the characters up there on the stage. I made careful mental notes about things like which candidates smiled genuinely versus in a fake way and which ones actually seemed to listen to what was being said by the other candidates versus gossiped to the person sitting next to them while someone else was sharing their views on the mike.

Finally, I appreciated sitting behind a young man with big hair who spent the entire event making a beautiful, detailed sketch of the mayoral hopefuls and moderator sitting up on stage. Watching the artist at work, his long fingers skittering over the white page with colored pencils, helped to put a blessed perspective on things.


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