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Conceived and Edited by Gina Acebo and Tali Weinberg 2013

Editors: Gina Acebo and Tali Weinberg Layout Design: Tali Weinberg Map design: Alex Tarr Funded by PLAySPACE at California College of the Arts

2013 This is a compilation. All copyrights are owned by the individual artists and authors Available through

PLAySPACE, The Paulette Long and Shepard Pollack Art Community Experiment, is the graduate student-run exhibition program at California College of the Arts. PLAySPACE provides the resources for student curators to conceptualize and present programming that is especially appropriate for, and oriented towards, the academic community. This programming is presented in various venues and locations throughout the community. For the 2012/2013 year, PLAySPACE co-directors Gina Acebo and Tali Weinberg organized a series of exhibitions and participatory, public programs across the Bay Area in which artists map the social imaginary, using research-intensive processes to ask questions about places and the people that inhabit them.

Special thanks to the following individuals and organizations for making PLAySPACE 2012/2013 possible through your support and participation:

Alex Tarr Alex Wang, Kearny Street Workshop Ana Labastida Arash Fayez B. Jesse Clark, Race, Poverty, & the Environment Bob Allen, Urban Habitat Chrissie Bradley, Graduate Office Christie Noh Dana Ginn Paredes, Forward Together Elizabeth Moran Harvey Smith & Rachel Brahinsky, The Living New Deal Project

Jaron Browne & Alicia Garza, POWER Julianne Hing, Lauren Marie Taylor Maureen Burdock Maysha Mohamedi Rene Ciria-Cruz Robert Gomez Hernandez Sadie Harmon Sue Ellen Stone Tammy Johnson, TMJ Abundance Consulting Tom Morse

Contents 5. PLAySPACE Presents: Touring the Social Imaginary – Gina Acebo and Tali Weinberg 8. A New New Deal – Harvey Smith 36. Conjuring Multiple Histories – Sadie Harmon and Lauren Marie Taylor 90. Forward Together/Forward Stance – Dana Ginn Pardes and Tammy Johnson 106. Femitypes – Maureen Burdock 112. Pointless Show – Arash Fayez and Christie Noh 130. The Creation and Consequences of the Model Minority Myth – Julianne Hing 139. CATALYSTRANSIT – Ana Labastida 178. Youth Score Win for Free Muni Pass – Rene Ciria-Cruz 198. ELLOMENOPEE – Maysha Mohamedi


260. INDEX

PLAySPACE PRESENTS: TOURING THE SOCIAL IMAGINARY The writing, images, and interviews published here are an outgrowth of a series of exhibitions and public programs funded by PLAySPACE in 2012/2013. The artists who produced the projects in this book use research-intensive processes to ask questions about places and the people who inhabit them. What do we sense as we move through the city? What do we see? What do we feel? What is visible yet unknown, experienced yet not registered? Sadie Harmon and Lauren Marie Taylor conduct a series of sÊances for Conjuring Multiple Histories of the Bay Area. Arash Fayez and Christie Noh point to the constructed nature of identity in Pointless Show. Ana Labastida turns her daily commute into a social research lab for CATALYSTRANSIT. And Maysha Mohamedi finds a new language within the city’s built environment in Ellemenopee. Touring the Social Imaginary was motivated by both the resources and the limitations we were presented with as curators. This was the second year that PLAySPACE operated without a physical gallery for exhibitions. Our intention, then, was to facilitate programs that would bypass this hurdle, rather than combating it. Students at California College of the Arts (CCA) are already engaged in a broad sweep of artistic practices that challenge the limitations of traditional exhibitions. So instead of looking for other white walls on which to mount shows, we sought proposals from artists who are also re-imagining space and place through their work. 7

THE SOCIAL IMAGINARY We are living in a period of war, economic depression, and ever-present racism, misogyny, and other forms of hate. In the face of this confluence of challenges, what does it mean to “make art that matters?” The work presented here may not be an answer to war and injustice, but it is a reconsideration of history, identity, and power, and a re-imagining of the spaces we move through and how we move through them. In Mathematics, imaginary numbers are called imaginary because they do not exist as numbers. But rather than superfluous, these imaginary numbers have vital, concrete applications for science and engineering. So too, application of the imaginary to real world situations is vital to social change, the production of possibility, and our agency as citizens. The artistic practices represented in this book are one set of approaches to the social imaginary. But in asking questions about justice and power, we were compelled, also, to turn to local Bay Area community leaders and organizations whose social imaginaries have driven social change for years. Situating these narratives of social change alongside creative practices—whether complimentary or contradictory—provides an expanded sense of possibility. 8

A NEW NEW DEAL This book begins with an essay by Harvey Smith, an expert on the New Deal era who led our first PLAySPACE program of the year in October, 2012. One year after Occupy and less than a century after the Great Depression, Smith took us on a walking tour of the artistic legacy of the New Deal in San Francisco. Harvey’s essay and tour, while historical, introduces us to many questions and concerns that are equally relevant today: about the role of art in society, about living a life of dignity and fighting for fair wages, about the artists who lived in and responded to that historical moment and how society supported their creative work, and about what it is to contribute to regeneration in and out of the art world. These are propositions for consideration. What would a new New Deal be today? What is possible when artists re-imagine our history and the contemporary moment?


Sunday, October 14th, 2012 Meet at 1:45 pm at outside of Rincon Annex. The tour concludes at Coit Tower at 4:00 pm Wear your walking shoes!


Have you ever wondered what it was like when artists got paid and art was considered vital to civil society? Would you like to see firsthand where Emma Goldman, Mark Twain, Frida Kahlo, and Dorothea Lange did their work? Experience the architectural and artistic legacy of the last Great Depression from murals and monuments to architecture. See how government support of artists by the federal arts programs of the 1930s nurtured collaborative artistic production and left a palpable mark on San Francisco’s landscape. And join in the discussion of what this means for our work today. Harvey Smith is project advisor to the Living New Deal project and board president of the National New Deal Preservation Association. He was cocurator of the 2010 exhibit “The American Scene: New Deal Art, 19351943” at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek, CA, and he was curator of the 2011 exhibit “Art and Activism: The New Deal’s Legacy Around the Bay” at the Canessa Gallery in San Francisco. He received a B.A. in English and master of public health degree from U.C. Berkeley and has worked as an educator, public health worker and researcher, radio journalist, horse rancher and union carpenter. 11

The Monkey Block A Historical Essay on The Art Culture of the New Deal in the San Francisco Bay Area by Harvey Smith, M.P.H, President of the National New Deal Preservation Association and Advisor to the California’s Living New Deal Project. This paper has been presented at the Conference, “1935: The Reality and The Promise,” held at Hofstra University on April 7, 8, 9, 2011 and is available on Reprinted here with permission of the author. Special thanks from the author to Mary McChesney, Rondal Partridge, Milton Hebald, Gertrude Goodrich, Beth Danysh, Julia Bergman, Ruth Zakheim, Masha Zakheim and Nathan Zakheim. Dedicated to the memory of Thomas Fleming, Toby Cole, Milt Wolff, Archie Green and Studs Terkel. Thanks to Gray Brechin and Susan Ives for their suggestions.

Montgomery Block, 1930s, photo courtesy of Jimmie Shein


Works Progress Administration (WPA) artist Clay Spohn recalled working for the Federal Art Project (FAP) during the Great Depression saying, “I felt that I was doing [it] for the community, you know, and I felt sort of responsible, highly responsible as a matter of fact, for doing a good job because it was something you were sharing with others and it was for others... Everybody worked together, and you felt like a group, you know. You were contributing something to society as a whole.”1 The New Deal art programs in which Spohn participated produced a vast legacy of art that is still enjoyed today on public buildings and in museums, but the social milieu among the artists of the New Deal-sponsored programs rarely has been examined in detail. The present dire economic crisis invites comparison with the Great Depression and calls for a reexamination of the legacy of New Deal social programs. This paper examines the rich culture and personal histories of a community of artists living and working in the vicinity of Montgomery Street in San Francisco that were part of an artistic renaissance nourished by federal arts programs from 1933-1943. Like other New Deal programs that forged a new social contract with Americans and their government, the federal arts projects deeply affected the lives of the people they touched. Unprecedented government patronage not only enabled artists, writers, musicians, dancers and actors to productively survive the Depression, it encouraged collaboration, brought an array of free cultural programs to Americans for the first time, 1  Oral history interview with Clay Spohn, 1964 Oct. 5 and 1965 Sept. 25, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


and forged a bond with the public through exhibitions, education programs and public performances. New Deal artists developed cooperative social and working relationships with one another and shared a sense of responsibility for bringing cultural programs to “Main Street” America rather than to elite patrons and collectors. An understanding of the broader economic crisis of the time and the government’s response to it is needed to provide the context for the role these artists played in a wellconsidered and comprehensive program of public policy. The Great Depression and the New Deal In the 1920s, the economy was booming, but there was a wide gap in income between rich and poor Americans, just as now. Then the economic collapse began with the 1929 Stock Market Crash. The ensuing Great Depression left millions unemployed. There was no social safety net — no bank deposit insurance, no unemployment insurance, no social security. Franklin Delano Roosevelt accepting the nomination of his party in 1932, pledged “a new deal for the American people.”2 Later he would state, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”3 This statement sums up the direction of the New Deal: Main Street before Wall Street. But then, just as now, the Right opposed Main Street progress. 2  Roosevelt, Franklin D. “Roosevelt’s Nomination Address,” Chicago, IL, July 2, 1932. 3  Roosevelt, Franklin D. “Second Inaugural Address,” January 20, 1937.


Montgomery Block, 1870s. Photo courtesy of Jimmie Shein


People may argue over statistics about what the New Deal accomplished,4 but two things are needed to understand it clearly. First, that people who participated in or benefited from the New Deal tell the real, firsthand story, and second, that the New Deal’s physical legacy still surrounds us (mostly unrecognized) as buildings, bridges, roads, and public art — a visual landscape that we enjoy and depend on today. In the first Hundred Days of FDR’s Administration fifteen major pieces of legislation were passed to address the problems created by the economic collapse.5 Among this socalled alphabet soup of programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), ultimately employing 3.5 million unemployed youth and planting 3 billion trees. Another program gave long term mortgage loans6 to some 1 million homeowners to prevent foreclosure. The Glass-Steagall Act separated commercial and investment banking and established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to insure customers’ deposits in banks and thrift institutions up to $100,000. The Public Works Administration (PWA) built massive infrastructure projects, such as dams, bridges and schools. After the Hundred Days, a myriad of other federal programs was created. Because regulating corporate excesses was critical, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) 4  For a clear explanation of the economic impact of the New Deal, see Walker, Richard A. and Brechin, Gray, The Living New Deal: The Unsung Benefits of the New Deal for the United States and California, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, University of California, Berkeley, Working Paper #220-10, August 1, 2010. 5  Alter, Jonathan. 2006. The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Day and the Triumph of Hope. New York: Simon & Schuster, New York. 6  Refinancing was done through the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC).


was established to oversee stock market trading. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was formed to maintain electronic communications in the public interest. Thousands of families were provided housing in both urban and rural areas.7 One of these programs, the Farm Security Administration (FSA), also hired photographers, including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks and others to document the conditions of drought-stricken and financially ruined farm families. Putting people to work in decent conditions and protecting them on the job were critical. The National Youth Administration (NYA) hired high school and college students for work-study and part-time work and provided vocational training and programs for outof-school youth. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), also known as the Wagner Act, gave workers the right to organize and bargain collectively with employers over working conditions, benefits, and wages. A crowning social policy achievement of the New Deal was the creation of the Social Security Administration.8 In addition to welfare provisions, it created a social insurance program for retired workers age 65 and older and provided for unemployment insurance.9 7  This was done under several agencies, including the Public Works Administration, US Housing Authority and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in urban areas and through Homesteads, Resettlement Administration (RA) and Farm Security Administration (FSA) in rural areas. 8  Downey, Kirstin. 2009. The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience. New York: Doubleday. 9  Flynn, Kathy. 2008. The New Deal: A 75th Anniversary Celebration. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, Layton, UT.


The first federal art program, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), was started in 1933. Later, the Treasury Department established two programs to decorate federal buildings by commissioning artists through a competitive process and by directly hiring artists on relief.10 Probably the best know New Deal program was established in 1935. The Works Progress Administration hired 8.5 million people and built thousands of schools, parks, city halls, public libraries, recreational fields, streets, highways, sewers, airports, utilities and more. The WPA/Federal Art Project included art, writing, theater, music and history projects, much of which celebrated the dignity of work and working people.11 FDR outlined his program for post-World War II in his 1944 State of the Union Address. He proposed a “second Bill of Rights” that recognized inherent human rights including employment, housing, medical care and education. FDR died before he could implement his “economic bill of rights” proposal.12 However, his New Deal programs did provide long-range public investment13 which lifted communities all across the U.S. We are still benefitting from these infrastructure and social programs three quarters of a century later. 10  The Section of Fine Arts of the Treasury Department (the Section) was established to decorate federal buildings by commissioning artists through a competitive process, and the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP) was established to decorate federal buildings by hiring artists on relief. 11  Taylor, Nick. 2008. American-Made - The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work. New York: Bantam Books. 12  Sunstein, Cass. 2004. The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution & Why We Need It More Than Ever. New York: Basic Books. 13  . Leighninger, Robert D. Jr. 2007. Long-Range Public Investment: The Forgotten Legacy of the New Deal. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.


The Montgomery Block In his oral history, archived at the Smithsonian Institution, WPA painter Clay Spohn described how he got “a studio on Montgomery Street in San Francisco where I could paint. My rent for the studio was paid and I had just enough money to eat on. So I’d go down there every day and work.”14 Built in 1853 as the largest commercial building west of the Mississippi, the huge brick Montgomery Block building served initially as studios and apartments for writers including Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, George Sterling, and Emma Goldman. The building miraculously survived the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. By the 1930s, as many as 75 artists and writers had studios or apartments with rents as low as $5 per week in the building they had affectionately dubbed the “Monkey Block.”15 They and other artists were part of a lively arts scene that carried over into the bars and restaurants of the surrounding neighborhood.16 Luminaries such as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Ralph Stackpole, Maynard Dixon, Dorothea Lange, Benny Bufano and Sargent Johnson were part of this vibrant community which by the early 1930s epitomized the working relationships fostered by the federal government’s programs for the arts.17 Montgomery Street runs from the Financial District, passes Chinatown and North 14  Oral history interview with Clay Spohn, 1976 Jan. 9-Feb. 5, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 15  Tussey Dan. No date. “Fireproof in SF,” Guidelines, Newsletter for San Francisco City Guides and Sponsors. Online – 16  Jones, Idwal. 1951. Ark of Empire: San Francisco’s Montgomery Block. New York: Doubleday & Company. 17  Swope, Sally. 1984. The Montgomery Washington Tower: An Historical Site and its Artifacts. San Francisco: Swope Art Exhibition Services.


Beach, and ends at a cliff atop Telegraph Hill. It had been the heart of the Barbary Coast, the rough and ready center of the Gold Rush in San Francisco. Poet Kenneth Rexroth, known for inspiring the writers of the Beat Generation, and his artist wife Andree first came to San Francisco in the late 1920s. Rexroth described the bohemian community he found as “a tiny enclave in Italian North Beach in those days: a cooperative gallery that soon failed; a speak-easy; Isadore Gomez’s…; a restaurant, the Casa Beguine; the Montgomery block; a row of studios in the next block on Montgomery street; and a few shacks scattered among the dirt roads and goats on Telegraph Hill.”18 Sculptor Ruth Cravath described the scene as she found it in the 1930s, “the Montgomery Block had four floors. The first floor was offices. Artists had nothing to do with that… The Montgomery Block was a beautiful building. It had these sculptured heads around the outside… There was a big, open court… It was very good light for working… Every studio had two windows and some of [the studios] had running water and some didn’t... We had a luxurious one. We had running water and…a little two-burner gas plate that we cooked on…”19 Its compactness was, in part, what galvanized this unique community of artists in contrast with the art scene in New York City. Artists in San Francisco were concentrated in an area of a few blocks and others lived in close proximity — living, working, eating, drinking and talking on a daily basis, both collaborating and influencing one 18  Rexroth, Kenneth. 1966. An Autobiographical Novel. New York: Doubleday & Company. p.365. 19  Ruth Cravath and Dorothy Wagner Puccinelli Cravat: Two San Francisco Artists and Their Conemporaries, 1920-1975, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.


another’s work. According to WPA artist Gertrude Goodrich who is still painting in New Jersey, during the 1930s and 1940s, most New York City artists lived in Greenwich Village lofts.20 WPA sculptor Milton Hebald, who lives and works near Los Angeles, described how other New Deal artists were spread out over the large metropolitan area of New York City, perhaps meeting weekly at the Artists’ Union.21 The Canessa Building, down the street from the Montgomery Block, also survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. Its website describes how “[i]n 1925, sculptor Ralph Stackpole and painter Timothy Wulff began work to turn the buildings at 716-718-720 Montgomery into artists’ studios. For the next 35 years, artists, including Diego Rivera, William Gerstle, Caroline Martin and Ruth Cravath, sculpted and painted in the “Ship Building,” so-named because a ship’s hull — historically thought to be the Georgian — is incorporated in the building…For 30 years, from 1933 to 1963, the Black Cat Cafe, located at 710 Montgomery, was the Canessa Building’s next door neighbor. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Cat attracted a bohemian clientele of both straight and gay writers, artists and musicians from the neighborhood. Many lived and worked across the street in the historic Montgomery Block building where the Transamerica Pyramid now stands.”22 Some of the artists saw their efforts tied to grassroots activism. Artists in San Francisco organized to get work and linked their work initially to labor organizing efforts, particularly the 1934 San Francisco General Strike. Bernard Zakheim, Kenneth Rexroth, 20  Goodrich, Gertrude. Telephone Interview, Jan. 30, 2011. 21  Hebald, Milton. Oral Interview, Jan. 9, 2011. 22  “History,” Canessa Gallery Artists Resource, Jackson Square, San Francisco. Online – canessagallery.


