The Mission District is undergoing profound demographic changes due to the economic boom that occurred in the late ‘90s and that is reigniting today.
It was during the ‘80s and ‘90s that the Latino population settled in the neighborhood. As the Mission has become trendier, attracting young professionals from the technology industry, leaving much of the Latino population feeling displaced.
The first wave of the dot-com era at the end of the ‘90s forced many Latinos to relocate to the East Bay, due to rising costs of housing and rent.
These displacements have significantly decreased the population that gave the neighborhood its remarkable character; ranking it the fifth most desirable place to live in in the United States, according to the New York Times.
Various construction projects on Cesar Chavez and 24th streets accommodate new inhabitants while imposing a sensation of change on longtime Mission residents.
Though the wave of change seems unstoppable, initiatives like the “Calle 24 Art for BART,” a community effort to preserve the mission’s identity, are symbolic of the determination of a community rooted in struggle.
Six organizations with a long-standing history in the neighborhood—the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighbors Association, Galería de la Raza, Precita Eyes Mural Center, Brava Theater, Acción Latina and the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts—organized this committee with the objective of resisting BART’s approach to remodeling the 24th Street Bart Plaza.
The plaza is the point of entry to the neighborhood; for many, the location of this project is representative of the heart of the Mission.
The focus of the three community workshops organized by the committee over the last month has been BART’s initial selection of artists for the project. None of the artists chosen for the remodel are locally based artists- a point of great concern to many current Mission residents.
The organizers consider BART’s choices to be unacceptable, disrespectful and lacking fair process.
In 2011, BART hosted a public call for art proposals that would reflect the Mission community. According to Brooke Oliver, legal representative of the popular committee,” (BART) did not contact any local artists, nor did they contact any neighborhood associations.”
In the fall of 2012, BART and the Urban Planning Commission of the City of San Francisco announced their selection. “They don’t reflect the Mission, and none of the proposed artists are from San Francisco,” said Oliver. “It’s contemporary, abstract, public art that has nothing to do with the cultural themes or history of the Mission … It’s burning man-style art.”
The official reply from BART was that “the Mission is changing and it has to reflect that.” This statement led the committee to meet 3 times this past month to elaborate on an artistic alternative.
“The community process was flawed, we’re responsible for creating a genuine community process”, declared Oliver. “We are trying to elaborate on a more integrated project that is more culturally relevant.”
During the first workshop that took place at the Galeria de la Raza Jan. 26, Supervisor David Campos, whose district includes the Mission, declared: “We will do everything we can to make sure that they hear us, and pay attention… I felt deceived because not one BART representative showed up to our meeting.”
Stacie Powers, director of Brava Theater on 24th and York streets, said it’s important that “many people that influenced the neighborhood are recognized.” Like Father York, for example, priest at St. Peters church, whose name was previously used for York Theater (Now the Brava Theater).
The committee established a strategy to work on two fronts: they plan to work on an alternative artistic proposal, while exerting pressure on BART.
“We want them to recognize our efforts, and hear us,” Oliver said.
Other Mission-based construction projects have generated similar controversy, including: Mission Playground, El Parque de los Niños, La Raza Park, or the complex of apartments on top of Walgreens at the corner of Mission and Cesar Chavez streets. There were both victories and losses for the Latino community in the decision making process.
According to Oliver, the $165,000 that BART received from the federal government for the project should obligate them to be more transparent, and to respond to the demands of the city.
In 2001, an initiative to remodel the plaza did not succeed due to a lack of funds. It was then that Precita Eyes proposed the inclusion of a mosaic representative of the snake of Quetzalcoatl, a symbol of Mesoamerican culture. The committee is trying to revive this artistic concept by incorporating it in the current proposal that is being developed.
“I think it’s a historical, and important collaboration,” said Elba Rivera, an artist involved in the Public Art Project.
Calle 24 Art for BART will pose a public call for art submissions on March 1. Submissions will be evaluated beginning March 15. For more info call Galería de la Raza: 415-826-8009
(Peter Hernandez contributed to this story)
—Traducción Gabriela Sierra Alonso