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Big Changes And Layoffs At Intersection For The Arts

Juxtapoz // Friday, 23 May 2014
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The Intersection for the Arts, not only an arts community center but a cultural icon of San Francisco, has just laid off most of its staff, including the program directors Kevin B. Chen, Rebeka Rodriguez and Sean San Jose, considered by many to be the heart and soul of Intersection. Their last day is May 31.

Along with the news that they will no longer be producing their own arts programming, this is a hard pill to swallow, especially in the midst of similar scenarios… But didn’t somebody say that the only thing that is constant is change?

Next year would have marked its 50th anniversary. To have survived these 49 years in such a changing city as San Francisco is near miraculous, and if it weren’t for the many vibrant artists, musicians, dancers and supporters, Intersection for the Arts probably would have been lost to us years ago. Perhaps in the first dot-com boom of the late ‘90s? But, unfortunately, the bitter time has come to bid a sad goodbye to one of the most important cultural centers San Francisco has ever had.

Intersection for the Arts began in the 1960s in North Beach as a safe space for disenfranchised youth and conscientious objectors of the Vietnam War. Over the decades and through the city, Intersection evolved into the acknowledged hub for creatives and their supporters. In the last 15 years, they were producing from 6-11 theatrical and dance productions, 10 to 12 literary readings, 12 to 16 concerts, and 4 to 6 art exhibits or installations in a given year, as well as workshops in each discipline taught by the resident artists. Intersection also hosted a variety of community, social, and artistic events for other San Francisco artistic organizations, such as Litquake Festival. And let us not forget to mention their literary series, the longest, continual reading series in the state of California, as well as their incubation program, which helps fund, develop and promote emerging artists.

The departing program directors sent out a letter yesterday, encouraging us to “DO IT! MAKE IT HAPPEN! TELL PEOPLE! TELL OUR STORIES! SUPPORT COMMUNITY! CREATE ART!” After all, we are all in this together.

Who knows what will happen? One sure thing is that Intersection has intimately touched many and will continue to do so as long as those it touched live the dream. In the meantime, their current programs will continue uninterrupted through the summer.

 


Below are the official press release from the Board of Directors and the letter from the departing program directors.

But I’m just going to leave this here for you.

 

~Lalé Shafaghi

 

Press release from the Board of Directors:
Dear Friends of Intersection for the Arts:

We are writing on behalf of the Board of Directors of Intersection for the Arts to inform you of difficult but necessary decisions that we have taken to confront fundamental challenges to the organization. For nearly 50 years, Intersection has existed as San Francisco's oldest alternative arts space, weathering a myriad of challenges, successes and evolutionary changes. We now find ourselves at another major turning point.  Our financial situation is deeply challenged, and it has become apparent that the current business model is no longer sustainable. 

Our financial situation has always been fragile. Like many non-profit, grassroots arts organizations, it has been a perpetual struggle, dependent on "angel donors," "heroic" leadership and unpredictable trends. The move from Valencia Street to the Chronicle Building and the partnership with Forest City and the Impact Hub were a significant effort to address this issue, but it was increasingly clear that they were not enough to build the financial foundation we need not merely to survive, but to grow and thrive.

Recognizing that the organization needed fundamental change to sustain its contributions to community life, the Board embarked on a deep organizational examination that led to a substantial rethinking of our role in the community and a refining of our mission. 

As of June 1, therefore, the following changes will occur:

  • Except for a limited amount of funded projects already in the pipeline, Intersection will no longer produce its own work but will continue to provide a platform to present performances by Incubator Program and Innovation Studio members and resident artists.
  • Resident company Campo Santo will transition to a strictly fiscally sponsored project and Sean San Jose, currently Intersection's performing arts program director, will continue to lead the company. 
  • The Visual Arts, and Education and Community Engagement Programs will be put on hold.
  • Unfortunately, long-time program directors Kevin Chen, Rebeka Rodriguez and Sean San Jose will be laid off, as will a number of support staff, and various contractors will be released.
  • Randy Rollison, Program Director Artist Resources, will take on the role of Interim Executive Director.
  • The Board, staff and key Intersection stakeholders will actively engage artists, community leaders, and funders to test the programmatic elements and economic viability of this emergent platform concept.

This restructure, though painful, is necessary not only to address Intersection's current financial situation, but to serve as a catalyst for an entirely new kind of artist and community engagement model that can sustain a healthy organization through an arts-centered entrepreneurial approach that relies on multi-disciplinary and highly collaborative partnerships in the Bay Area.

In the meantime, performance programs that were scheduled throughout the summer featuring the work of Incubator and Innovation Studio members will continue. And as living testament to our work in our neighborhood, community visual arts projects by Evan Bissell, Ana Teresa Fernandez, Wendy McNaughton and others are still alive and active in the streets of San Francisco.

