Where did this idea of opening up YBCA come from?
The idea that artists are essential to the change we want to see in the world is deeply rooted in my personal life, and that of everyone at YBCA, and our ongoing work. When I took my previous job at Intersection for the Arts, I did not have formal professional experience in the arts and so I had a fresh perspective, an outsider’s angle.
Intersection was a venerable organization with significant history and yet it was struggling and disconnected from the community around it. I was struck by the fact that an organization that had been so impactful could be so vulnerable, struggling for relevance and connection.
I learned quickly that many arts organizations seemed to think of arts programming and community programming as separate things. Yet, from my outsider’s angle, the greatest opportunity was to build community and constituency through participation and by opening up the process of artistic inquiry and production to the public. My early lack of experience and, perhaps, naïve perspective, turned out to be my strength. We took the locks off the doors and focused on arts and community development. We created the conditions for artists to do really powerful things, and we have a similar spirit now at YBCA.
At YBCA, our urgency to change was based on a combination of our commitment to the idea that artists and arts organizations can lead the way and a belief that institutions built on a colonial past are capable of change. We are committed to doing the hard work, addressing our history and healing forward.
In practical terms, what kinds of things does YBCA do now that it didn’t do before?
We acknowledge that we are not a museum and we are also not a traditional presenter of the performing arts. We are trying to be an arts and civic institution that really centers the artist in the community around us.
We created the YBCA 100 as a way for us to democratize our curatorial structure. Our team across the organization engages with the public to determine who makes the list. Our audiences tell us who they want to see in our programming, and we listen. Only through this collaboration with our community do the true artistic visionaries reveal themselves, and YBCA is then there to support and amplify their work.
Our work is not contained within the physical boundaries of our space. One of the strengths we bring to the public realm is our advocacy—our ability to collaborate across sectors and spread awareness of the crucial role artists and arts organizations can play to create significant change in people’s everyday lives. Just one example, we are the only arts organization involved in the Well Being Alliance, a coalition of 25 organizations working around the country on intergenerational well-being.
Another example of many, we have partnered with several city agencies and community-based organizations to support food justice in our city. We have worked with the Tenderloin Healthy Corner Store Coalition here in San Francisco to help convert liquor stores to stores that make fruits, vegetables and everyday groceries more readily accessible. At YBCA, we deployed young artists into the community to break down barriers and build trust and a sense of connection between the residents and healthier food choices. We also helped transform these stores into beautiful spaces to encourage and inspire the community to frequent.