Frank Triest, Victor Arnautoff and Ralph Stackpole were influential in forming the Artists’ and Writers’ Union to pressure Washington to initiate a federal art project.23 Their efforts resulted in the first New Deal mural project in the U.S. — Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.24 This project, the combined work of 26 artists and their assistants, took place during the General Strike. The artists could see the labor actions unfolding on the Embarcadero below. Two strikers were killed by the police in the heated struggle. At one point the artist’s union organized a picket line around the tower to protect their murals from a vigilante committee attack. Coincidentally, the last mural project would also be in San Francisco. The Rincon Annex Post Office murals begun by Anton Refregier in 1941 and completed after World War II were put “on trial” by a congressional subcommittee in the 1950s for their depictions of California history, but were ultimately spared from destruction.25

Canessa Printing Co. Building

23  Lee, Anthony W. 1999. Painting on the Left: Diego Rivera, Radical Politics, and San Francisco’s Public Murals. Berkeley: University of California Press. 24  Zakheim, Masha. 2009. Coit Tower, San Francisco: Its History and Art. San Francisco: Volcano Press. 25  Brechin, Gray. 1996. “Politics and Modernism: The Trial of the Rincon Annex Murals.” In Karlstrom, Paul J., On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art, 1900-1950. Berkeley: University of California Press.


The Artists The voices of New Deal artists who were part of the Monkey Block (found primarily in the mid-1960s oral histories of the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution) consistently depict the unique period of the 1930s and early 1940s and the experiences of working under government sponsorship. A common theme in these oral histories is the artists’ gratitude for the New Deal art programs that helped them to develop as artists, enabled them to form a supportive community, fostered their sense of responsibility to their public audience, and nurtured an American artistic renaissance. Paul Carey, one of many artists interviewed by the Smithsonian, recalled working and learning with other artists. “[W]e drew from the model frequently26 and had others [draw] with us at the studio, in the old Montgomery Block…27 [T]he WPA, well, it’s the most unbelievable thing that I have ever heard of. They got seventy-five bucks a month and that was pretty good. They could live on it in a most modest sort of way. But it extended careers from art school into several years of further development, further maturity.”28 Sculptor Sargent Johnson said, “the [WPA was the] best thing that ever happened to me because it gave me more of an incentive to keep on working, where at the time things looked pretty dreary and I thought about getting out of it because, you know, I come from a family of people who thought all artists were drunkards and everything else. I thought I’d given it up at one time but I think the WPA helped me to stay… We could 26  See Freeman, Paul. 1992. The Rock Art Lithographs of Lala Eve Rivol. Novato, CA: LWL Consulting. This book recounts the incredible story of a young model, artist and resident of the Montgomery Block. 27  Oral history interview with Paul Carey and Stephanie Caloia, 1997 Oct. 26, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 28  Oral history interview with Paul Carey, 1993 Dec. 3 and 28, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.



Left: entry to Rincon Annex, former US Post Office, featuring New Deal architecture Above: section of New Deal “History of California� mural within Rincon Annex painted by Anton Refregier under the Federal Art Project of the Works Project Administration.



Zach Stewart, owner of the gallery that now occupies the Canessa Printing Co. Building, shares his personal history of the New Deal Era with PLAySPACE visitors A plaque on the sidewalk commemorates what used to be The Black Cat Cafe next door to The Canessa Printing Co. Opposite page: Outside of the Canessa Printing Co building. The Canessa gallery has existed since the mid-1960s All photos courtesy of Alex Tarr


Coit Tower


Harvey Smith explaining a mural inside Coit Tower


employ other artists too, people who were studying, who wanted to get a chance at doing something in that field.”29 Edith Hamlin, who was married to Maynard Dixon after his divorce from Dorothea Lange and collaborated with him on a mural project, recalled, “It was a busy period, altogether, and a very exciting period, with the Federal-sponsored murals… We all felt stimulated, and we felt lucky, too…30 “I always count [the WPA] as the beginning, really, of my professional life as a muralist… I will always be grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of it.”31 “[A]n angel descended on me,” is how Dong Kingman described the opportunity to work through the Federal Art Project. “I was assigned to the Watercolor Division of the Works Progress Administration…and for the next five years, I was able to concentrate on improving my watercolor technique, to think for myself, and to practice and develop my own style. And for the first time in my life, I had a studio of my own.”32 “Yes,” he continued, “the WPA project was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to one who is really enthusiastic about painting… My studio was right behind a café called The Black Cat, which is where all the characters hang out. If we had any discussion on art, we’d go around there and talk it over.”33 29  Oral history interview with Sargent Johnson, 1964 July 31, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 30  Edith Hamlin: A California Artist, An Interview Conducted by Donald J. Hagerty, American Studies Program, UC Davis, 1981. 31  Oral history interview with Edith Hamlin and Dorothy Cravath, 1964 May 27, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 32  Kingman, Dong and Kingman, Helena Kuo. 1980. Dong Kingman’s Watercolors. New York: WatsonGuptill Publications. p. 18. 33  Oral history interview with Dong Kingman, 1965 Jan 12, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


John Saccaro, a WPA painter and muralist, also recalled the scene at the Black Cat Cafe34 as the place where all the artists would gather, talk and drink. He said, it “was a social thing and there was less competiveness. There wasn’t this urge to make it big…”35 Mexican muralist Diego Rivera was a major artistic influence in San Francisco. He and his wife Frida Kahlo stayed in Ralph Stackpole’s studio when they first came to San Francisco in 1930. Rivera had come to paint a mural at the San Francisco Stock Exchange Club. Some local artists had previously visited Rivera in Mexico City, and others were certainly influenced by the extensive public work of the three famous Mexican muralists – Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros. Rivera and Kahlo made quite an impression on the local artists, and one writer wrote a short story about them referring to her as the “Queen of Montgomery Street.”36 Rivera’s assistant Emmy Lou Packard, who had a studio next to the Montgomery Block, said, “I have the feeling in talking to people who were on WPA in all parts of the country that they look back upon this as really the most rewarding time of their lives. I feel, and they seem to agree, that this was a time when they all had something in common and they were all working, paid a minimum salary, but nevertheless they were able to live on it, since things were pretty cheap in those days, rent and food and so on…So all of these artists had a feeling of community. They felt they were together…it’s a period I think we 34  Rondal Partridge, Dorothea Lange’s assistant and National Youth Administration photographer, visited the Montgomery Block area as a youth, but seemed to find the Black Cat Café a bit “intimidating.” He never entered, describing it as a “gloomy place.” Oral Interview, Jan. 5, 2011. 35  Oral history interview with John Saccaro and Terry St. John, 1974 April 30- Nov. 18, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 36  Weatherwax, John M. 1930s. “The Queen of Montgomery Street,” manuscript. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


would do well to repeat.”37 Herman Volz, WPA supervisor and muralist, described his efforts to organize the artists. “Friends of mine from L.A. came up and asked me to help organize the American Artists Congress. And I agreed if they would help me organize an artists union… We had a wonderful cohesion with us really. I would think that the period when we were on the WPA was one of the nicest periods I have spent in America with artists. There was a friendship there, there was a kind of a direction everybody went… I think I grew tremendously. I would never have missed it. [The WPA period] was the most wonderful time I had in my life. It was a great time for me, all the way around. And I know for others too. I’ve seen men growing out of nothing into artists, you know… It was very exciting…” Regarding federal support for the arts, Volz added: “Without subsidy, culture has a very difficult chance to grow… [T]he subsidies through the WPA project were a real upheaval for our lives. It was a very important thing. We could learn, we could develop… I mean we recognized this at the time: the artist needs this formal subsidy to continue our desire of expressing ourselves… Well, I do think that our period in America of the WPA was a glorious period. I think it’s one thing we don’t have any more today…”38 What was it like to work for a New Deal government agency? Dorothea Lange, the most famous photographer of the period as a result of her work documenting migrant farm 37  Oral history interview with Emmy Lou Packard, 1964 May 11-12, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 38  Oral history interview with Herman Volz, 1964 June 27, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


workers, was an early resident of a studio next to the Montgomery Block. She explained the sense of responsibility she and her fellow workers at the Farm Security Administration maintained. “When you went into that office…you were so welcome, they were so glad to see you; did you have a good trip, was everything all right? What you were doing was important. You were important…[w]hich made you feel that you had a responsibility. Not to those people in the office, but in general. …[A] person expands when he has an important thing to do. You felt it… You found your way, but never like a big-shot photographer… We used our hunches, we lived, and it was hard, hard living. It wasn’t easy, rather rough, not too faraway from the people we [were] working with… Now if they asked who you were, and they heard you were a representative of the government, who was interested in their difficulties, or in their condition, it’s a very different thing from going in and saying, “I’m working for Look magazine, who wants to take pictures of you.”… We photographers were somewhat picked at random, we weren’t hand-picked. We were educated on the job. The United States Government gave us a magnificent education, every one of us. And I don’t know any that’s really fallen by the wayside…”39 Helen Bruton, known for her mosaic murals, also described that sense of responsibility: “so many young artists were so thrilled at the opportunity to just get their teeth into a real project…that they were very earnest and very sincere about it… There may have been some boondogglers, but I feel that by far the greater proportion were enthusiastic over the opportunity that it gave them.”40 39  Oral history interview with Herman Volz, 1964 June 27, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 40  Oral history interview with Dorothea Lange, 1964 May 22, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


Anton Refregier, Rincon Annex Post Office muralist, described how “[a]fter the Wall Street crash, with the great suffering of the people, the people had to be provided for…41 It was a great time to be constantly nourished by the new ideas. But they were not new things in the form of the sensationalism we experience today. The wonderful, young guys coming up with powerful art forms, with powerful ideas, and so there was a kind of a competition. Like in Renaissance Italy where suddenly somebody was doing something in Rome that challenged the Italian artists in some other community or city… The artists had complete freedom and that we were only starting when we left off.”42 Sculptor Benny Bufano, known to be outspoken, summed it up. “WPA/FAP has laid the foundation of a renaissance of art in America. It is the open sesame to a freer art and a more democratic use of the creations of the artist’s hand and brain. It has freed American art. No longer must the artist be forced into social associations where the lonely claim to attention is the individual’s financial means. Means that meant material with which to work – stodgy dinners where the humiliation of being lionized was the price of the meal. Meals where artists were assembled to “sing for their supper” – portraits of overstuffed 41  Oral history interview with Helen Bruton, 1964 Dec. 4, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 42  The government providing for people’s needs could raise the question how were these artistic programs, as well as all the other New Deal programs, paid for? Deficit spending enabled allocations for New Deal social, cultural and infrastructure projects. This spending was eventually paid for through tax revenue. It is worth remembering that carved into the granite façade of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington, D.C. is the statement by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” We, the American people, have paid for our schools, post office murals, libraries, parks and roads. Ultimately, reconsideration of the balance between progressive taxation and regressive taxation is the answer to the present dilemma of budget slashing, program defunding and the widest income gap since the late 1920s.


children and lazy women the only means of an artist’s expression and survival… One couldn’t expect these “patrons” to like the Project. It interfered with their opportunity to buy things of enduring beauty for pittances, under the guise of “helping struggling artists.” …How can a cultural pattern be developed for America if art and the artists are subjugated to the whims and idiosyncrasies of a few overfed decadent merchant princes, carryovers from the days of feudalism?...WPA/FAP has been the hope of the greatest cultural renaissance in recent times. For the present we have steel, stone, and tools. We have the spirit of great men and great cities to move us. We are busy.”43 The Legacy of the Montgomery Block The climax to the New Deal artistic endeavor in San Francisco was the building of the 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island, a PWA project. Officially titled the Golden Gate International Exposition, but also known as the “Pageant of the Pacific,” it brought artists together to embellish the fairgrounds. When the fair was extended into 1940, the Art in Action project brought Diego Rivera and the WPA artists in direct contact with the public. By December 1941, all that the fair had tried to accomplish by showcasing the cultural diversity and unity of the Pacific Basin came to a horrible end with the attack on Pearl Harbor.44 Lamentably, the lack of a strong preservation movement allowed the Montgomery Block building to be torn down two decades later in 1959. San Francisco poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti argued in 1998 “that North Beach… be officially protected as a “historic dis43  Oral history interview with Anton Refregier, 1964 Nov. 5, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 44  Bufano, Beniamino Benvenuto. 1973. “For the Present We Are Busy” in Art for the Millions, edited by Francis V. O’Connor. Boston: New York Graphic Society, Boston. p.107-110.


trict”, in the manner of the French Quarter in New Orleans, and thus shielded from commercial destruction such as was suffered by the classic old Montgomery Block building, the most famous literary and artistic structure in the West until it was replaced by the Transamerica Pyramid.”45 However, it is probably fitting and somewhat ironic that the site that housed generations of San Francisco writers and artists came to be occupied by San Francisco’s tallest and most iconic building. Still very much in place is the essential infrastructure left by the New Deal. The true measure of a civilization is always more than its bricks and mortar, but its lasting cultural and artistic achievements. New Deal artists left a vast visual legacy of easel works, embellished buildings, sculpture and murals. The San Francisco Bay Area certainly received its share. The Long View of the New Deal Soon after FDR’s death in 1945, political attacks on the New Deal heightened. Three key areas were affected by New Deal deregulation: labor, media and finance. The National Labor Relations Act was initially weakened in 1947 by the Taft-Hartley Act; this has yet to be countered by an Employee Free Choice Act. Beginning in the 1980s, a weakened FCC allowed the current monopolization of the media. Many economists, including Nobel Prize winners Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich cite the 1999 dismantling of the Glass-Steagall Act as a primary cause of

45  Inaugural address delivered by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, San Francisco’s first Poet Laureate, at the San Francisco Public Library on Tuesday, October 13th, 1998.


the 2008 financial meltdown.46 The New Deal was clearly the result of the combination of intelligent and inspired leadership at the top and public discourse, enormous activism and unparalleled creativity at the grassroots. It established a new social contract that raised American middle-class living and cultural standards. Today we should ask the question, “Where did it go?”47 Reflecting on the scope of New Deal programs shows how much the vast majority of ordinary Americans has lost, and how we could revive the movement toward greater social equity and economic democracy. And, perhaps foster another artistic renaissance as well. 46  New Deal murals were later to influence the development of the 1970s mural movement. See Knight, Cher Krause. 2008. Public Art: Theory, Practice and Populism. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. p. 117-118. 47  Kuttner, Robert, “The Bubble Economy,” American Prospect, September 24, 2007. Krugman, Paul, “The Gramm Connection,” The New York Times, March 29, 2008. Stiglitz, Joseph E., “Capitalist Fools,” Vanity Fair, January 2009. Reich, Robert, “Too Big to Fail: Why The Big Banks Should be Broken Up, But Why The White House and Congress Don’t Want To,”, October 25, 2009. Today we have the choice between the comprehensive and progressive public policies of government regulation and Main Street programs, or the neo-liberal policies of tax cuts, trickle-down economics, de-regulation, and privatization and diminution of the public sector. To avoid getting lost among the dueling economists and public policy analysts in our zany contemporary political climate, current proposals can be measured by utilizing a “New Deal yardstick,” i.e., knowledge of the breadth and depth of the New Deal public policy.


