The Rainin Foundation Steps Up to Save San Francisco's Soul

In San Francisco, residents need to make at least $30/hour just to pay their rent. This is often easier said than done for emerging artists who are inspired by the city and make it an eclectic place to live. Market Street is a historic artery and artistic hub in San Francisco, with large and small theaters that have endured decades of economic twists and turns. Last December, over a hundred activists marched down Market Street, where tech giant Twitter had recently set up its new headquarters.

One local nonprofit, the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST), is working to buy and lease properties to stabilize arts organizations in the resurgent Central Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods. The goal of CAST is to prevent San Francisco arts organizations from being squeezed out by large corporations, thereby giving hope to some of the most challenging blocks in the city. To launch the initiative, The Kenneth Rainin Foundation awarded a $5 million five-year grant as seed funding to pilot CAST.

“The Foundation has long supported arts organizations in San Francisco and over the years, the issue of affordable space emerged as one of the biggest threats to their vitality,” Shelley Trott, the foundation’s Senior Program Officer for the Arts, said in a press release. “CAST represents the culmination of many talented people working together and investing their time and expertise to bring this idea to life.”  

CAST’s first pilot projects are at 1007 Market Street (Luggage Store Gallery) and 80 Turk Street (CounterPULSE). Both of these organizations have been operating since the early 1990s but are now confronting the risk of sale due to escalating rent. The Luggage Store, also known as The 509 Cultural Center, aims to build community, promote inclusion, and dispel stereotypes through multidisciplinary arts programs accessible to and reflective of diverse Bay Area residents. Counter PULSE provides space and resources for emerging artists and cultural innovators, using art as a catalyst for exchanging ideas and fueling social change.

“A major transformation is underway on Central Market, and arts are central to that revitalization,” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. “Long-time neighborhood institutions like CounterPULSE and The Luggage Store not only anchor the growing arts district but maintain the fabric of creative nonprofit organizations that characterize Central Market. Creative endeavors like CAST propel the City’s efforts to enhance the role of arts organizations in the neighborhood while ensuring the longevity of these important institutions.”

“It’s going to be a combination of buying buildings and recycling financial resources, and utilizing things like New Markets Tax Credits,” explained Deborah Cullinan, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ new executive director and CAST board member. “The idea is, you put all that together, and you create enough density where it actually makes a difference, where you are actually impacting gentrification. You’re working with artists and organizations that are maybe indigenous, or that are working in community. It’s really about trying to come up with a solution to this thing everyone’s fighting about.”

The Rainin Foundation has partnered with the Northern California Community Loan Fund and the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development to propel these projects forward. The Rainin Foundation’s Imagining Central Market initiative is open grant proposals from nonprofit organizations, individual artists/projects with a 501(c)3 fiscal sponsor, and socially minded, for-profit organizations. The foundation puts a priority on joint ventures and collaborative efforts that contribute to a sense of place in the Central Market District. To be considered for a grant, organizations should connect businesses, residents, and community organizations through widely accessible public engagement.

Qualified projects include interactive art installations, architectural projects/mapping projects, and high quality visual and media art. The Rainin Foundation may also consider public plazas, facades of theaters, commercial properties, and local parks. For the current grant period, we expect to see awards announced in August 2014, and each grant will be $100,000. To learn more, check out the Imagining Central Market FAQ, or contact the Arts Program Staff with general inquiries at