One of the many ideas that avatar and co-founder Gary Warne sprung on his Suicide Club co-conspirators in the late 70’s was a scheme to commandeer two massive freeway billboards and to bend the ominous message to the confederated will of the Club. The Suicide Club evolved out of Communiversity, a free school at SF State in the 1970’s that was part of the free school movement of the 1960’s. Pranks and adventures were reflected in many of the classes offered. The Suicide Club first appeared in print and the world as a “class” in Communiversity in 1977. This first billboard alteration was the inspiration for the founding of the Billboard Liberation Front a few months later. The BLF was to go on altering or “improving” the copy and images on giant drive-by advertising for thirty-four years, predating and presumably influencing later work by Shepard Fairey, Ron English, and other midnight advertisers. The BLF grew concurrently with the Cacophony Society and had members that crossed over the entire San Francisco underground arts scene. Suicide Club stalwart Dan Spero made several audio interviews with Gary back in the early 1980’s before Gary’s tragic and untimely death at the age of thirty-five. The audio file below is Gary’s story of the first billboard hit, an event that spawned or encouraged a thousand advertising hacks to come over the next three decades. Chuck Palahniuks novel Fight Club (and the David Fincher movie) include a billboard hack inspired by Cacophony and the BLF.
Hearing Gary’s voice decades after his passing is quite a treat for me and for anyone else who knew this visionary prankster.
There may be a solution for some of us. The amazing P Segal has a plan that might actually work. A plan that would encourage well heeled business types to invest in keeping some (not necessarily web-based) creative types in our fair City. Sounds crazy I know, but hear me out.
Many people I know are already in Oakland or have moved back East and taken over small towns or established themselves in compelling corners of decaying East Coast, South West/East, or Midwest Cities. Places they can afford. Places they can live in and work and create without every goddamn dime they make going to more and more exorbitant rents for closets in poorly retro-ed apartments with eight roommates or greasy cold floor spaces in ramshackle garages. How many would stay here if they could simply afford the rent with enough $ left over to continue creating?
I don’t hate the 100k salary ‘puter kids for coming here and falling for our City. If I were 25 and making that kind of dough, working in a field I enjoy, for a company that doubles as my Mom and lover, I’d probably do the same thing they do – work 90 hours a week, while snuggly ensconced in the warm folds of Googledom, take a comfy luxury bus ride home to one of the most beautiful cities in the world, arrive around 8PM, meet friends for dinner, drop a C-note apiece at one of the fabulous new restaurants in my fabulous hip neighborhood, bed down around 1AM, then take the comfy bus back to Mt. View in the AM to do it all over again. Then I would save up for my company sanctioned week long vacation/team building exercise at Burning Man©™ every year. That’s a pretty killer lifestyle for a young person in the corporate world we now live in; hard to blame them for not really realizing how difficult it is for a painter (art and/or commercial), old school writer or journalist, welder, arborist/landscaper, non big $ earner to continue to live in this special place. The kids might not even realize that these skint bohemians helped make San Francisco the super cool place that attracted them here in the first place.
Well, P. Segal has a dream. Like so many dreams – it seems….. dreamlike. How can it work? Will investors buy buildings for poor and poor(ish) artists to live in? Why would any one with $ do that? They just might want to consider the scheme that P Segal and the heavy-hitters she has recruited to sit on the board of her CA State non-profit 501 c3 organization have devised. It’s pretty tasty.
The plan is simple. Encourage investors to buy a residential or mixed use building already occupied by artist/craftsmen or a building to be converted to artist/mixed use/live work. The non-profit would provide a comfy tax incentive for the buyer, while facilitating artists to live and work in the building for way below market rents. Investors who buy buildings get the tax benefit of nonprofit donations and they still own the buildings and can sell them for a profit (possibly to the tenants) when the 10 years of allowable write-offs end, making a profit on the sale. More traditional nonprofit housing works for general housing needs, but the Art Houses will be residential AND commercial in order to provide a place for the residents to build and develop their art: actual live/work space. This plan could also enable artists to dial back dependency on the “conventional art world” that is dominated by a few established critics and their gallery owning friends or traditional galleries that take a huge percentage of sales. Common areas in the Art Houses will doubtlessly be utilized as collective galleries, maybe even generating some income for artists. For the investors, well they’re doing a good thing with their dough AND buying some good will in our less than huggy San Francisco affordable housing crises. Artists, worker bees and regular Frisco eccentrics, many of whom made SF the interesting place that investors, tech owners and tech workers are profiting from, get to stay and continue working in this amazing place. Win-win.
The first step is a fundraiser for the non-profit that takes place Thursday April 23rd (see flyer above) at 7PM above the Castro. For $25 you can hang with artists, patrons and SF characters in a very sweet location with one of the best views in SF. For $100 you will be able to choose from a pile of original art made by local endangered artists. See Paypal info below and on the flyer above or pay at the door. Please come and ask Ms. P and her non-profit board members just how this plan will work and if YOU can get involved as an investor or as an artist /creative qualifying for inclusion in the SF Art House pool of SF survivors.