CONJURING MULTIPLE HISTORIES Sadie Harmon & Lauren Marie Taylor

Stories allow one to travel through time. Buildings contain traces of the past, present and future. Knowledge is situated temporally and geographically. These are the stakes claimed by artists Sadie Harmon and Lauren Marie Taylor in Conjuring Multiple Histories, their extensive research project presented as a merging of historical city tour and séance. Choosing locations based on their spiritual, historical, and geometric significance, Harmon and Taylor follow a path of intuitive research to unearth hidden connections and illuminate obscured accounts that they present to us in physical and virtual space. Public record is juxtaposed with public memory to re-contextualize the historical figures, sites, and ideologies of Gold-Rush Era California. They presented their findings as narrative tours of each site followed by a séance—a word the artists use for its dual meaning: “persons assembled for discussion” and “a meeting for the investigation or exhibition of spiritualistic phenomena.” Their collected research, ephemera, and documentation from the April 13th program are also archived online at






Itinerary, Saturday, April 13, 2013 7:30am – 8:30pm. From the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland to the Beach Chalet in San Francisco. OAKLAND 7:30 am: Mountain View Cemetery, Chapel of the Chimes, 5000 Piedmont Ave. 10:00 am: Oakland Public Library, 125 14th St. This segment ends at Frank Ogawa Plaza 11:45 am: Jack London Square, Heinhold’s First and Last Chance, 48 Webster St. Transit: We will take the 1:45 Jack London Square Ferry to the San Francisco Ferry Building SAN FRANCISCO 3:45 pm: Portsmouth Square, Bridge to Chinese Culture Center at Washington and Kearny This segment ends at Montgomery and Sutter 5:30 pm: Mechanics Institute Library, 57 Post St. 7:20 pm: Sutro Baths Ruins, Point Lobos This segment ends at Beach Chalet 44

The day begins at Mountain View Cemetery by channeling the spirit of Chapel of the Chimes Architect Julia Morgan, through which we consider the implications of patronage and inheritance. We then move to the Oakland Public Library to channel the spirit of poet Ina Coolbrith. Her story is one of hidden families. The next stop is Heinhold’s First and Last Chance at the Oakland waterfront, which features prominently in the work of writer Jack London. As we channel London we reflect on utopian and dystopian ideologies and their consequences. We take the ferry to San Francisco to visit Portsmouth Square, across from the original locale of City Hall. Here, we question public memory as we channel Marie Ellen Pleasant, referred to in her time as “The Black City Hall.” We then move south to the Mechanics Institute Library to channel benefactor James Lick. His miserly reputation made him more infamous than his cruel fate. Finally, we journey past Lands End to take in the sunset at the Sutro Baths Ruins. As we channel Adolph Sutro in his crumbled empire, we ask: what is this mess; this thing called history? 45





7:30 am: Mountain View Cemetery, Chapel of the Chimes script by Sadie Harmon

In a miniature portrait painted in approximately 1832, Julia Morgan’s maternal grandfather, Albert O. Parmelee, knits his brows in a slightly concerned expression. Parmelee, father of five children, including Julia’s mother Eliza, made a fortune in cotton farming. In 1868 Eliza married Charles Bill Morgan, himself part of a prominent East Coast family. Morgan’s chosen career in oil speculation proved unsuccessful, and the family was largely supported by Eliza’s wealth. The family’s Oakland mansion was funded entirely by Parmelee money. Julia Morgan was by all accounts a hard-working and ambitious student, studying at Oakland High School and later at University of California Berkeley. The architect Bernard Maybeck mentored her in Berkeley, and he, like Morgan after him, trained at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Maybeck designed Wyntoon, the Hearst family’s private estate in Siskiyou County, CA, for Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who would later become Julia Morgan’s enthusiastic supporter and benefactress. One of Julia Morgan’s first architectural commissions was to remodel and finish Apperson Hearst’s Hacienda del Pozo de Verona in Pleasanton, CA. Translated from Spanish, the name of this estate is the Verona Wellbore Ranch—a wellbore being any hole drilled into the earth for the purpose of extracting natural resources. At 19, after working as a schoolteacher for several years, Phoebe married 41-year-old George Hearst. She moved to California in 1861. Their only child, William Randolph Hearst, was born in San Francisco in 1863. George Hearst was a mining magnate and California State Senator from 1887-1891. One of his biggest investments was the Homestake Mine in South Dakota in 1877. The mine remained active until 2002. 48

Paris Arts Institute and Bridge, 1908 from Popular Science Monthly Vol. 72 Phoebe Apperson Hearst, from California Faces: Selections from the Bancroft Library Portrait Collection, UC Berekeley, Bancroft Library


Apperson Hearst dedicated herself to philanthropy, primarily for architecture, archeology, and women’s education. She donated money for a gymnasium at UC Berkeley under the stipulation that the gym would be available for use by women. The 1900 edition of The Kappa Alpha Theta commented on Hearst’s generosity: Our girls, together with all the college women, have been greatly interested in the dedication of Hearst Hall, which is the largest and bestequipped gymnasium in the country. This was a generous gift of Mrs. Phoebe Hearst, who longs that each one of the students shall possess a sound mind in a sound body. Throughout her career, Julia Morgan, herself a Kappa Alpha Theta, designed YWCAs in San Francisco, Hollywood, Fresno, Oakland, Pasadena, and Asilomar, a complex that included the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Administration Building. In San Francisco, Julia Morgan designed the Chinese YWCA, which today houses the Chinese Historical Society of America. Morgan was retained as the unofficial architect of Mills College for twenty years, designing El Campanil, Carnegie Hall, the Margaret Carnegie Library, the Student Union, Alderwood Hall, and Kapiolani Cottage. She also designed the King’s Daughters Home, originally a “Home for Incurables.” The King’s Daughters Home is memorialized with by a small plaque in Mountain View Cemetery, in which Julia Morgan is also buried. Outside of the cemetery gates is the Chapel of the Chimes crematorium, part of which Julia Morgan designed in 1928. The building houses the Julia Morgan Chapel.


The Homestake Mine in Lead, SD, Rachel Harris, 17 May 2005


Following Phoebe Apperson Hearst’s death from Spanish Influenza in 1919, her son, William Randolph Hearst, hired Julia Morgan to finish the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. In addition to the Castle, San Simeon also hosts a large elephant seal rookery. William Randolph Hearst and the Hearst Castle at San Simeon became the inspiration for Orson Welles’ character Charles Foster Kane and his Xanadu Estate in the film Citizen Kane. On February 4, 1974, while a sophomore at UC Berkeley, Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. The SLA, in exchange for Hearst’s freedom, demanded that 4 to 400 million dollars worth of groceries be distributed in San Francisco, but distribution was stopped short due to crowd violence, and Hearst was not released. In April of that year, Hearst was photographed wielding a semi-automatic weapon and participating in a bank robbery in San Francisco. One year and five months following the bank robbery, she was found and arrested in the apartment of Wendy Yoshimura, a 1969 graduate of California College of Arts and Crafts and a still life watercolor painter who had been born in the Manzanar Internment Camp for Japanese Americans in 1943. Eleven years following


Above: Neptune Pool in Hearst Castle, 17 September 2012, King of Hearts, from National Register of Historic Places ref. # 72000253, California History Landmark reference # 640


her release from prison, Hearst appeared in Cry-Baby, the first of several John Waters films in which she would have bit parts.


In 1973, Marcus Foster, Oakland’s first Black superintendent, was assassinated with cyanide-loaded bullets by the Symbionese Liberation Army. In honor of Foster, the Oakland School System named its architectural safety initiative “the Marcus Foster Earthquake Safe Program.” Julia Morgan had her first major career breakthrough when the redesign she had completed for the Mills College bell tower, the first on a US college campus, survived the 1906 earthquake. Both Marcus Foster and Julia Morgan are buried in Mountain View

Social and economic changes in the 1930s slowed Morgan’s commissions from women’s groups. She continued building the Hearst Castle, now for William Randolph Hearst, until 1947. In 1951, she closed her office in the Merchant’s Exchange Building, in which there is now a ballroom named in her honor. She died six years later, at the age of 85. Also buried at Mountain View are Samuel Merritt and AKP Harmon, both early supporters of the Oakland Free Library. Samuel Merritt was born in 1822 in Maine and moved to 54

Above left: 1918 Flu Epidemic in Oakland, Edward A. “Doc.” Rogers, 1918 Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room and Maps Division Above right: Chapel of the Chimes Columbarium, 09/13/2007, Lori Matsumoto Opposite: FBI “Wanted” Poster of Patty Hearst, Sept. 24 1974


the president of the Chollar-Potosi Mining Company, on the Comstock Lode, in Virginia, Nevada. In 1860, Adolph Sutro proposed a drainage system that would allow the mines to “place these mines in a condition to be worked profitably and economically for a hundred years to come.” His proposed drain was completed in 1878, by which time it proved almost completely useless. Before this fact was distributed to the general public, Sutro sold his shares in the tunnel and relocated to San Francisco. In September 2012, Comstock Mining Inc, a North American precious metals mining company, again began to mine the Comstock Lode for gold and silver. Above: Ida L. Jackson with Supt. Dr. Marcus Foster, May 11 1973, William A. High for the Oakland Unified School District Audio Visual Ed. Dept. Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Room and Maps Divison Right: Comstock Lode, Virginia City, Nevada, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, National Archives and Records Administration


Sources Perfect Likeness European and American Portrait Miniatures from the Cincinnati Art Musem, by Julie Aronson and Marjorie E. Wieseman, Yale University 2006 “‘Women Who Build’: Julia Morgan & Women’s Institutions”, by Karen McNeill in California History: The Journal of the California Historical Society, Volume 89, Number 3, 2012 Julia Morgan Wikipedia Page: Phoebe Apperson Hearst Wikipedia Page: Hearst Patty Hearst Wikipedia Page: Hearst Castle Wikipedia Page: “The Kappa Alpha Theta,” November 1900 Vol 15 number 1, edited by the Iota Chapter of the KAT, Ithaca NY “Lives of the Dead: Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland” Blog, by Michael Colbruno, 2012 Marcus Foster Wikipedia Page: Julia Morgan: Architect of Beauty, Mark Anthony Wilson, 2007 Gibbs Smith Layton Utah Julia Morgan Papers at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo (online: specialcollections/architecture/juliamorgan/)


Ina Coolbrith 10:00 am: Oakland Public Library 11:45 am: Jack London Square Heinhold’s First and Last Chance script by Sadie Harmon

Ina Coolbrith, circa 1871


Joseph Smith’s first wife, Emma, was born in Harmony, now known as Oakland, in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania in 1804. Emma met Joseph in 1825, when he boarded with her family while seeking buried treasure. When she was balding due to typhoid fever, Agnes Coolbrith Smith, mother of Ina Coolbrith, the first poet laureate of California, received a wig made from the hair of Orrin Porter Rockwell, the personal bodyguard of Joseph Smith. One biography of Rockwell titles him “Man of God, Son of Thunder,” this befitting a man who some have claimed killed up to one hundred men, possibly in service of Mormonism, and possibly for other reasons. Rockwell was very fond of Ina Coolbrith’s father, the youngest brother of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. Don Carlos Smith died from malarial fever on August 7, 1841, when his daughter Ina was five months old. Ina Coolbrith was born Josephine Anna Smith in Nauvoo, IL. Per Mormon legend, the name Nauvoo is the Hebrew word for beautiful, and the town was chosen after the expulsion of the Mormons from Missouri. Despite being a relatively uninhabitable, malarial swamp, Nauvoo was the center of the Mormon community for several years. Following Joseph Smith’s death at the hands of an angry mob, Nauvoo lost the majority of its Mormon population. In recent years, Nauvoo has become a tourist destination for those interested in Mormon history. The town has been restored to resemble its 1840s incarnation. A recent visitor wrote on the town’s online guestbook, “My husband, daughter and her family and I made the trip last year for the first time. At least for me, I was amazed how they replicated the village into what it once was.” On January 6, 1842 Brigham Young wrote a journal entry using Masonic symbols that once decoded, reads: “I was taken into the lodge J Smith was Agness,” with the abbrevia59

tion “was” meaning “wedded and sealed”. Agnes Coolbrith remained in a Levirate marriage with Smith until his death in 1844. She then remarried a lexicographer named William Pickett and moved the family to California. Her new husband, nervous about the growing antagonism toward Mormons, asked Agnes to conceal her connections to the church. This she did completely. Even those close to the family in California knew nothing of their origin until after the deaths of Agnes and her two daughters. In 1851, Agnes crossed the Beckwourth Pass with her third husband and five children. Her youngest daughter, Josephine Donna Smith, later recalled James Beckwourth saying to her as they reached the pass, “There, little girl... there is California! There is your kingdom!” She would later claim to be the first white child to enter California via this route. In February of 1932, the United States Geographic Board voted to name a high peak in the Sierras “Mount Ina Coolbrith” in honor of California’s first Poet Laureate. The peak is visible from the Beckwourth pass, as it would have been when Ina Donna Coolbrith, then Josephine Donna Smith, crossed into California. James Beckwourth was born to Sir Jennings Beckwourth and a woman described by Ann S. Mannheimer in her biography James Beckwourth: Legendary Mountain Man as “a black slave.” Mannheimer goes on to note “very little is known about her.” In 1856, Beckwourth published an account of his life under the title The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, mountaineer, scout, and pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians. The chapter describing his discovery of the Beckwourth Pass is summarized in the table of contents thusly: “Discovery of Beckwourth’s Pass.---No pecuniary Reward for public Services.---Transformation.---A new Character.---Emigrants at Home and at their Journey’s End.---Description of the Happy Valley.---Interesting Reminiscence.” 60

left to right: Orrin Porter Rockwell, photo by Charles Roscoe Savage; James Pierson Beckwourth, circa 1860; Agnes Moulton Coolbrith Smith Pickett


Two years following this book’s publication, Ina Coolbrith, still Josephine Smith, married Robert Carsley. The marriage lasted just over three years before ending in a sensational public dissolution. In response, Josephine Anna Smith Carsley moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco and became Ina Donna Coolbrith. She would never remarry, and never spoke of her husband to anyone in the literary circle of which she would become an integral part. Upon relocating to San Francisco, Coolbrith established herself as part of the literary scene. She was especially close to Joaquin Miller (of whom there is named a Park, Road, Elementary School, Middle School, Drive, and Court, among others), eventually adopting his daughter Calle Shasta, raising her along with her orphaned niece and nephew. She also knew Mark Twain, whose early writing appeared in the Territorial Enterprise, the newspaper of Virginia City, Nevada, home of the Comstock Lode. Ina Coolbrith was one of two honorary female members of the Bohemian Club, a gentlemen’s club for writers, artists, and musicians. Still extant in San Francisco, the club does not admit women, but did change its rules to allow businessmen and entrepreneurs as members. Despite the fact that Ina Coolbrith was elected the first poet laureate of California in 1915, Jack London knew her as the first public librarian in Oakland (performing a Google search for Ina Coolbrith brings up about 63,500 results. A search for Jack London returns 373,000,000 results). The Oakland Free Library was established in 1878, and Ina Coolbrith began her tenure as librarian in its first location, now the site of City Hall and Frank Ogawa Plaza. In her twenty years as librarian, Coolbrith influenced many of Oakland’s young people, including London and the dancer Isadora Duncan, the latter of 62

Dedication of the Oakland Main Library, 1951, photo by Ken Rice



whose father may have been infatuated with Coolbrith. In 1892, after serving for nearly twenty years, Ina Coolbrith was replaced as librarian by her nephew, Henry Peterson. Shortly after Ina Coolbrith was unceremoniously fired after her nineteen years as head librarian, Jack London was reported by the San Francisco Chronicle as giving speeches in what was then known as “City Hall Park.” In 1998, City Hall Plaza was rededicated as Frank Ogawa Plaza, in honor the civil rights activist and the first Japanese American member of Oakland’s City Council. In 2011, the plaza was colloquially renamed Oscar Grant Plaza. This name change was proposed by the Occupy Oakland movement to commemorate the fatal 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant by BART police. There is currently a Facebook page dedicated to renaming the plaza in honor of Oakland rapper Too $hort. It is unclear whether or not Too $hort himself is involved in this movement in any way.

Clockwise from top left: Tents in Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza 11 Oct. 2011, photo by Bruce Paul; Oakland City Hall, 1917, from Cheney Photo Advertising Co.; Oakland Free Library, Carnegie Building, Circulating Room, 14th and Grove, 1904 Oakland Public Library; Mock-up of the proposed Too $hort Plaza, Facebook page of “Change Frank Ogawa Plaza to Too $hort Plaza” July 7, 2010 Right: Nauvoo Temple, circa 1847, photo by Louis R. Chaffin, Cedar City Chapter of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, Cedar City, Utah,


Ina Coolbrith lived in Oakland for twenty years while she was retained as librarian. In 1893, she relocated to San Francisco, taking a job at the Mercantile Library, presently known as the Mechanic’s Institute Library. The building housing the Mercantile Library was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. She began writing a history of California literature, but it, along with many other papers, poems, and works-in-progress, were destroyed in 1906. Coolbrith struggled her entire life to earn a living, as her librarian’s wage paid just enough for her to live on. In 1915, she was recognized as Poet Laureate of California. In 1923, the poet Edwin Markham found her living in penury at the Latham Hotel in New York. Ina Coolbrith died in February of 1928, on Leap Day. She was buried in the Mountain View Cemetery, in an unmarked grave. In September of 1986, fifty-eight years after her death, the Ina Coolbrith Society placed a headstone on her gravesite. It reads, “Ina Donna Coolbrith California’s First Poet Laureate.”


