Survey Confirms: Market Forces Pushing Artists Out of San Francisco

Graffiti on an empty storefront nearby what used to be the home of the artist co-op CELLspace

Graffiti on an empty storefront nearby what used to be the home of the artist co-op CELLspace (Photo: Kevin L. Jones/KQED)

A new survey confirms what many in San Francisco already know: market forces are pushing artists out of the city.

Beginning in July, the San Francisco Arts Commission heard from nearly 600 artists that either live or recently lived in the city. The survey found that over 70 percent of the respondents had been or were being displaced from their workplace, home, or both. As for the 30 percent that weren’t being displaced, potential displacement in the near future was a common concern.

San Francisco Arts Commission meeting
San Francisco Arts Commission meeting (Photo: Kevin L. Jones/KQED)

“I would’ve reported this survey as being alarming,” John Elberling, director of the Tenants and Owners Development Corporation (TODCO), said. “It’s going to be a wipeout.”

The survey also found that the most common reasons for artists losing their leases on workspaces and homes were business-related: building conversion, rent increases, new owners and/or owners moving into the space.

The average size of workplaces utilized by the artists polled was 500 sq. ft. And though the average monthly cost of rent was reported at $1.75 per sq. ft., some artists were being charged as much as $17.33 per sq. ft.

Anecdotal evidence of the survey’s findings has already been widespread, but the commission conducted the survey to obtain hard data on artist displacement, which it will use to help guide city policy, according to Tom DeCaigny, the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Director of Cultural Affairs.

“So as there’s tension in our real estate market, we want to understand what it is that artists are currently paying so that we can make sure that those artists have affordable space for the long term,” DeCaigny said.

Example slide from SFAC report
Example slide from SFAC report (Courtesy: SFAC)

DeCaigny also noted at a meeting Tuesday that the commission provides grants that can be used toward creative spaces, and that the Mayor’s office increased the grant budget from $1.9 million to $2.9 million this year. (Deadline for applications is Oct. 15; go to the commission’s website for more information.)

The release of the survey results on Tuesday led to a handful of artists showing up to the commission’s meeting Tuesday afternoon to express their concerns about its findings. Some of them included artists who were part of Studio 17, the 70-member artist collective that was forced out of the Redlick Building by landlords in June of this year.

“Please know that this issue is much greater than the loss of artists’ space,” Truong Tran, a former Studio 17 member, said. “It is about the displacement of communities, and cultures of the working class and people of color. We artists see ourselves in these communities.”

To read more about the commission’s survey, download the snapshot of the Individual Artists Space Need Analysis.

Survey Confirms: Market Forces Pushing Artists Out of San Francisco 28 January,2016Kevin L. Jones

  • Chairman Meow

    Credit goes to all NIMBYs, past, present, and future… If you don’t build and densify neighborhoods where infrastructure is designed to support it, then the bottom of the income ladder will continue to be wiped from the population without an end in sight because demand, income, and inflation will continue to rise and no amount of subsidy or protectionist regulation can or has ever stopped this from impacting the cost of housing. There is only one way out of this mess: Build.

  • Socrates Wilde

    Blaming “market forces” for skyrocketing rents driving people, including artists, from the City is disingenuous and deliberately misleading. Market forces ARE at work, but they are heavily distorted, constrained by decades of pro(ag)gressive economic interventions. Government interventions always lead to unintended consequences that hurt real people.

  • Deleted

    Bullshit title, bullshit article. Market forces are as at fault here as they were in USSR when people were waiting in bread lines. Market forces are not allowed to operate and are the only thing that can fix SF housing, not the problem causing it.

    I will care about artists being forced out when I see them as part of movements helping the city grow and developers build. Until then, they are the problem, and bye. Once enough artists leave, the rest of us then start development and fix the problems they caused.

  • Ann Treboux

    The SFAC has done nothing to aid the Artists who are displaced and the full Comission
    meeting last week was a forum for angry Artists to have only 3 minutes to voice
    their displeasure at the Comission as a whole. Public speaking is in itself an art form a do
    It is. a challenge to prepare and present in. a way that is not clouded by anger. There
    we’re a few speakers who just angry and their message was not heard. Not the way
    to do things.

  • Ann Treboux

    The survey didn’t poll the 350 street artists who
    work on the cities sidewalks. Most are homeless and mentally ill. The chalange is how to put up
    mental barriers from your colleagues and still
    keep your sanity. Unfortunately, under the current ordinance-you must sell in areas approved by the Board of Supervisors. That means, you have to be near people who sell
    imports and have mental health issues. The
    Street Artist program is over 40% imports.

    Howard Lazar, is a dinosaur who has been
    mismanaging street artists for over 41 years.
    His sole concern is to promote the program
    so he can collect a pay check. There is over
    a 70% drop out rate within the first 3 months.
    Lazar hasn’t had a performance review in
    years and has another full time job as a janitor
    at the South End Roving Club.

    Add to that, the 2/3 loss of prime downtown
    selling spaces until 2018; John Tunui the
    manager at Justin Herman Plaza (huge bully)
    and petty politics-you have the SF Street Artist

    Howard Lazar should have retired years ago.
    He is doing nothing to promote the Arts or
    save those who pay his salary from eviction and


Kevin L. Jones

Kevin Jones reports on the Bay Area arts scene for KQED. He loves his wife and two kids, and music today makes him feel old.

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