Funders Back More Affordable Art Spaces in the Bay Area. Will Other Cities Follow?

Earlier this month, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced a $1.7 million grant to create affordable spaces for the city’s arts organizations, a move that was prescient in light of the recent warehouse fire that killed 36 people in the city's Fruitvale district.

The grant combines funds from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the nonprofit Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST)—names that are probably familiar to those who follow arts philanthropy in the Bay Area. The lack of affordable arts space has been on these funders' radars for quite some time.

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation, for example, awarded a $5 million, five-year grant as seed funding to pilot CAST roughly two years ago. CAST's mission is to "to support the long-term stability of arts organizations in the resurgent Central Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods in San Francisco" and prevent arts organizations from being squeezed out by large corporations.

Which brings me back to the new Oakland effort, whose model mirrors that of CAST's efforts across the Bay Bridge.

The $1.7 million will fund a two-year pilot program by CAST and the Northern California Community Loan Fund to help artists keep their existing venues or move into permanent, affordable space. Funds will also be used to purchase real estate and lease it at below market rates to Oakland artists.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the initiative had been in the works for months and the news conference unveiling it was scheduled just days before the Ghost Ship fire.

And while Schaaf has her detractors across the city—some told the Chronicle that Schaaf is too friendly with developers and hasn't done enough to support tenant protections in Oakland—the plan has been lauded elsewhere, most notably in the Village Voice.

Commenting on the announcement, Lauren Evans notes that New York City has its own issues surrounding the lack of affordable art spaces. Compounding the challenge is the fact that when warehouse tenants tried to become compliant, they "found themselves unable to comply with the rafts of codes and permits required."

Add it all up, and Oakland's model, predicated on public-private partnerships and economic incentives, can perhaps be exported in other gentrifying cities. What's more, art organizations looking for affordable art space or tying to get up to code now have a starting point for discussions with local funders and government agencies.

To that end, the Voice reached out to the Mayor’s Office to see if the de Blasio administration intends to gather funds for a similar grant in New York. We'll keep you posted.