Sources Ina Coolbrith, Librarian and Laureate of California, Joephine Dewitt Rhodehamel, Brigham Young University Press; First Edition edition (1973) The Joseph Smith Papers (online resource: Orrin Porter Rockwell: Man of God, Son of Thunder, Harold Schindler (author) and Dale Bryner (illustrator), University of Utah Press (1993) Website for the town of Nauvoo, IL Ina Coolbrith Wikipedia page California Association for Teachers of English, Ina Coolbrith article: CA_Authors/Coolbrith.html “The life and adventures of James P. Beckwourth, mountaineer, scout, and pioneer, and chief of the Crow nation of Indians...” Written from his own dictation James Pierson Beckwourth and Thomas D. Bonner, Harper & Sons, New York 1856 Oakland Library History Room records After the Martyrdom: What Happened to the Family of Joseph Smith?, Jerald R. Johansen Horizon Publishers (1997) Utah Google and Google maps Frank Ogawa Plaza Wikipedia page Shooting of Oscar Grant Wikipedia page “Change Frank Ogawa Plaza to Too $hort Plaza” Facebook page


Mary Ellen Pleasant 3:45 pm: Portsmouth Square, Bridge to Chinese Culture Center script by Lauren Marie Taylor

Mary Ellen Pleasant as a young woman and later in life, dates and ages unknown


In the Ghost Hunter’s Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area, Mary Ellen Pleasant is described as a fierce old voodoo queen who, at the age of 86, pushed her employer Thomas Bell off of a third floor balcony to his death. Her ghost may still be seen emerging from among the trees at Bush and Octavia, in front of what was formerly called the “Bell House of Mystery.” After the Bell family sold the mansion to Frank Colombo in the early 1900’s, it developed its reputation as a haunted house, not as a result of actual sightings, but because Colombo exploited Pleasant’s reputation in order to bring in curious guests after having turned the house into a hotel. Although Colombo’s tricks were meant to be playful, his actions continue to affect the public memory of Pleasant today as the witch that haunts the estate. The house burned down in the 1920’s, but the six eucalyptus trees that Pleasant planted are still dropping the fragrant leaves that she so loved. The sidewalk plaque next to the trees suggests a second narrative to Pleasant’s life. Placed by the San Francisco African American Historical and Cultural Society, the commemorative disc reads, “Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park— Mother of Civil Rights in California, She Supported the Western Terminus of the Underground Railway for the Fugitive Slaves 1830-1885.” The contrast between these twin histories are sharp, and not without consequence. Pleasant herself wove a number of contradictory tales about her life, beginning with her place and date of birth, her parentage, the ethnicity of her parents, and her young life. She never really cleared these contradictions until she gave her last testimony shortly before her death at the Lick House, James Lick’s famous hotel and dining hall.The account was to be published in serial in a local magazine, but after only three editions, the publisher fired author Sam Davis, and Pleasant’s last words were lost forever. It probably wouldn’t have made a tremendous difference to Pleasant either way. Pleasant told SF 69

Daily Morning Call journalist Isabel Fraser, “Some folks say that words were meant to reveal thought. That ain’t so. Words were meant to conceal thought.” It is clear that Pleasant had much to conceal, although it wasn’t the simple facts of her life. What is known now is that she was born between 1814 and 1817, in Louisiana, probably to a slave woman and a father of mixed parentage, possibly white and Polynesian. At age ten she was sent to live with a Quaker family in Nantucket to be educated. But instead she remained an employee of their general store until she left at age 24. Pleasant regretted not being educated but she certainly didn’t let it hold her back. She was able to pass as white, and when she left Nantucket for Boston, she was married to a wealthy businessman and abolitionist, James Smith. She and Smith worked together on the Underground Railroad until Smith died four years later. Smith left her a good deal of money, which she invested wisely. In 1848 she married John Pleasant and continued Smith’s work as an abolitionist. This work may have forced her to move to New Orleans, though no proof of this exists. Her husband may have been associated with the husband of Marie Laveau, the famous voodoo priestess, and it is from this time in her life that the narrative of Pleasant’s history takes two divergent directions. Pleasant claimed under oath to have moved to San Francisco in 1849. She left Smith and moved here to begin work on the Underground Railroad. She was easily able to pass as white, and found employment at several reputable boarding houses until she was able to open her own businesses, of which she opened many—from laundries to restaurants to hotels—frequented by the most prominent men in California. The freed slaves sent to Pleasant through the Underground Railroad were put to work in her establishments as her eyes and ears. It was through them listening in on conversations between the men that Pleasant was able to get inside information on when and in what to invest. Pleasant 70

needed an investment broker, and so she contracted banker Thomas Bell, the man she was later said to have pushed off the balcony. Between the two, they amassed a fortune estimated at thirty million dollars. Pleasant married Bell to one of her ‘hired girls,’ a white woman named Teresa, who later tried to run away from them both, with jewels and money in tow. But she was apprehended and brought back to the house without penalty. After the Civil War, Pleasant marched down to City Hall and changed her racial designation publicly from white to black, causing quite an outrage among society folks, but with no damage to her reputation among the men, who counted on the specialized services of her expert staff. This was the first in a series of public stances taken by Pleasant that earned her the nickname, “The Black City Hall.” Pleasant was called on so frequently by African Americans who required her defense that she was seen almost daily at City Hall, fighting for one thing or another, including the first court case fighting for public transportation access for blacks, which she won. But in the public memory, the story of Mary Ellen Pleasant as a civil rights heroine is lost in the tales of a voodoo witch who used her dark powers to control others and cultivate a fortune greater than most men of the day. It is an easier story to sell. In 1972, Quincy Jones took Pleasant’s biography to Hollywood. Jones is most famously known as the producer of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, but his intention was not to make a Thriller-style film out of Pleasant’s story—though it would be amazing to have a Gold Rush Era horror film made here in Chinatown. According to Jones, “They went for the sex, the violence and the racial scenes but they wanted to cut out everything about abolition.” And so a film was never made. 71

Pleasant Memorial Plaque at Bush and Octavia Street

Plaque at the Hilton Hotel and Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco


Helen Holdridge’s ‘Mammy Pleasant,’ 1953, and Pam Grier as a voodoo priestess in ‘Scream Blacula Scream,’ 1973

The thirty-two room ‘Bell Mansion,’ right, and adjoining property was designed by Pleasant herself.


Bridge from Portsmouth Square Plaza to the Chinese Culture Center


It is hard to know what a film about Pleasant’s life would have done for her story if the most significant contributions of her life were to be cut. Pleasant once famously told a reporter, “If a write up about me put a blanket on somebody’s bed or gave a household meat and bread, I would let them lay my character down in the middle of the road and let the whole world jump on it, and turn it over and let them go it again.” Certainly a film about Pleasant’s life, even if it had been misrepresented, would have done this, as did many Blacksploitation films that emerged at the time that Jones made his pitch. Blacula comes to mind as an obvious comparison. In the film, an 18th Century African prince named Mamuwalde is turned vampire by Count Dracula. Two centuries later he awakes from the dead in a modern Los Angeles to attack his unsuspecting victims to a sexy, soul soundtrack. It was one of the highest grossing films of 1972 due to its sophisticated marketing campaign. Anyone who showed up in a long flowing cape was given free admission, creating a complete spectacle at opening night. They wanted to make sure that African Americans attended, and so the ad agency made reference to slavery in the poster for the film, even though slavery doesn’t play a role in the films plot whatsoever. Could a film about Pleasant that erases the story of her abolitionist work, fail to disintegrate into blacksploitation, absurdity, and kitsch? The genre perpetuated negative stereotypes of blacks as exaggeratedly sexualized, unnecessarily violent, and often as simply minstrels. In the late 70’s the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the National Urban League bound together to create the Coalition Against Blacksploitation, contributing to its eventual downfall as a popular genre. Mandingo, in 1975, was representative of the film category and portrayed plantation life “with all of its brutal, historical and ongoing racial contradictions and controversies, including sex, miscegenation, rebellion, 75

and so on.” If the description sounds familiar, you may recognize the similarities to Quentin Tarantino’s recent epic—Django, and it’s no coincidence. Picture this scene from Pleasant’s life at the hands of a Hollywood screenwriter: “On a moonless night the Negroes gathered about her in one of the warehouses. There, over a candle, she burned the tail feather of a rooster and held a torn strip of cloth over the flaming feather. She peered closely at the patterns of the burns from which dim forms seems to emerge. Meanwhile, the men and women surrounding her waited intently for her to speak… Surely, if her mother and her mother’s mother had both been Voodoo Queens, she should test her power and eventually, if she really believed that the spirit of the Great Serpent could speak through her, she might be give the voice to speak the Great One’s words. At that moment she became fully aware of the nature of the prophet’s problems... The ten-year old priestess strung together a story of things which were bound to take place: love matches, weddings, death…” This passage, rather than forming the basis for a Blacksploitation film, shaped the foundation of Susheel Bibbs’s 1998 book, Heritage of Power. The passage was written by Helen Holderidge in her 1953 book Mammy Pleasant. Bibbs’s asserts that Pleasant received a “Heritage of Power” from New Orleans most famous voodoo queen—Marie Laveau. Bibbs is invested in reclaiming the character of voodoo as a cultural legacy of African Americans, and a particularly feminist practice. Today, Bibbs is Pleasant’s most prolific biographer, traveling the state of California for the Humanities Council, sharing her version of Mary Ellen Pleasant’s story at libraries around the state. . I appreciate Bibb’s cause, but to what end is she twisting the facts of Pleasant’s life to support it? Thomas Bell left the Bell Mansion in Pleasant’s name, but left their shared bank account 76

in Teresa Bell’s name. The court did not have enough evidence to convict Pleasant of Bell’s death, but did evict her from the mansion, turning it over to Teresa Bell, leaving Pleasant both penniless and homeless. She found friends in Sonoma County who took pity on her and took her in, but by then she knew her time was up. She called on her old friend Sam Davis from the press and asked him to meet her at the Lick House, James Lick’s luxury hotel whose dining hall was based on that of the Palace of Versailles. They took a smaller lounge off the hall in which Pleasant could recall the story of her life. As she spoke, a woman walked in to the lounge and strolled about. Pleasant kept her eye on the woman as she filled a glass of water and stood around, pretending to drink it while she listened in. Pleasant got up and spilled the woman’s water, calling her out and yelling at her to leave. She was assured by the staff that the woman was an honorable lady, but Pleasant knew otherwise. Even in her last moments, people recognized that Pleasant was a powerful force and the eyes and ears of the city were still set upon her.


Sources Gregory Paynter Shine, A Study of Public Memory: Juana Briones and Mary Ellen Pleasant, Thesis, M.A., San Francisco State University, 2000 Susheel Bibbs , Heritage of Power : Marie LaVeaux to Mary Ellen Pleasant, M.E.P. Publications, 2012 Helen O’Donnell Holdridge, Mammy Pleasant, Putnam 1953 Lynn M. Hudson , The Making of “Mammy Pleasant” : a Black Entrepreneur in NineteenthCentury San Francisco, Univ. of Illinois Press, 2003 Jeff Dwyer, Ghost Hunters Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area, Pelican Pub. Co., 2012 The Archives of The Daniel E. Koshland San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library   The California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside,   Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley,   San Francisco Historical Society,   San Francisco City Guides,   New York Public Library,


James Lick 5:30 pm: Mechanics Institute Library 7:20 pm: Sutro Baths Ruins, Point Lobos script by Lauren Marie Taylor

James Lick as a young man, and the Lick Trust designation of Mount Hamilton as the site for the Lick Observatory, signed by James Lick


At the age of 29, James Lick sat in a Uruguayan penitentiary, a prisoner of war of the Portuguese who had seized his ship after a violent storm. Lick had been returning from a trip to Europe—an attempt to clear his mind and regain his composure after what I can only imagine would be one of the worst things that could happen to a man of that day. Five years earlier, Lick was in love with a girl named Barbara Snavely. “Lick was keeping company with Barbara Snavely,” and “Barbara Snavely became pregnant with his child.” So he went to ask her father for her hand in marriage and her father rebuked him. “Not until you own a mill as great as mine, will you have my daughter’s hand in marriage!” This was certainly a bold move on the part of Snavely’s father, but he was more worried about his daughter marrying beneath her than her being a single mother in 1821. “Some day I will own a mill that will make yours look like a pigsty!” Lick shot back. And now, here he was, without his love, without his child, in a pigsty, somewhere in the middle of the South American coast, and he didn’t speak Spanish. Life couldn’t get much worse, so he broke out, on foot, made it to safety, and back to the United States. Over the succeeding years, Lick grew his piano-building business, adding fur trading, and amassing a fortune large enough to return to Barbara Snavely and ask for her hand once again. But, when he finally got to Stumpstown, Pennsylvania he found that his love had married another and taken their ten-year-old son elsewhere. Dejected and depressed, Lick returned to South America and continued nurturing his business ventures alone. Anticipating the Mexican-American War and the annexation of California, Lick bought 600 pounds of chocolate from an old friend from his Uruguayan days, an Italian named Dominico Ghirardelli, and moved to San Francisco in 1848. During Lick’s first year in the city, the population grew from 850 to 5,000 and by 1850, to 25,000. Lick sent for Ghirardelli, who changed his name to Domingo and grew his chocolate business here, 80

The Lick Mill and Mansion, Santa Clara

now the second oldest chocolate company in the United States. Though accidently, one of the factory workers discovered a process that revolutionized chocolate production and is now used universally. Ghirardelli, one of Lick’s only true friends, is buried in the Mountain View Cemetery. Back in San Francisco though, James Lick was buying up as much land as possible, and had spent $7,000 buying up 50 lots in the area, which today would be worth $207,000, that is, the $7,000, not the lots. $207,000 will buy a condo on the corner of O’Farrell and Leavenworth next to the Tenderloin Children’s Playground, which is mostly locked and littered with hypodermic needles and condoms, and that’s not hyperbole. Of course land was much cheaper then and he began planting fruit trees. Despite being so wealthy, 81

Advertisement from the California Miner’s Almanac, 1864

Lick dressed like a pauper and would go from restaurant to restaurant, collecting animal carcasses to grind up for fertilizer for his orchards, which may have been the first time that people began whispering about Lick being “a bit touched.” At the age of 37, John Lick received an invitation from his biological father to come to California to work in the most expensive mill ever built. This was Lick’s attempt at revenge on his son’s grandfather, who turned out to be dead by the time the mill was finished. They lived together in a small cabin near the mill until Lick decided to build them a new house. He built an opulent mansion with fireplaces in each of its 27 rooms,


James Lick High Cheerleaders, San Jose, CA 1956


standing in great contrast to both Lick himself, and his son, who preferred to sleep on the floor of the cabin. Lick never furnished the mansion, and instead slept on an old door held up by two nail kegs, surrounded by drying fruit from his orchards, spread about on newspapers in the unfurnished rooms. They had never met before he moved to California and didn’t get along once he did. It was too late for Lick to spoil or discipline his son, but he attempted to do so anyway. The mansion was only one example. Others included buying him a parrot. Today these birds can be found on a man’s shoulder on many a San Francisco street, but at the time would have been a rare sight. John did not take good care of his parrot, according to his father, and for this ignominy he was bequeathed a lesser fortune in his father’s will. He returned to the East Coast within a year of moving to California, their relationship having completely deteriorated. Lick had tried to mine gold, but found farming to be more to his liking. The strange interactions he had with employees and with the public furthered the rumors about Lick’s mental state. In a test of his employee’s loyalty, he demanded that they tear out a row of


trees and replant them upside down. He had purchased the materials for a great structure to study horticulture that he planned to donate to the city of San Jose. But when he was mocked for his shabby dress by the San Jose press, he withdrew his donation and sent it instead to Golden Gate Park, where it now stands at the Conservatory of Flowers. This behavior led to his reputation as a generous miser, a reputation that grew after his stroke at the age of 77. His assistant found him on the floor the morning after his stroke—a man who earned his job many years earlier by stacking and restacking a pile of bricks in the rubble of a burnt down house. Lick was moved into a room at the Lick House, his luxury hotel, from which he began writing one of the greatest wills ever to be made in California, and founding many of the institutions which today are cornerstones of San Francisco. After appropriating funds for public baths, an orphanage, a women’s house, the California Academy of Sciences, a vocational high school, the SPCA, and a number of monuments including the Francis Scott Key monument at Golden Gate Park, the California Pioneers monument near the Asian Art Museum, and finally the Mechanics

Colma California, ‘The Silent City.’ Photo courtesy of Zedia.


Institute, to which we are on our way. He then thought about creating a monument to himself. What kind of a monument would suit a man who, when carrying an ox yoke on his back through his own fields, was overtaken by a neighbor on horseback who offered to carry the load, replied, “I have born my yoke patiently, and I will not shirk my duty now.” He considered a realistic replica the likes of the Colossus of Rhodes, but realizing that it may become a military target, he instead proposed a giant pyramid, comparable to Giza. He shared his desire with his colleague George Davidson, the President of the Academy of Sciences, who visited him regularly on his sick bed in the hotel. Davidson persuaded Lick to use his final gift to build the principal astronomical observatory with the most powerful telescope in the world—today named the Lick Observatory. Lick was buried under the building. At the base of the observatory’s foundation is a modest bronze plate with the epigraph, “Here lays the body of James Lick.” His last will was that fresh flowers would always sit in front of the humble plaque. What a striking contradiction. I would like to think of this as an authentic illustration of a complicated man, who was no doubt wrecked by an event that happened at such a young age, but who went on with his life as best he could. I would like to imagine, as well, that Lick’s dream was realized 175 years after his birth, and a giant pyramid, greater than Giza, was erected in downtown San Francisco. And I would like to reflect on what this might mean, to live in the shadow of a monument originally designed to honor the spirits and to reach the realm of the gods. The pharaoh Khufu’s tomb and the surrounding structures are commonly referred to as a necropolis, a city of the dead. Is San Francisco a modern Giza? A city of the dead? I posed this question to a friend. He asked, where are the dead buried in San Francisco? 86

In 1900, a law was passed in San Francisco, banning the creation of any more cemeteries. The law was a result of the high economic value of the land while the dead were a poor use of space. By 1912, all existing cemeteries were evicted. Everyone was moved to Colma, one of four necropolises built in the United States. In the ‘city of the silent,’ as it is known, the dead outnumber the living by over a thousand to one. The layout itself looks like an Egyptian or Roman ruins, although incredibly well manicured and with nothing deteriorating in an unpleasant way as to bring down the value of the land in which the dead now rest. Notable deceased include Levi Strauss, Wyatt Earp, and William Randolph Hearst, as well as one Phineas Gage. Gage was born in 1823 and worked the railroad as a construction crew foreman until, at the age of 25, an iron rod, the size of a rifle barrel, was driven straight through his skull, destroying most of his left frontal lobe. He lived. But he earned the nickname from friends, “No Longer Gage,” because the changes to his character in the period after the accident were so profound. It was the first time that Medicine was able to study the effects of traumatic brain injury on personality. His only permanent damage was a blind left eye and a strange inexplicable feeling. While Gage’s personality changes were said to have been grand in many accounts, ignored are the number of reports that suggest that Gage was almost completely rehabilitated and that those who knew him later in life never believed his behavior to be strange or inappropriate, although no one who was interviewed knew him before his incident. He went on to become a long-distance stage coach driver between the U.S. and Chile, and later a farmer in Santa Clara, where Lick also farmed and where his mansion lay, although there is no documentation of the two knowing one another. (It is hard to imagine that they didn’t.) 87

“Attributes ascribed to the post-accident Gage which are either unsupported by, or in contradiction to, the known facts include mistreatment of wife and children (Gage had neither. Both Gage and Lick remained single their whole lives). The other striking thing about the case of Phineas Gage is that he, like Lick, received an inconceivable blow at a young age and then seemed to recover. But to what end? MacMillan went on to suggest that Gage ultimately “figured out how to live” despite his damage, and grew to be more functional and better socially adapted than was previously believed. How does one “figure out how to live” after fate deals you the cruelest of hands? What expectations do we have of people to recover and be rehabilitated? What expectations do we have of places to recover? The 1906 earthquake destroyed over 80 percent of San Francisco, including the library that had been built to house the $10,000 book collection that had been purchased with the money donated by Lick. The only thing that survived—the books themselves burned—the only thing that still exists, is the bronze plaque with the profile of Lick, the library’s first patron. Today, Lick’s legacy endures as his memorial hangs just to the right of the entrance to the Mechanics Institute Library. What has survived?