Intersection's Incubator Program, with more than 100 fiscally sponsored projects working in performance, music, visual art, community engagement, arts education, artist services and advocacy, will continue without interruption. While not as visible as our visual arts, performing arts and community engagement programs, the Incubator program has nurtured thousands of artists since it began in the 1970's who have gone on to show work in our gallery and on our stage as well as at other regional, national and international institutions.  Many current and former members have evolved into some of today's most vital Bay Area arts organizations and play an important role in maintaining a healthy arts ecology, among them Litquake, Cutting Ball Theater, Youth Speaks, Erika Chong Shuch's ESP Project, Felonious, Mugwumpin and StageWrite to name a few.

The Innovation Studio and the Community Rentals Program will also remain unchanged.

None of these decisions have been taken lightly, and the necessity of laying off long-time staff members and releasing key contractors is particularly painful. These are the individuals who have made significant and lasting contributions to the organization and the artistic life of the entire Bay Area. They are valued members of the Intersection family and we are grateful to them for all they have given and regret terribly the impact this will have on their lives.

We believe that Intersection's long history, its impact on San Francisco artists and the arts community over the years, and its existing partnerships and programs provide a sound base for us to build a sustainable, impactful model that honors the past and looks toward a healthy and productive future. Our goal over the next few months is to craft that structure and re-emerge in the fall with a new business plan that creates a solid foundation for sustaining the organization's ability to use an arts-centered approach to building engaged, inclusive, and economically and culturally vigorous communities.

We believe that Intersection's long history, its impact on San Francisco artists and the arts community over the years, and its existing partnerships and programs provide a sound base for us to build a sustainable, impactful model that honors the past and looks toward a healthy and productive future. Our goal over the next few months is to craft that model and re-emerge in the fall with a new business plan that will sustain the organization's ability to use an arts-centered approach to building engaged, inclusive, and economically and culturally vigorous communities.

We know that for many of you this is sudden and unexpected news.  We still don't have all the answers or details worked out but we believe we have a solid foundation upon which to rebuild the organization.

Of course, we can't do this alone. We need you to be an active part of this process. We will continue to keep you informed of our progress and plans and hope to convene a public conversation in the very near future. In the meantime, We want to know what you think and invite you to email us at transition@theintersection.org and share your ideas, thoughts, memories, comments, criticism. Even better, attend one of our upcoming summer programs, and, if you want to support our work through this critical transition, please make a donation.

Intersection has always been a community based organization and you are a vital part of that community. We hope we can look forward to your continued support, patience, and perseverance as we take these difficult but necessary actions to build a sustainable foundation for Intersection that will last another 50 years. 

Sincerely,

Yancy Widmer                           Arthur Combs
Chair, Board of Directors    Interim Executive Director

 

From the laid off program directors:
May 22, 2014

We want to personally write you as our work and time at Intersection is suddenly coming to a close. As of June 1, Intersection will be undergoing substantial changes. As part of these changes, the three of us, in addition to other staff, will be laid off at the end of May. With the specific shifts in the economy and culture of San Francisco, it has been increasingly difficult to operate and sustain a community-based nonprofit arts organization like Intersection.

It is truly miraculous that we were able to exist for so long and be able to thrive with programs for as long as we did. Working together with Deborah Cullinan and other amazing colleagues for all the years we did, it worked not just because of the genuine investment and dedication of all at Intersection and us as a staff, but rather, it worked because of YOU -- your creative vision, your zeal for social justice, your enthusiasm to collaborate, your desire to communicate and connect. We can not thank you enough for how much you have inspired us, changed us, and taught us.  We are proud, still inspired, and ever changed by being able to support, develop, produce, and premiere new works of the highest order by artists and collaborators of the utmost amazing quality, originality, creativity, and heart - more than 15 years of new works and voices. Thank YOU. We look forward to witnessing more.

For the decade-plus that we have been able to work together, we have collaborated and worked for varied and multiple voices - the marginalized, under-represented, young, immigrant, queer, people of color, disenfranchised voices. We are proud of the work we have accomplished, birthing countless beautiful, resonant, and profound projects. Our work with community based organizations, schools, after-school programs, lock down facilities, coalitions, and individuals has allowed us to collectively flourish and grow.

We look forward to seeing you, experiencing new work, hearing and being part of dialogues, and partaking in both action and reaction to this world we all live in together. If you feel strongly about this kind of work that has happened at, with, and through Intersection over these past 15 years, we ask of you all:

DO IT!
MAKE IT HAPPEN!
TELL PEOPLE!
TELL OUR STORIES!
SUPPORT COMMUNITY!
CREATE ART!

In continued solidarity,

Kevin B. Chen (kevinbchen@gmail.com)
Rebeka Rodriguez (rebeka@raza.org)
Sean San Jose (seansanjose@yahoo.com)

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