Lick Observatory circa 1900

Daguerreotype studio portrait of Phineas Gage, from the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus.


Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park, 1879

The Mechanics Institute Pavilion before the 1906 earthquake and the James Lick plaque at the Mechanics Institute Library and Chess Room


Sources Rosemary Lick, The Generous Miser: the Story of James Lick of California, Ward Ritchie Press, 1967 Miriam Allen De Ford, They Were San Franciscans, Caxton, 1941 Helen Wright, James Lick’s Monument : The Saga of Captain Richard Floyd and the Building of the Lick Observatory, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987 The Archives of The Daniel E. Koshland San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco City Guides, San Francisco Historical Society, The Historical Collections Project of the Lick Observatory, The Mechanics Institute Library and Chess Room,


FORWARD TOGETHER FORWARD STANCE Dana Ginn Paredes and Tammy Johnson


“If you come to a Forward Stance training, you have to be ready to move, you have to dress comfortably, because the physical activities we do are based on three core principles. First, the mind and the body are hardwired together, so we need to engage the body to engage the full potential of our mind and our spirit. The second principle is that our awareness increases through physical practice and through physical activity. The third principle is that everything has a stance – organizations have a stance, individuals have a stance, and movements have a stance. We saw great benefit of this practice to help our own organization get into a ‘ forward stance’ and that’s what we want to do out in the world as well.”



This interview was originally published on the TMJ Abundance blog. It is reprinted here with permission.

Tammy Johnson of TMJ Abundance Consulting interviews Culture and Training Director Dana Ginn Paredes of Forward Together to explore Forward Stance, a tool that reconnects activists and advocates with “the physics of social change work.� In an effort to move one’s physical body as a means to value the whole person and bring new insights to social change efforts, Forward Together leverages the physicality of Forward Stance to inform their analysis of race, gender, class, and community. Forward Stance grounds organizing work that is conceptualized and actualized by a dynamic staff that is predominantly women of color. Based in Oakland, California but working nationally, Forward Together is a multi-racial organization that works with community leaders and organizations to transform culture and policy to catalyze social change. By developing strong leaders, building networks across communities, and implementing innovative campaigns, Forward Together carries out their mission to ensure that women, youth, and families have the power and resources they need to reach their full potential.

TMJ Abundance: Could you describe for our audience what Forward Stance is – what is that tool? Dana Ginn-Paredes, Forward Together: Forward Stance has been a key component for our organizational development and our movement-building project. It is a mind, body, practice approach. It’s a series of physical activities designed to create powerful individual leadership, effective organization and dynamic movements. We use it throughout the work of our organization. We also provide support and teach this work with our allies in the movement. TMJ Abundance: If I come to a Forward Stance training, I need to be prepared to move around because it’s literally about movement, not just movement work, about both together. So where did this idea come from? Dana Ginn-Paredes, Forward Together: Forward Stance was co-developed between Forward Together and a Zen priest named Norma Wong who does work based in Hawaii, and also does work with organizations here on the mainland. We developed this practice together as a way to strengthen the organization. She came in as a consultant to do some organizational development work with us and we realized that the work she was doing with us could have greater impact if it was the developed to be conducted with organizations for the sake of the work they’re trying to do externally. We worked with her for a number of years to develop Forward Stance and under her guidance and counseling, we continue to work with her to do this work out in the world. If you come to a Forward Stance training, you have to be ready to move, you have to dress comfortably, because the physical activities we do are based on three core 96

principles. First, the mind and the body are hardwired together, so we need to engage the body to engage the full potential of our mind and our spirit. The second principle is that our awareness increases through physical practice and through physical activity. The third principle is that everything has a stance – organizations have a stance, individuals have a stance, and movements have a stance. We saw great benefit of this 97

“So often, we might feel limited by the campaigns we’re up against or the demands we feel we need to achieve in order to achieve equity, or challenges within ourselves, based on our history and our experiences in this world. Forward Stance grounds us back into our bodies that have a truth. The truth is that we have a serious potential and strength as individuals and it helps us feel strong in our bodies. The doors really open for us to be able to see what we can take on in the work.”


“Forward Stance is about cultivating unity through breath, sound, and movement… and if you can do that in a gym room full of people, you can do that with people spread across the country, through time and space.”


practice to help our own organization get into a “forward stance” and that’s what we want to do out in the world as well. TMJ Abundance: One of things I noticed when watching your promotional video [is when] your executive director Eveline Shen said, and I’m paraphrasing—Forward Stance is about cultivating unity through breath, sound, and movement… and if you can do that in a gym room full of people, you can do that with people spread across the country, through time and space. That’s a really powerful statement. For some people, that might take a leap of faith. Can you give an example of how this works? Dana Ginn-Paredes, Forward Together: Everyone we’ve introduced [to] Forward Stance, we continue to work with them in some capacity or another. Whether it’s periodic training with their organization or ongoing coaching. They are a set of organizations who have been introduced to Forward Stance though an eighteen month program that we ran a couple of years ago called the Forward Stance Leadership Initiative. Several groups came out of that process and said “We want to do this all the time with our organization, but how can we do this?” So I’ve been coaching organizations for an additional year and half to continue to train and teach Forward Stance with individuals who have identified themselves as being the leads of Forward Stance within their organizations. Each of the leads have been responsible for identifying a core of people within the organization to help anchor this practice for themselves. What this means is all the organizations who want to do this and bring Forward Stance into their work, into their campaigns, have to first practice it themselves. It’s fundamental. We can’t have a movement habit of teaching things we just learned and our approach with Forward Stance is to un-do this practice a bit, and encourage people to practice for 100

themselves, and also to practice as an organization. When we see this practice happen, it is perfect for people to be in the position to teach it out in the world. TMJ Abundance: That’s wonderful! It’s really deep and thorough work that connects the dots in a way that we sometimes miss when we rush [and] when we’re just getting 101

to know something and then going to training it. I appreciate the process you’ve put together and this brings me to the last question. It’s telling to me that this tool was created out of an organization and it pushes up against what people see as cultural norms of what makes a family and what makes a community. As an organization, yours is one that’s primarily made up of women of color. Could you speak to how these two elements are significant for the implementation of this tool? How this tool comes out of the organization from the culture of, one, having a say how government policy treats us as a community and how family is defined, and two, there is a strong leadership coming out of women of color that created this tool. Dana Ginn-Paredes, Forward Together: What I would like to share is that Forward Stance is a physical practice that helps individuals and organizations realize their capacity and their potential. So often, we might feel limited by the campaigns we’re up against or the demands we feel we need to achieve in order to achieve equity, or challenges within ourselves, based on our history and our experiences in this world. Forward Stance grounds us back into our bodies that have a truth. The truth is that we have a serious potential and strength as individuals and it helps us feel strong in our bodies. The doors really open for us to be able to see what we can take on in the work. When I mentioned earlier that Forward Stance is something we use internally as an organizational development tool, it was because we were shifting individually and we were up against really hard times. We weren’t only experiencing organizational shifts, but individually, each of us, were experiencing a fairly significant transformation about what was possible for us to achieve individually. This is what helped us to realize that Forward Stance might help us in the work that we’re doing. If we, individually, are experiencing change, and we’re suddenly seeing a bigger vision for the work we 102

want to do, with bolder demands for the work we want to do, and the ways we can bring our allies together, then it can have an impact for the movements we work in. Also, in so much of the work we do, it’s not just a movement habit, but a habit of our world right now where there’s a deep reliance on the mind and being able to think 103

through solutions over the problem at hand. The body has so much more resource and presents so much more solutions for us than we give it credit for. Through the Forward Stance practice, we get in our bodies and are able to physically feel what’s possible because through the practice we feel strong, we feel centered, we feel connected to people. We always say this in our work, but when we are connected, when we work together, we are much more powerful. In… the video, when we experience this in very small, controlled settings, like in a gymnasium, with forty-five people, it gives a taste for what’s possible out in the world. It gives us our test run, our practice for how we do that out in the world—in the meeting space, in larger coalitions, in spaces where we’re not engaged in physical practice. Our body will already have known what we can do. It’s been an incredible place to be one of the leaders of Forward Stance for the organization and out in the world. It has attracted already powerful women to the organization because of the practice that we do. It has also made other organizations take notice because they’ve seen us grow in spite of the economic recession that we’ve been in since 2007/2008. We’ve grown a lot in our time and it is credited to our visionary leadership, the executive director of the organization, and a lot of it goes to credit the Forward Stance philosophy that we embody in the organization and the work that we do. TMJ Abundance: We’ll conclude it here, but thank you for embodying one of the main principles that I have in my work with TMJ Abundance—It’s not that we don’t have the answers and the resources to address the issues that our communities face, but that we have to rediscover them, and I think this is a lot of what Forward Stance and Forward Together is all about—to rediscover what we already have within our grasp to really turn things around. Thank you, Dana, for sharing with us today. 104


Dana Ginn Paredes recently served as the Culture and Training Director at Forward Together where she has worked since 2003. Working for social justice organizations for over 12 years, During her tenure at Forward Together, she has directed research to advance comprehensive sex education policy for California public schools, led electoral campaigns that advance reproductive justice, and initiated the development of Forward Together’s current youth and worker organizing projects, its climate change initiative and its arts and culture work. Dana was a 2008 fellow in the National APAWLI Signature Program of the Center for Asian Pacific American Women, a 2008 participant of the CLEAR Executive Training Program of the Communications Leadership Institute, and a 2007 fellow of the Women’s Policy Institute. She holds a BS in Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley.


Tammy Johnson is the principle of TMJ Abundance Consulting. Leading with racial, gender and social justice principles, TMJ Abundance Consulting provides tools that address how social justice organizations are built, how to craft campaigns, programs and projects, and how to support communities to embrace the value of equity. As a community organizer for Wisconsin Citizen Action and Progressive Milwaukee, Johnson directed electoral and issue campaigns around living wage ordinances, public education, and welfare and electoral reform. She spent 11 years advancing racial justice values as a trainer, writer and public speaker at the Applied Research Center, she authored and edited several reports on racial equity and co-produced Race and Economic Recovery with Linktv and ARC’s Word video blog series. For several years, she directed ARC’s Racial Equity Report Card project, providing consultation to coalitions in nine states in the production of their own racial equity reports. She has been featured in several media outlets including The Christian Science Monitor and The Huffington Post. Along with Etang Inyang, Tammy Johnson is a part of the award-winning bellydance duo, Raks Africa, and co-owner of Your Body Raks, a movement and wellness business that celebrates bodies of every size.


FEMITYPES Maureen Burdock

Artist Statement I make art that bridges boundaries. My art-making is a form of alchemy: social, activist, and deeply personal in nature. I am passionate about understanding and transmuting displacement and injustice. My work draws, in part, on my family history, which includes numerous dislocations and border-crossings. I changed my name legally to Burdock when I was in my early 20s, because that persevering plant, with its deep taproot, thrives on almost every continent and can grow from a crack in the sidewalk in San Francisco just as well as on the edge of a forest in Berlin. My work is feminist, and understands gender inequality and the stunting of self to conform to gender molds as one of the most severe and painful forms of disconnection. This understanding has propelled me to connect with global feminisms and to study my own psyche, because seeing the big picture demands looking close-up—microscopic often reveals the telescopic, and vice versa. While my work is inspired and influenced by the art of 1930s and 1970s feminists, it is contemporary in that I am moving within and responding to current feminist paradigms. I understand feminisms as pluralistic. My practice is necessarily eclectic, narrative, and contextual, ranging from paintings and drawings to installation, sequential art, and most recently animation. I want my work to be understood by a broad audience, and to that end, I use skills learned as a book designer and illustrator to make art that is accessible and digestible, even though it often deals with difficult topics. In this way, my art builds bridges, motivates openness and dialogue, and encourages transmutation.


POINTLESS SHOW Arash Fayez and Christie Noh


December 7, 2012-March 2013 at Kearny Street Workshop Office Space Gallery The factors that shape and reshape our feelings of connection to place are many, from cultural upbringing, imposed ethnic stereotypes, nationalism, and migration, to the policy dictations of the US census. In Pointless Show, Arash Fayez and Christie Noh point to the ambiguities of identity and the constant construction and reconstruction of subjectivity in relation to place. The artists use manipulated maps, found-footage, counterfeit radio stations, interviews, and surveys to question what and who shape their subjectivities as Asian American/Asian/Iranian/Middle Eastern/American artists. Through the infiltration of a work environment, Fayez and Noh ask sweeping questions about Asian identity and how it shifts based on where one is located in the moment. Occupying the Kearny Street Workshop’s office as gallery as office the artists play with our own perceptions of where we are and what that means. Is what we experience in KSW a part of everyday office life? Is it art? Both? Their approach is playful, swapping names, bodies, locations, and voices, drawing on their own experiences and directly engaging others.


Kearny Street Workshop is the nation’s oldest multidisciplinary Asian American arts organization. For the past 40 years, KSW has nurtured creative spirit, offered an important platform for new voices to be heard, and connected artists with community. Every three months, in their office, KSW presents a debut solo show featuring an emerging Asian Pacific American artist. With this program, KSW makes use of the white walls, bright light, and high ceilings of their workspace as an opportunity for Asian Pacific American artists all year round. The KSW Office Gallery is open to the public Wednesdays and Thursdays from 12 – 5 PM.


Interview with Arash Fayez and Christie Noh PLAySPACE: What does Social Imaginary mean to you? AF: The way we related to this project was thinking about a specific location in San Francisco and changing it in a way it has never been before. They [Kearny Street] always try to think about that space, as KSW Office Gallery. But we tried to use this “imaginary” concept as the office as the gallery and then the gallery as the office. We didn’t think that much about trying to use that space as a gallery space inside of the office. We tried to merge these two together. So part of the social imaginary is changing the space into something different. They are using that space as the KSW office. PLAySPACE: How did you conceive the project? How did your collaboration come about? CN: We went to china town. It’s not a very funny story you know, its pretty straight. AF: We weren’t such close friends but we saw each other’s work. We knew we both worked with text and technology and found footage. CN: And they never have collaborations there. AF: Yeah, and neither of us were interested in doing a solo show there. I love this challenge of doing something I don’t like. But I talked to Christie and she didn’t want to do this by herself either. So this collaboration is based on the circumstances of the location. CN: We are both “Asian.” that’s why they chose us.


AF: But we’re both not in some way. So the collaboration is first about being interested in each other’s practice. Second, it’s about a solo show there. And third, it’s about not being Asian and being Asian. CN: We were both kind of in the same situation. AF: The same situation, but in a very different way. CN: Exactly. PLAySPACE: How would you describe the content of the show to someone who can’t see it? CN: There’s no point to explain it to someone who is not there. AF: The main audience of that work was us. During the opening there weren’t that many people because there was another event happening in the back of KSW. I really like the way the room was used that day. It was more like storage. And a baby was sleeping on the couch or playing. CN: It was really confusing… We were kind of ambiguous too. AF: You know, I’m not sure how this work worked for [the staff]. Maybe there is also an imaginary audience for this work. I sent the interview [we did with KSW] to my gallery in Tehran and they put it on Facebook. So I had all this talk about the show with my friends in Tehran. So this imaginary thing happened all around the work. The show itself – I like that because it’s a serious practice to do and then to think. We didn’t think that much about the audience. We thought most that the audience would be the people who work there. 118

CN. Yeah, I think in the beginning it was mostly for them, because it is not a gallery where you just swing by. It’s an office. AF: I remember when I would work at the Wattis or another gallery, how nervous I was if there was a sound piece or a video, after one hour hearing a piece over and over. So we made pretty long videos: one hour or two hours long, super random with funny or non-funny stuff. CN: that’s a good phrase: funny or non-funny stuff. AF: It’s a very American word. Funny is what I learned in grad school. PLAySPACE: Humor is clearly central to this show. What is the role of humor in this show and in your work generally? CN: I think its super approachable. Especially in creating this non-gallery setting. The audience is just the people that come by—the mailman, or neighbors. Humor is universal. AF: Yeah, it’s universal and it’s very broad. The mailman would like the kitsch poster of those kids, as I do, as hopefully TJ does… PLAySPACE: What was the reaction of staff at KSW who lived with the work? AF: They were very worried when we were installing those TVs very high. They are conservative. They are saying not to do this, not to do that. CN: But we did it. AF: The reaction of the staff 119



CN: It was more like nostalgia a little bit. AF: I think it was a mixture. Because I think they were maybe expecting something 2D or something like the previous show. So I guess at the beginning they were a little shocked about the whole thing. The curator Alex [Wang] liked the concept. But to be honest, I cannot tell you what the staff felt in the end. PLAySPACE: What was it like to work in a nontraditional gallery space? AF: We were super busy with school at the time and I think this feeling of pressure makes the output, makes the humor. Every time I am super angry I do something funny in a very bad way. And I think the kids poster was the best example of that last minute sense of humor. Most of the work I have done in my main practice I do super last minute. The name, “Pointless Show,” we were looking online. We saw there was a “Pointless Game” in Britain as a BBC program, so we select that as having that irony of the name and the game itself CN: And identity. AF: I think the last minute thing was super important for this show. Everything was fast. Its like a side project. But I had a good time doing it. I painted [the map] after years [of not painting]. We went to Chinatown. CN: We got these really awesome masks but we didn’t show them. PLAySPACE: Could you tell us more about your research and you process of finding and choosing objects? 122





CN: It was just a good time. We would gravitate towards things together. Its like when you’re talking to someone and the conversation is so good, back and forth joking around. AF: It was a week before the show. We knew we had a specific amount of money. So we started hanging out in Chinatown. We picked Chinatown not as emphasis for the idea of Asia, but because CN: It’s also the biggest Chinatown. AF: It’s an important Chinatown also because of how they made the Chinatown in Oakland and all the stories about Chinatown here after the earthquake. So all the challenges that happened there for the Asian community. So we went to see what is it we can buy there. What is there? It was really hard to communicate with people there, like the guy at the store. CN: They only speak Chinese. AF: I asked him where to eat food and he wrote in Chinese the name of the restaurant. It was like an imaginary city for me. CN: Yeah, that was amazing. I hope you kept that receipt. 127

AF: It was like hallucination because the store was full of very marvelous things. We picked a store as a destination and we were in that store for two or three hours. The concept of having one store was that you can have all of these different things from one location, and also the issue of production and reproduction and copying. What is the real and what is fake? All things there are fake. CN: But its real. AF: It’s real, but you feel like its fake. CN: The people there are really authentic AF: There was this dude helping us out and he didn’t speak English. But he helped us. I like this miscommunication that leads to something that worked. The reason for picking this stuff, I think there was a good level of randomness that happened, a matter of the budget, and a matter of how we were thinking about that imaginary space: Why don’t put something on the door? So we looked for something for the door. Why don’t we put something on the table? So we looked for something to put on the table. We also had a bag of random things to just put when we entered the space. PLAySPACE: What do you hope people get out of interacting with the piece? CN: I think most people don’t know what that space [KSW] is anyways. AF: It’s very specific to their community. You have to be Asian and you have to be an artist to know Kearny Street. I think it was questioning us more than them. I’m sure when you question yourself it will question other people too. So we were questioning 128

the boarders, the maps, about where Asia is. What is Asia? CN: And I kind of like when people asked what is the art. AF: People were asking, “where are the artworks?” CN: Exactly, that’s what I liked. AF: It’s also a matter of space and location. Like if we put the same thing on the third floor of MOMA it would be different. PLAySPACE: Does “Pointless Show” relate to your wider body of work or is this a departure for you? Does Asian identity play a role in your art practice? AF: I think it’s not just about Asian identity, but about these forms, these frames. Because one of the culture shocks for me [coming to the US] was how you categorize stuff, the act of categorizing gender, sexuality, origin. I remember when I was filling in the form to come here; there was this question, what is your origin. And there were tons of origins I had to look up. What’s Hispanic? What’s Caucasian? What’s Asian? And Middle Eastern? I wanted to put that I am this, oh no I am the other one. So I wanted to get into how origin is so fakely made now, but also how specific we are getting. CN: Its super specific but it means nothing. AF: So I think this questioning of Asia, brings us back to why Christie and why I were selected for this show. 129

CN: It was funny the way that they picked us. It was basically like he scanned the halls for who was Asian. AF: That’s where the collaboration for us was interesting. Because you [Christie] look Asian. But you’re not. You’re a super Southern California girl. But I, at least I knew that I was Asian. But since I moved to the states, I understand that I am not Asian; I’m Middle Eastern, a terrorist, dangerous person. But you just need to google to check if Iran is in Asia and it is, by continent. Because the Middle East is not a continent. It depends on how you look at the geographical map and why you make these boarders. PLAySPACE: Has this collaboration between you and with Kearny Street shifted how you think about identity in any way? AF: It didn’t shift, at least for me. But it makes me think about someone else thinking about this fake identity. Because when you are in controversial position, you think that it is only you. But now I have Christie as an example of not being Asian but now being in the position with KSW. And that sense of humor about it also comes from this, I don’t give a shit about what Asia means so lets have a picture of a kid, a naked kid-Jeff Koons-style poster on the wall. PLAySPACE: When you look at the work of other artists, does their identity play a role in how you think about their work? Particularly in the context of an art world that tends to elevate white men? CN: I don’t think in racial terms. I mean. People are going to say what they want to. AF: The part of the question I think is interesting is thinking about what is the art 130

world and who determines what is the art world and what are the boundaries of the art world is very important. You know, the art world is something that is by and for western people. And if you want to be an Asian artist living in Asia, you have to know you are standing in the periphery and the center is the western art world. You know the way they curated the show, “Six Lines of Flight” at SF MOMA. San Francisco is also part of the periphery... The way the artists talk during the symposium there just shows how they prefer to stand in the periphery because there will be more attention to them there because they are in the danger zone, in the exotic country. So it’s more important about thinking who is making the art world and who is looking at the art world. I was reading a text about the art world in the Soviet Union in the ‘60s. There were very small communities and the art was made for that small community. And no one really knew much about those works before they moved out of the country. And I think it’s a very important question of where do you determine this art world. This art world is just a specific part. PLAySPACE: Do you have plans for future collaborations? CN: Collaborations just happen. I never plan for them.




“Hyper-visibility may lead to an interesting invisibility.�


This article was originally published on on Wednesday, July 6 2011. It is reprinted here with permission of is a daily news site where race matters. offers award-winning reporting, analysis, and solutions to today’s racial justice issues from a multiracial team of writers.

Asian-Americans face significant challenges to getting their education, says a new report out from the National Commission on Asian-American and Pacific Islander Research in Education. And the study has got everyone from experts to students talking, because the findings fly in the face of conventional wisdom about Asian American students as high-achieving, so-called model minorities. The picture of Asian Americans is distorted by the broad lens too much research uses. While Asian Americans as a group record high levels of educational attainment that match and occasionally surpass that of whites, large sectors actually deal with high dropout rates from high school and college. The study also underscores the complicated reality of the Asian-American community. Asian Americans are not a monolithic group and the experiences of Hmong, Laotian and Cambodian Asian Americans differs greatly from that of, say, East and South Asians growing up in the U.S. 134

Here’s some of the hard math: • Nearly 70 percent of Indians in the U.S. over 25-years-old have a bachelor’s degree, according to the study, and over 50 percent of Chinese, Pakistani and Korean-Americans over 25 also have college degrees.  • But fewer than one in 10 Samoan-Americans can say the same. Cambodian, Hmong and Laotian Americans also record college degree attainment levels that hover around 12 and 13 percent.  • All this is crucial because educational attainment translates directly to unemployment levels. Between 2006 and 2008, 15.7 percent of Tongans were out of work, according to CARE, a level that is close to the unemployment levels of black Americans, while just 3.5 percent of Japanese-Americans were unemployed in the same time period. But in the age of the Tiger Mom, who’s emerged as 2011’s spokesperson for the model minority myth, much of this information about Asian-Americans gets lost in the shuffle. The study calls for the disaggregation of data collection on Asian Americans and education issues and reiterates over and over the dangers of buying into the modelminority myth, which suggests that Asian Americans owe their relative wealth and high educational attainment to cultural values and hard work. To get some perspective on the persistence of this myth of Asian American exceptionalism, I spoke with Oiyan Poon, a research associate at the University of Massachusetts’s Institute for Asian-American Studies and former academic adviser at George Mason University and the University of California, Davis. Here’s what Poon had to say about the myth’s enduring legacy, and how it impacts other students of color.  135

On the ways the model minority myth plays out in real life: People are not being blatantly racist, but as an academic advisor I’ve seen educators say, “Well, my class is half Asian, they must be doing something right.” That hypervisibility may lead to an interesting invisibility. At UC Davis, we asked the institutional research office to go through their data set and one year everyone was shocked because Korean men in the early 2000s had one of the highest push-out rates. But no one would have known. The lack of good data—and the pervasiveness of stereotypes and not looking deeper at a very complicated population and understanding those complexities—leads to things like this. There’s a lack of high school outreach programs and community partnerships and things that completely overlook the Asian-American community even though students may be low-income and there is serious need there.


On when the model-minority myth ends up excluding Asian-American students: There are actually minority scholarships that exclude Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, like the Gates Millennium scholarship. It’s a national scholarship geared toward low-income, first-generation college students that was only open to African American, American Indian and Latinos students. Advocacy organizations fought them on it and were able to get them to realize they should be open to Asian Americans because, in fact, around a third of Asian-American students are the first in their families to go to college. And for Hmong, Laotian and Cambodians, just [over 10 percent] of the population over 25 has college degrees, and that’s among the lowest of any population.


On the actual barriers Asian-American students face in college: When I was working at UC Davis, there was summer orientation, and all these college campuses have a family track. What struck me was that at the student portion of the orientation, there were huge numbers of Asian students, but at the family or parent track, it was almost always all white. There’s a disconnect in parental support and a lot of students don’t get any help in putting together financial aid papers or figuring out how to navigate which classes they should take. I met a lot of Asian-American students who faced sexual or racial discrimination and harassment on campus and they didn’t know where to turn for help. For many students who are the first in their family to go to college, they often don’t know there’s a counseling center that’s there for emotional support, or other campus resources.


Why Asian-Americans just can’t be seen as a monolithic group: There are huge disparities within this population that make this title, “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” sort of arbitrary. It’s a geographic identifier; it’s not a socioeconomic status identifier, though in some ways it can be. The experiences that each group has—the migration histories; the culture; the language; the circumstances of arrival, from being refugees to being highly educated professional immigrants; and now you have a second and third generation that’s facing different issues—mean everyone has very different challenges. In a way you could say this about a lot of different populations and perhaps this is just a challenge of data systems in general. For Latinos, you’ve got Cubans, who tend to be more highly educated, and Puerto Ricans who don’t have the immigration issues that Mexicans or Central Americans have. But for Asian-Americans, we end up having this conversation [about the need to disaggregate data] much more because the differences are so much more pronounced. And when there isn’t information, then there are just assumptions that people have to go on, and then the Tiger Moms of the world can keep going on and on as long as they want.


On the dangerous political utility of the model-minority myth: People have to think about why this model-minority position came to be in the first place. It was to silence other people of colors’ attempts at demanding equity. Everyone who cares about racial equity should care about countering the model-minority myth because the whole purpose of it is to undermine claims of racism. People will say, “Oh, you’re going to riot and say there are inequalities and that blacks and Latinos face racism? Stop complaining, look at this non-white population over here. They’re doing fine.” The model-minority myth tries to tell people: there are no structural barriers; it’s all in your mind. It’s true that some Asian Americans are doing well. Sure. It’s true. But does that mean that we ignore the people who aren’t doing well? What’s my responsibility, and what’s our responsibility as people who are concerned about equity, knowing that there are specific groups facing distinct patterns of inequality? Do we say to that Hmong kid who kind of looks like me because we both have black hair, it’s okay, her struggles are not an urgent issue?



CATALYSTRANSIT is a collaborative platform developed for the Bay Area casual carpool system. Ana Labastida turns her daily commute into a social research lab, exploring the possibility of this temporary community by inviting carpoolers to document the mundane moments that inspire them between commutes. Casual Carpool ( is a community organized ridesharing platform that has linked multiple locations in the East Bay to San Francisco for over 30 years. Pickup locations are often unmarked and are shared through word of mouth and the casual carpool website. Drivers line up at these locations to pick up commuters, allowing them to drive in the fast carpool lane over the Bay Bridge. Strangers get into each other’s cars to share a mutually beneficial arrangement: a shorter commute, shared expense, and a lower environmental impact.Â

Photo credits pages 134-161, Elizabeth Moran 142

From February 6th to February 13th, 2013 and from February 25th untill all boxes are accepted, the artist has been driving between casual carpool sites at Fruitvale Avenue in Oakland to the Fremont Street drop off in San Francisco at 7:30am every weekday during the dates above. She picks up two carpoolers to drive with her each morning. During the commute, riders are offered a unique, handcrafted box containing a disposable camera, CATALYSTRANSIT’s toll free number, and a letter from the artist. Carpoolers are invited to use the camera and the toll free number to share the mundane moments that inspire them between commutes. The box doubles as a package with return postage to ship photos and any other materials back to the artist. In the pages that follow, Ana shares the first phase of this project, a series of email journal entries she sent each day that she picked up passengers. As the project continues, Ana is practicing finding inspiration from the materials she is receiving, processing each reply through her own body and creating a piece in response to the experience. In the next phase of the project, a resulting publication will be generated from what is collected and redistributed within the casual carpool. Contributors can choose to remain anonymous or be credited. Updates and outcomes from the project will also be posted on the website 143

No cars and no waiting people today. As I stop in the unmarked area where we pick up passengers (next to a sign that says “no parking”). I see a tall Caucasian man in his midforties walking towards my car, his hair is too white for his age and he has a charming belly. He sits in the front seat, followed almost immediately by an African American lady in her early fifties, elegant and centered who sits in the back seat. She promptly puts on her glasses and pulls out a magazine to start reading. OK, this is an obvious observation: People sit in the back on purpose, they want to be left alone, hence my repeated lack of connection with them. Back seat people. Front seat people. Front seat happy forties man is outspoken and friendly, he initiates the conversation. I feel relieved. We talk about casual carpool, I mention Mexico City again and how dangerous it would be to attempt something like this over there. He suddenly interrupts and starts talking about a friend who knows about people being kidnapped there during traffic jams. I now remember that I’ve heard about this but I actually have a fever this morning (came out of nowhere and started 30 minutes before I left the house), so I hear myself arguing with him saying that the kidnappers would be trapped in the traffic jam too, “not such a good strategy right?” He responds that’s what he was told and he continues saying that it is a shame that Mexico is doing so badly. The conversation around this goes on for a while. The population is exhausted and traumatized by the beheadings, tortures and disappearances. I say that the recently elected Mexican government will pact with the drug lords to make the violence stop. He says that is no good, that the Mexican people need to find a way to fix it. I get a bit angry: “Well, if we want to fix it we need to start here because the market for the drugs is here”. All of a sudden the problem is here with us in the car, and he says “Well good luck with that.” He is not a jerk, I realize; he just has a tendency to be defensive. The conversation shifts and we start talking about the NRA and the role it plays in supporting access to guns. We are on the same team after all.

I ask him where he is from. He says Serbia but has lived in the States for 20 years. We are getting close to the toll, and as we do, he sees a Fiat car. He says: “You are probably too young to remember this but there was a small car made in Yugoslavia that was called the Yugo. The same company that made the Yugo now makes the Fiat but it also makes guns in the same factory. They use to sell it to Iraq before the war. I think sometimes about where they are selling guns now, and to whom. There is so much money in that that, that even governments are not forthcoming about it.” Wow, I had no idea about the Fiat/gun connection. I had mentioned my project earlier in the conversation and he asks me to explain it more now. Today it seems to me to be more about how being conscious of our perceptive process can be a form of agency. He asks me questions: “Is this about something super meaningful that happened?” “Is this about something fantastic?” I say, “No, on the contrary, it’s about the small and the mundane and about you and your life.” He wants examples, I say that I can’t give them because I don’t know what his life or mind is like. He then asks:” If you were to choose an antecedent for this piece what would that be, who inspired you?” I’ve never been asked that before. I tell him about Ben Kimon’s Moveable Type No Documenta project, which I found after I had thought of this project but that I consider a direct antecedent. We are reaching the exit in San Francisco. He says that recently he was driving with his wife on 580 and that as they zoomed by they saw a house burning, large flames coming out of it, he showed with his hands the fire’s movements, “Such an eerie moment.” He falls silent. I ask: “What did you think when you saw it?” “That I should look into it to see what happened and that it looked like a tarot card.” “I will take one of the boxes,” he continues. I am so happy (maybe its the fever making it more rewarding) I follow through and ask the lady in the back if she wants one. She says yes. I quickly ask if she heard what the project is about. She says yes, she was quietly listening. Back seat people.

Last week, an elegant African American woman in her fifties sat quietly in the back reading a magazine, she didn’t say a word for the whole commute but at the end took a box with her. She gets into my car again this morning, this time she sits in the front. It is the first time I pick up the same person twice. We both smile a big smile and say good morning in an almost intimate way. She skipped a car before mine and I ask if that car was part of carpool. She says yes but that it was one of those cars that have a big sign on the window with a long list of requisites in order for you to get in: to not be wearing any perfume, strong lotions, etc. “What’s the point? Its too early in the morning for that” she says. She then asks me how I am doing and how the project is going. I tell her two more people have accepted the boxes. We keep smiling. Soon after that, a Caucasian woman in her late thirties/early forties gets into the back seat. She is dressed colorfully and smiles easily. She takes out her iPhone covered in a pink case and starts checking emails. Her hair is curly and still wet. I introduce myself to both of them: “Ana”. “V” says the African American woman; “A” says the Caucasian woman. I jump right in and ask a permission to tell A about the project. V is very polite and patient and actually pays attention again even though she has heard the pitch before. A seems very interested. This time I emphasize that I am open to the participants’ creativity and that they should feel free to open their contribution up in any way they want. V jumps in and says that after she got the box last week she was very excited and spent “a good 30 minutes” discussing the experience and the project with her colleagues. They were very interested too so they decided to collaborate. They are sharing the camera and will be sending me three perspectives instead of one. I can’t wait to see what they send.

A chooses a box as she says, “It will be fun!” and returns to her iPhone. V and I become quiet for a little while. I ask V what she does. She works in a bank, “Is it a good place to work?” She responds that at this point she is just grateful to have a job to go to. “They are replacing the human with better automated systems or letting the human go, or making other humans do more work for the same amount of money.” I am interested in the way she uses the word human. “Is this about the bottom line?” I ask, “Yes, things are so competitive these days. They are trying to increase their profit margins.” I think of the 10-12 hour days people work at Google. “Do you work 8 hour days or do you have to work longer?” I ask. “It is an 8 hour day but sometimes my supervisor gives me a hard time because I won’t work after 5 or 5:30. I tell him it’s not about the amount of time you work, it’s about how efficient you are with your time.” I think about what efficient art would be like and realize that the two words together make each other sound so sad. We are at Fremont Street. V tells me she will send me the box soon. A says the same as she quickly puts her iPhone in her bag. They both open the car doors and we wish each other a good day. V’s smile disappears as she leaves the car. She is not sad; it is just that her body is walking and the change has called her attention back. A springs up and is quickly far away. I exhale in a mixture of excitement and release.

After 20 minutes of waiting, an African American man in his late forties gets into the front seat. He is wearing a bright orange jacket, edgy glasses, and a cool leather bag. He has been using casual carpool for 20 years. He says that originally the pickup site was where the bus stop is now, right at the corner of the street before the entrance to the freeway. So many people used it that eventually they asked people to wait half a block before the stop (where it is now) so that it would not interfere with the bus. Eventually, he says, they cancelled the bus route all together because no one was using it. After 5 minutes, a second man gets into the back seat; he is in his thirties and looks Latino. He recognizes that there is a conversation happening and becomes quiet. I say good morning, but after that I have trouble including him as the African American man is still sharing some of the casual carpool history with me. There are some long pauses in our conversation. I often feel that the he has stopped but he is just gathering his thoughts.

I mention that I am graduate student in social practice and tell him that I am trying to create a project within casual carpool. I ask him if he is interested in hearing it. “It sounds like a comedy routine,” he says, “like you are going to sing a song.” I don’t quite know what he means but I say smiling that unfortunately there is no song. He tells me to go on. I explain the project but I feel a tension growing and I don’t quite understand why. His tone for the rest of the conversation is not aggressive but there is something that is making him sway back and forth from interest to disinterest. “I don’t think I am the right person for this. I have a facebook page that I never use. I am not interested in the mundane things. Like today, there is traffic and it’s cloudy. I am not interested in that. I don’t think mundane things should be focused on.” “Well,” I respond, “I understand, but it’s not what the project is about.” He interrupts, “This project would make sense 20 years ago, when there was no internet, now the web is filled with this sort of thing, you just need to sit down and do a search and you have more information that you could ever see.” Pause. “The things that really matter, my family, my daughter, all of these are private and there is no need to make them public. I text my daughter anything during my day that I find interesting and exciting, we have a thread that has been going on for a long time and I have never deleted any of it.” “I understand, it sounds like you are already doing this project in a way.” “Yes” he answers. “I agree with you that there are private and personal things that need to be protected. So, is there something you feel should be exposed?” I ask, “Something that as a community we should focus on? Have a conversation about?” The man sitting in the back seat has completely tuned out. “As a community we can vote on the initiatives that we want, give more money to schools, etc and I participate in all of that. And still schools are closing down. One needs to focus on what one has control over. If there is a problem it is very likely that many other people have thought about it before and have made proposals to fix it.” I am really confused by his answer, I try to clarify again: “I am not trying to talk about the issues in the political system though, I am interested in any underlying narratives, things that are subtle and embedded in culture that you think need to be unveiled, these are not things we vote on.” He shakes his head up and down approvingly but the tension is still there. “It seems you are thinking three dimensionally about things and that this is a 3D blog.” He laughs. I respond with a slight tension in my voice, “There is something very different about this project being analogue and about these conversations in the car that I believe go beyond a 3D blog and that are actually a response to the virtual social world.” He shakes his head affirmatively again. I notice that he has been playing with the zipper of his bag more and more. I pause.

“What forms do you see this project taking?” he asks. “I would like it to fold back into the casual carpool again maybe through some sort of publication and I also will have some sort of online archive that will host people’s contributions. I will respond to them as well, which means inserting my perspective into theirs and I think it is important that they can access their contributions without my interpretation.” He seems to agree again. “Have you had success inviting people?” “So far I have distributed 11 boxes.” I explain that people are participating in different ways, sending me photographs, writing, collaborating with other people at work. “I am in a particular situation because I work for a cultural institution” he says, a fog lifts inside the car. “I have been working there for 20 years and have been to many meetings and the language you are using to talk about the project, even the way you weave your ideas—I have heard it so many times before.” He continues, “I work for YBCA as a sound engineer, I really don’t talk in the meetings much, I am just there to advise but this allows me to be like a fly on the wall and observe. The way artists speak is almost its own language.” We are at the drop off site. I stop and the man in the back thanks me and gets out. I don’t have time to check in with him. I am expecting the other man to leave as well but he asks me where I am going. I tell him I turn left on 4th. He asks if he can ride with me until 3rd street. I am surprised as I feel that the conversation has irritated him and expect him to want to leave. I say “Sure” and ask, “Do you think that what you are responding to is to a mainstream discourse or to the professional language used by visual artists?” “A bit of both” he says. “Could you tell me what it is? What words?” I ask. He pauses, “No, I can’t really.” A bit later he says, “We must engage the community, it needs to be collaborative...” I never used those words but I guess they are implied. We’ve passed 3rd street. He says, “If I hadn’t been exposed to all those meetings, I would think that this is a really interesting project.” I am trying to pull over to drop him off. I apologize that I have gone beyond 3rd St. “Don’t worry about it, whatever works for you is fine, I have time to walk back.” His tone is suddenly very kind. We stop at the light and before he leaves he says: “I am interested in how all of this is going to turn out but I am not interested in participating.” “Thank you for talking with me” I say, the box still on my lap.

I realize that yesterday’s conversation is still in my mind today when I see the first carpooler walk towards the car. My stage freight has a new undercurrent of insecurity that makes my voice a tad lower than normal when I say good morning. I take a look at myself and decide it doesn’t matter. It also helps that the young Caucasian woman that just sat next to me is feeling insecure as well because bird poop has just fallen on her head. She is smiling and wiping it away with a tissue. I take a look and say, “I think you are good.” She is petite and has longish light brown hair, a light grey jacket and jeans. She is one of those people that look super-young, maybe in her early twenties but she has a composure that belongs to somebody older, maybe early thirties. A young man is standing by the car, my back windows are dark and it is hard for people to see inside. We both say that the back seat is open, he gets into the car. He is wearing sunglasses and an orange shirt. We recognize each other: He is the young businessman with a deep voice from the other day. “How is the project going?” he asks smiling. “It’s going well, I have given out 3 boxes since you and I met.” I turn to the young woman and tell her that I have an art project that is attempting to use the casual carpool as a platform. “What is it about?” she asks. I turn around and ask the young businessman “What would you say the project is about?” “I am still not 100 percent sure. It is pretty open,” he says. I am hoping to hear him pitch the project but he falls silent. I pick it up and say that it is open because I don’t want it to be too prescriptive and hope it will offer many entry points. I mention the boxes and how they work. “Did you take a box?” she asks him. “I did,” he says smiling; his deep voice fills the space in the car. “Have you send it back?” she says. “Not yet” he responds. “How is it going?” I ask. “Really well” he responds smiling, his responses are brief and have no hidden messages. There is something relaxing about that. He soon leans his head back with his sunglasses still on, I can’t see his eyes but I am guessing they are closed. His disengagement seems practical.

“It sounds really interesting,” she says. I realize I have attempted to answer any possible questions, which makes the exchange less of a conversation and more like a speech. I ask her if she has any questions. She asks, “So, more people are already participating?” I feel she needs to be reassured and say yes and explain all the different ways they are contributing. “I would like to take a box” she says. I let her choose whichever one she likes best. This happens soon in the commute, right after we’ve passed the toll so we have a lot of time left. We talk about her work. It is a PR-like job at a foundation that gives money to ecological and sustainability projects. She says the benefits are awesome. She has the box on her lap for the rest of the ride, in the back seat he is still sleeping.

There is no traffic and the car is zooming along. My body makes it change lanes while my mind is involved in a conversation with a Caucasian man in his early forties sitting in the back seat. My eyes switch from the review mirror to the road in quick movements. I am happy I don’t need to think where I am going. The man in the back seat is wearing glasses with thin frames and a bright colored sweater. He is very friendly and has only been carpooling for the last two weeks. He tells me about a community in Oakland that started a new carpool site. The police were giving tickets to the drivers for stopping to pick up passengers. The community protested saying that carpooling was a very beneficial platform for them and the city. Eventually, the police allocated a spot on the street where cars could stop legally.  The man sitting on the front seat is an African American man around the same age, early forties. He is attentive but reserved and I try to make eye contact, but the whole experience reminds me of a lamp that I have. I turn it on and there is something in the switch that makes the connection unstable, so for a moment you feel a reliable light but soon it starts flashing and dimming and flickering. Not a completely unpleasant experience, but a little too much to handle with the driving and the conversation going on.

I hear myself talking more about the carpool than the project itself. The man and I are discussing the significance of the one dollar bill that passengers offer to the driver. It is an important etiquette to me. I drive, pay gas and the maintenance of my car and I really appreciate not having to pay the toll on top of that. There is something more to it, a mutual respect. He agrees. I notice that the silent man sitting in the front seat is still holding on to his dollar. It is crinkled in his hand, which is not moving. I hope he is waiting for the right time to give it to me and not that I just insulted him implying that he was not respectful. Yikes. The man in the back seat has recently started a new job in a tech company. He worked for 20 years at the last place. I wonder how that feels, to be in the same place for so long, with the same people. He says he is getting a chance to reinvent himself. I wonder if this project does that for me and the participants. He comments that the project is interesting to him because, for what he has been able to tell, people don’t talk during casual carpool. He’s heard of some people that have known each other for more than 10 years and have never said anything more than good morning and thank you. He pauses and tells me he really wants to participate in the project but that it will take him a little while because next week is going to be a very busy time for him. I say that is not a problem. He also prefers to send me photos digitally. “Is that ok?” he asks. I think for a minute about the importance of the physical camera, the analogue interface, and decide that whatever works for him is best. I tell him so and he gives me back the camera. (Later in the day, I think that it might have been a mistake and that the all the photos should come from the same type of camera but it’s too late then to change anything.) We are at the drop off site and the African American man sitting in the front seat turns to me and hands me the dollar. I say thank you and ask him if he wants to participate. He says yes, but he is also concerned about time, he is traveling to New Orleans all next week. “That is ok” I say again, “the project could be about your trip.” I tell them both to not to try to make it perfect and to please not wait too long. They smile. The Caucasian man asks me where I am going after and I end up driving him a few more blocks. He says he is surprised that the other passenger decided to participate. I am too, having these conversations has reminded me about how little I can perceive of people. Maybe some eyes see best through flickering light.

I love my car, her name is Pearl and she is a trooper. Pearl is a golden Honda CRV 2000 with leather seats. We bought her used 7 years ago and she has never complained about anything. Yesterday, I thought she was dying—she couldn’t shift anymore. Replacing a transmission is very expensive, and I was worried we wouldn’t be able to afford it. Miraculously, the problem turned out to be a damaged transmission solenoid that can be replaced within a couple of hours. I thought I would have to stop the project for a week, but Pearl was back so I started prepping for the next day’s commute. As I gather the materials for the boxes, I realize that I only have three left. I want to stage a photo shoot in which I can document fictitious carpoolers interacting with the boxes and leaving my car. I think that photographing and audio recording the actual conversations will affect the dynamic too much. Friends have offered to help me next Tuesday so I will hold on to these three and restart once the staged documentation is done. When I stop at the carpool site without the boxes, I do not expect to feel any stage freight but the Latino man that was present when I had the conversation with the YBCA sound engineer, opens the back door of my car and gests in. I ask if he has enough legroom. He smiles and says, “Yes.” I become aware of the two roles I could play: the one of the artist or the one of the anonymous driver. A lady in her early forties jumps in, she gives me a one dollar bill and says, intently and respectfully, looking me in the eyes: “To help with the toll.” I feel so grateful; the one dollar bill feels like 100 dollars. I start driving and say, “I thought I was going to have to wait a long time, it is so late.” The three of us laugh unusually loud as if it were a joke; I can particularly hear the man in the back. I take that as a sign that he remembers who I am.

My thoughts return to the question of the project and the possibilities of engaging in a conversation even if I don’t have the boxes. I realize how important the project is for me and how much it facilitates breaking through the awkward silence in the car. At that point both passengers have tuned out, the lady is listening to her iPhone, which has a custom case printed with what looks like photos of her kids. Her breathing is shallow and a bit labored; she must have allergies. I have allergies too. The man in the back is reading like he did last time. My mind continues: What will happen after the project is over? I had assumed unconsciously that doing the project would change the casual carpool space and myself within it, but I now realize that without the impetus the project gives me I could very easily regress to a pre-project state where I am hesitating to engage with the social potential contained inside my car. I feel that between these strangers and me is an invisible bridge. The first one to step on the bridge makes it visible for everyone else and then anyone can walk on it if they wish. To step on the bridge first, I need to face the imaginary void under the bridge. I need a good reason to do that. The whole drive ends up happening in silence, just the sound of the lady in the front seat and I sniffling intermittently. In my mind, I step on and off the bridge many times: going up just because I want to, coming down because I don’t want to interrupt, going up because the project could continue without having boxes, coming down because I am not clear on what that means, up and down, up and down, until I drop them off.

Interview with Ana Labastida PLAySPACE: The email reflections are great. An unexpected component of the project. AL: It’s my favorite part. I enjoy the actual commute and the conversation a lot but when I get to write about it, it really helps me process and digest. I think because it’s so fleeting, if I didn’t write, it would be really hard for me to process and hold onto things. It also makes me really aware what I’m editing out and what I’m prioritizing. PLAySPACE: In your emails, you talk about how anxious you feel about starting the conversation in the car. Before you started this project did you speak to people in the carpool or was the ride silent? If you did talk, what did you talk about? And was the anxiety there before or is it specific to this project? AL: I didn’t talk to people in the carpool. It seemed like a really weird social circumstance and I was really trying to follow the etiquette. The etiquette on the website is that you should be silent. You can start a conversation; as the driver you have a priority. You can listen to the radio but you have to check in with everybody. Mexican culture does have really specific rules of politeness and I think I am particularly concerned about politeness so I was trying to be really polite. But the whole trajectory, I would feel anxious because we would sit next to each other in this tense quiet. They would tune out but I couldn’t tune out. So I mostly spend the whole trip thinking about what project I could do to address this. PLAySPACE: What is the difference between American politeness and Mexican politeness? AL: Mexican politeness would be “hello, how are you doing,” and you would try to 172

have a conversation. I think American society has an idea that politeness is giving someone their space and respecting whatever is happening and not intruding. When you fall or trip people will pretend they don’t see. In Mexican society people will be like “are you ok” and people will swarm around you. But here people think you don’t want to feel embarrassed. There’s this idea [in casual carpool] that people are busy and you want to give them some time. PLAySPACE: So is that part of where this project came from? AL: I think so. And it’s also partially the system itself and what you can do. There is advanced capitalism and it’s overwhelming, and then, all of the sudden there is this thing that is working on its own like some sort of parasite and it seems to be working fine. It’s been going on for 30 years and the government doesn’t put any energy into it. Nobody puts much energy into it and it seems to be self-sustaining. It’s small. It’s helping commuters. It’s helping cars. It helps the environment somewhat. I started to wonder, what if you had a whole bunch of these things? How does it work? How do you make it work? Could we design our cities or our systems to be like that? What I’m learning is that the Fruitvale pick up site has an etiquette that’s different from other sites. People automatically offer money there. They automatically give you a buck. I assumed that was the standard everywhere, but if you go to Rockridge or somewhere wealthier, they won’t. I think its because the drivers don’t need it. Drivers just want to get there faster. For me it’s really important. It recognizes that this is a mutually beneficial thing. It’s a symbol of a social bond. PLAySPACE: When did you start using casual carpool? 173

AL: Maybe six months after we started school. Originally, I was terrified. Part of the anxiety was getting over the whole stranger thing and social etiquette. After awhile I started being less anxious and thinking, “why is this so weird?” PLAySPACE: Has this project broken down any of the anxiety? Or has it generally changed your experience of the carpool? AL: I think so. It’s definitely breaking it down. First, when I imagined myself doing the project I had this image of me being [confident]. I was shocked to realize my limitations, my shyness and my stage fright. In my mind I had this image of people sitting down and making eye contact and saying good morning. I didn’t have the image of the guy looking down, putting his ear buds on and tuning out. So then I worry, “do I interrupt him?” and other social things. That’s why the emails are so important to me: because I get to digest that. I also hadn’t thought about how redoing the speech over and over again was going to change it. PLAySPACE: Would you give the introduction to me as if I was a carpooler? AL: I try to warm up to things. Generally, one of the things that work best is if I ask you about casual carpool. How long have you been doing it? If its your first time you have a lot to say and if you’ve been doing it for a long time you’ll have a lot to say. They will be in going to work mode or going to school mode and when I ask that its like “[Casual carpool] is weird. People think I’m a freak. They don’t understand why I do it.” We normally speak about that for a while. “People ask me about it and its a really long conversations and they don’t understand.” There will be ideas like “I’m a woman, I shouldn’t get in a stranger’s car.” We normally talk about that and then I talk about 174

why I’m interested in it, or how weird it is for me because I’m from Mexico and how dangerous it would be for me to do this there. It generally works really well because it opens this space of [talking about] how bizarre is it, but also how amazing is it. I either talk about Mexico or this idea of it being a micro-utopian thing. Some people will say it gives them faith in humanity, big statements like that. PLAySPACE: Does it break down the weirdness at all? AL: Super fast, yeah, because then we are all weird for doing it. PLAySPACE: Does it breakdown the weirdness of casual carpool itself? AL: No, it just breaks down the social tension in the car. But then it always stays weird. We analyze the whole thing but it always stays weird. PLAySPACE: How do you feel like your explanation has changed over time? AL: I’m discovering my own interests and all the underlying reasons why I find the casual carpool system interesting and can articulate them clearer. Today, I was trying to explain this question, “what is meaningful or inspiring in your life,” which is a huge question. I’m always so anxious when I voice it. I always feel it’s the wrong question. And I’m trying to get to the point of it. Today I was saying things like, “the world is the same but not everyday is the same.” I was trying to talk about mental narratives because we create mental narratives. I think it’s about our personal histories. What personal history has constructed this narrative that makes me look at my daily life this way? I have never said it like that before. And she was like, “oh yeah, I understand that.” She had asked before, “So, you’re interested in my day?” And I had said, “Well, 175

I’m not interested in your schedule. I’m interested in what you are thinking about that, of what’s underlying it.” So I feel like I am articulating layers of interest. PLAySPACE: What do you want participants to get out of the project? AL: I want them to feel respected through the conversation and through the way I am setting up the collaboration. I want them to feel that their work will be recognized within the project, that their name could be mentioned, and they could take credit for that. I want them to know that I will take license with whatever they are sending me, and it might get really worked and distorted, and it would be my sensibility and not theirs. I want them to know there will be some sort of registry where their contribution will be intact without me messing with it. And they could pull their name if they want to. I imagine in my fantasy of the project going really well that they get something from doing the exercise, that its some sort of meditative self-awareness process that does contribute something. There is also something about remembrance: Sometimes we have a lot but we forget we have a lot. I feel conflicted about the level of criticality the project needs to have. I want to own the fact that it really is micro-utopian in a way. But then, when I think about translating the project to a third party who did not have the conversation, who was not in the car, then I feel like there is another space in which the project could fold back on itself. It’s hard to know at this point what that would be, but I want to try; to have the documentation and try to take it somewhere else. Formally, I’ve been thinking about drawing and the need for me to actually draw these images or create some sort of collage to insert myself in these photos, but through drawing--something about trying to insert 176

myself in that psyche. PLAySPACE: I understand the desire to have the envelopes back, but it also seems like this project is personal and about the interactions in the car. You started with the question “how do we interpret the mundane moments between commutes?” But what seems to be coming out of your email and even this conversation is the question, “how do we interpret the moments of our commutes?” Commutes are normally the space between. And now commutes take on this greater importance and the conversations between you and the carpoolers in real time feels like the heart of the project. What are you learning from the project and have there been any surprises or moments of discovery? AL: I think for me the commute and the emails are definitely the heart of the project. In a way, the project is like an anemone, spreading out in so many directions. For me, it is a learning process, both for the stage fright and engaging with American culture. I’m also learning what I think social bonds are, how social bonds are built, how they need to be built, and what it takes to be built and constructed. Because I do it everyday with a person I don’t know, I see the cost of it: This is the cost of a connection, of a bridge between people that don’t know each other. I’ve been really surprised by people, like how I read them. Like when I think they’re listening and when I think they’re not listening. They’re almost always listening. It gives me a sense of how we hide or how we are within ourselves in social space. PLAySPACE: It seems like the process of collecting the data and the questions are what are foregrounded, rather than a presentation of the data. AL: In this phase. 177

I was thinking about the discipline of artistic practice, and me committing to this, and all the obstacles I’ve had to overcome to make it happen. It’s been surprisingly challenging for me. There is something about the restriction—that this conversation needs to happen in this 20 minutes, and if it doesn’t happen, nothing is going to happen—that is also helpful in terms of productivity. There is something exhilarating for me about turning my awkwardness and stage fright into this moment. At the end I feel really happy. It’s like I can’t believe we did this, everything is going to be all right. I think that there have always been two centers of the project. One of them is the commute and one is what happens after. The commute is more at the center now because of the phase and because of the emotional cost it has for me: the anxiety, the surprise, navigating the space, or just even trying to have this conversation and driving. I would love it if somehow the project from outside the commute folds back into the commute. I would generate a translation of the project that is somehow redistributable within the framework of the commute. There is something about that space, because there is no space and time. The car is the space and time so why not use it. There is space and time. Its just in my car and here it is. This is what this person sent me. This is what he did. I think that would be really interesting. Then there would be another set of conversations about it that loop back and repeat and reincarnate it. I’m more interested in that center than the external center. PLAySPACE: What was the importance of handcrafting the boxes? AL: The world is so digital and our social bonding is through Facebook and social networking media and through our phones, so I thought that the physical aspect of the boxes would create more of a bind between me and people. I am asking of them something personal. There should be some sacrifice on my part; some output of initial 178

energy. They’re not my secrets, but it’s something unique that I worked really hard at. It’s sort of like a token, attempting to put myself at stake within the conversation. I think the container for what comes back needs to be an archive that everybody can access. The object now makes sense because it was designed for the car and it was tactile and it was soft and this silk thing. Once that interaction isn’t in the car I’m not sure it makes sense for it to be an object necessarily. But I definitely think it should be archived. People should be able to say, “I participated in this weird thing, here is a website to see what I contributed and what this woman did with my photo,” so they can have that conversation. I have questions about this form and what my position is in processing this information. I am clear of my position in the conversations in the car. But I’m asking myself questions about how I should position myself in this receiving of information. I say I really want to understand what you are saying to me. But what does that mean? I’m finding that I cant really understand a lot of it. So its taking me to this realm of fantasy and imagination about what they are saying, which is really different from what I intended. PLAySPACE: What does social imaginary mean to you? AL: I was interpreting it as a potential collective unconscious that was going to come out of people having these self-reflections. This woman I was commuting with was saying, “I really want to know what would happen if you did this project at other sites where there are other economic or social realities and if we do end up being all the same.” The social imaginary for me is the resources that we have as a collective to mine or use. That’s what the moment of the commute is for me. That we have constructed this possibility. 179



Essential to any city, mass public transit links people to places and opportunities. People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) developed the Transit to the People project in an effort to move local, regional, and national mass transit priorities to address the needs of working class communities of color and provide a racial, gender, and economic equity analysis to mass public transit planning. In December 2012, a grassroots coalition anchored by POWER fought and won a two-year battle for a 16-month program offering free Fast Passes to low-income San Franciscans under 18, launched on March 1, 2013. In “Youth Score Win for Muni Passes,� first published in Race, Poverty and the Environment, the print journal of Urban Habitat, writer Rene Ciria-Cruz chronicles the collaborative effort to win free Muni for low-income youth of San Francisco, while revealing the long-term vision to build sustainable cities. POWER is an organization that unites working class families, youth, and tenants to achieve economic, racial, and gender justice through organization and empowerment. Its mission is to eliminate poverty and oppression by developing the capacity of working class communities of color to play a powerful role in the political processes that impact our lives and the well being of our communities. 181

Youth Score Win for Free MUNI Passes San Francisco Coalition Mobilizes for Transit Justice By Rene Ciria-Cruz, a freelance writer based in San Francisco and a frequent contributor to Race, Poverty & the Environment. Low-income youth of San Francisco will be able to ride Muni for free during a 16-month trial period starting early next year, thanks to the efforts of a broad community coalition. After a two-year campaign, the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) gave final approval for the funding on December 4, 2012. Campaign organizers want the program to begin in February, with a massive drive to sign up youth for free passes fully underway by March.

In November 2011, the coalition won crucial support when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors lent its support to the campaign. Spirited actions by youth, parents, and community advocates through 2011 had been aimed at winning relief for students and their families from the rising cost of bus and light rail fares following school district cuts to funding for yellow school buses.
 The coalition successfully overcame the regional transit authority’s debatable funding priorities as well as opposition from some supervisors who wanted all available funds spent on improving Muni facilities and maintenance. Funds for the $13 million pilot project will come from SFMTA, the Metropolitan Transportation Commision (MTC), and the County Transportation Authority. 

The grassroots drive for a free Muni youth pass began last year in response to the narrowing access to public transportation for the city’s 40,000 low-income youth. The San Francisco Unified School District is cutting its yellow school bus service by nearly half, while the price of a Muni Youth Pass for youth five to 17 years old has risen from $10 to $22 since 2009. A monthly Muni-only Fast Pass for Adults now costs $64. 
Supporters of the project said the rising cost of Muni 182

passes have led to a decline in ridership. Muni sold 18,410 youth passes in October 2010 but only 11,502 in the same period this year. With Muni becoming the school bus service for many students, the burden of paying for their commute falls heaviest on working class families with more than one child going to school.

“With the rising costs of bus passes it would cost my family $200 for all of us to get monthly passes for two adults and two kids,” said Joanne Abernathy. “A lot of people in my neighborhood are deciding between $2 for Muni fare or $2 for milk.” 183

“Rising costs of fares put the heaviest burden on the city’s low-income families of color in the following communities: Chinatown, the Mission, Bayview-Hunters Point, Excelsior, and Visitacion Valley, which have some of the city’s lowest per capita incomes. Families in these neighborhoods spent 20-24 percent of their household income on transportation in 2005, before the doubling of bus fares.”


“Kids talked about how they sometimes had to choose between paying their bus fare or buying lunch, or how they just walked to school and ended up late.�


Skewed Funding Punishes Low-Income Riders Cities that want to maintain healthy bus service must contend with funding priorities at all levels of government that favor automobile use over public transportation. More than 80 percent of federal transit funds go to highways—only 20 percent goes to public transit— and the law bans use of such federal funds for day-to-day operations. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), which distributes federal and state transportation moneys in the nine-county Bay Area allots just 6 percent of its expansion funds to bus service. A POWER survey of 727 public transportation users in San Francisco showed that 48 percent said they didn’t have enough money for transportation in the last month. Riders use public transportation for a whole range of activities, including going to school (57 percent), appointments (41 percent), work (40 percent), grocery shopping (35 percent), after-school appointments (15 percent) and childcare (8 percent). More than half reported waiting an average of 10 to 20 minutes for a bus and 16 percent reported waiting more than 20 minutes. Rising costs of fares put the heaviest burden on the city’s low-income families of color in the following communities: Chinatown, the Mission, Bayview-Hunters Point, Excelsior, and Visitacion Valley, which have some of the city’s lowest per capita incomes. Families in these neighborhoods spent 20-24 percent of their household income on transportation in 2005, before the doubling of bus fares. The expansion of proof-of-payment fare enforcement has fostered widespread fear and decreased access to public transit for people in these same neighborhoods. San Francisco began implementing proof-of-payment fare enforcement (POP) in the mid1990s on Muni’s light rail lines, expanding it to bus lines by 2005. Uniformed and 186

armed San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officers began boarding the buses and handing out tickets that carried substantial fines. Last year, the city paid $12 million to the police department for its POP enforcement services. However, from 2006 to 2010, the city recovered only $1 million in lost fares after spending $9.5 in enforcement. An excerpt from Next Stop: Justice—Race and Environment at the Center of Transit Planning, a report published by POWER, DataCenter, and Urban Habitat.


Grassroots Initiative San Francisco’s Youth Commission in 2009 began questioning the decreasing access to public transportation, drawing the attention of community organizations to the growing problem of rising fares. “Muni has become too expensive and the services that we count on are becoming out of reach for us financially,” says Leah LaCroix, who chairs the San Francisco Youth commission.

Meanwhile, People Organized to win Employment Rights (POWER) had launched a successful effort to make Muni scale back its proof-of-payment enforcement crackdown, which had triggered complaints of intimidation and racial profiling.

“In March, April, and May 2010, there was an initial youth fare program for 12,000 kids, and the passes were used up really quick,” said Jaron Browne, POWER’s director of communication. “The need greatly exceeded availability. That’s when we saw the problem was huge.”
POWER convened a broad coalition of community organizations that propelled the free Muni for youths campaign, including the Chinatown Community Development Center, Jamestown Community Center, SRO Families Collaborative, MORE Public Transit Coalition, SF Organizing Project, Senior Action Network, Coleman Advocates for Children, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Filipino Community Center, Causa Justa, and Senior Action Networks, among other groups. 

“Perhaps the most exciting part of the campaign is the leadership role San Francisco’s youth has played,” said Bob Allen, director of the transportation justice program at Urban Habitat, pointing to POWER, a community-based advocacy group founded in 1997, as the leading force of the movement. POWER had helped raise the minimum wage in the city and has been organizing women domestic workers as well as residents of low-income communities.

The Free Muni for Youth drive is part of POWER’s larger campaign for “transit justice,” to correct the rising cost of commutes, the poor quality of public transportation service to low-income neighborhoods, and heavy handed “criminalization” of fare evasion. Urban Habitat has provided campaign support for the project and is a coauthor with POWER and the DataCenter of Next Stop Justice: Race And Environment at the Center of Transit Planning. 188

Research and Strategy The community coalition held a straw poll, setting up voting booths near the Mission and Geneva intersection to ask commuters if they thought youth should be able to ride Muni for free—“to get a sense of the depth of the need,” said Browne.

Then, with assistance from allies, such as Supervisor David Campos—who wants to follow New York’s example and provide public transportation that is “accessible to students in our public school system”—Urban Habitat, and DataCenter, the coalition undertook extensive research to identify the key funding sources likely to be responsible for transit programs. “Urban Habitat was particularly helpful in mapping us out an understanding of the regional funding stream,” said Browne. The campaign learned that competitive funding was available from a broad range of sources—city, county, and regional bodies responsible for improving public transportation access for low-income communities and for addressing the region’s air quality. 
 The coalition also “carefully analyzed areas of potential cost savings—the MTA’s capital budget, work order charges from other city agencies for providing services to Muni, overtime costs—that would allow Muni to put more service on the street,” said Allen. 189

Armed with data-based arguments, including a model program and price structure, the campaigners organized delegations to convince elected officials and decision-makers at various government levels. The campaign “was smart about it and had a strategy that made sense,” said Campos, It was well informed about “the different pitfalls” ahead, he added.

“We really put a lot of pressure on various government levels,” said Browne. The SF Board of Supervisors would call on SF Municipal Transportation Agency, SFUSD, SF County Transportation Authority, and Metropolitan Transportation Commission to collaborate with community groups in designing and securing funding for a free Muni for youth program. Support also came from Mayor Ed Lee, the SF Board of Education and its Student Advisory Council, the SF Youth Commission and the Parent Teacher Association board.

“In the San Francisco Bay Area, personal vehicle exhaust is a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollutants.” Better Public Transit for Better Air In the San Francisco Bay Area, personal vehicle exhaust is a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollutants. Cars and light trucks accounted for 78 percent of transportation sector emissions in 2007. In the city, transportation sources produce 50 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Passenger vehicles contribute 190


nearly four times more to global warming than heavy duty trucks, ships, and aircraft combined. San Francisco’s poor and working-class communities of color are affected more by poor air quality because they tend to live next to high-volume roadways. Residents of Chinatown, the Mission, Bayview-Hunters Point, the Excelsior, and Visitacion Valley suffer severe health burdens from pollutant exposure. One study of 12,000 residents in the Bayview showed rates of cervical and breast cancer double those in other parts of the region, and hospitalization rates for heart failure, hypertension, diabetes, and emphysema more than three times the statewide average. San Francisco Department of Public Health figures show startlingly higher rates of asthma hospitalizations in these neighborhoods than in wealthier ones. Approximately 60 percent of all trips in San Francisco used a private vehicle. Muni wants to reduce this to 30 percent by 2030, a step in the right direction. Yet, some recent Muni policy decisions, such as increasing transit fare and decreasing bus service, severely undermine this aim. Every 10 percent increase in fares decreases ridership by 4 percent, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

“We started realizing that not only would free Muni benefit youth, but we could also have a positive impact on the environment.” 192

Community-Based Lobbying
 “Hundreds of young people came and testified before the Board of Supervisors, before the MTA, the Muni board of directors,” said Campos. “Kids talked about how they sometimes had to choose between paying their bus fare or buying lunch, or how they just walked to school and ended up late.” 

It was also “very powerful,” Campos added, to have “parents and families talk about the impact of the lack of access to public transportation on them—how painful it was for them to not be able to give bus fare to their kids because they just didn’t have money.”

Coalition activists also disseminated information through social media and the mainstream press, with stu193

dents from various schools throughout the city videotaping messages of support for the plan.

They explained that up to 70 percent of San Francisco high school students surveyed use public transit to commute and that the pilot program would cost less than one percent of Muni’s $800 million annual budget. With the steadily increasing prices of fares and passes many people, including students, are tempted to resort to fare evasion, risking fines of $100 to $150—a big bite off a working family’s budget—if inspectors catch them without proof of payment. And yet, campaigners reported, the enforcement program costs $9.5 million a year but recovers only $1 million in lost fares.

Campaigners also argued that a free Muni for youth program was one of the best ways to secure a generation of new users of public transportation.  In the long run it would help improve air quality, said POWER leader Manuela Esteva. “We started realizing that not only would free Muni benefit youth, but we could also have a positive impact on the environment.” 

At the MTAlevel negotiations, the campaign agreed to a compromise. Instead of an initial goal of free passes for all youth, it agreed to make the program specific to “low-income” youth. “We will eventually push for between 100 percent to 120 percent of median income, so we could include even unionized workers and more working class people,” reported Browne.

After hearing youth and parent testimonies in a public hearing, the SFMTA board in April approved $9 million for a free youth fare program, but only if $4 to $5 million could be obtained from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

The MTC is the transportation planning and financing body for the Bay Area’s nine counties. It disburses up to $3 billion annually to local transit operators, highway and road construction, and planning activities.

More Public Transit Means More Jobs From 2008 through 2010, nearly 90 percent of all the transit systems in the U.S. had to raise fares or cut service. As a direct result of these service cuts, 97,000 U.S. transit workers lost their jobs in 2009. By September 2010, an additional 78,000 jobs were lost. The economic impact of transit austerity politics goes beyond job cuts for bus drivers and mechanics. Every $1 in service cuts caused by operating deficits bleeds $10 from the local economy in lost wages and increased transportation costs. These cuts hit transit-dependent people the hardest. Investment in transit operations and service—and in bus drivers, mechanics, and support staff—is one of the most efficient and effective economic development strategies available. Ten million dollars invested in transit operations produces $30 million in increased business sales. This strong multiplier effect yields both additional jobs in the local economy and increased sales tax revenues for state and local governments. An analysis of federal stimulus spending showed that transit operations created 72 percent more jobs than similar investments in transit capital. Letdown
 In July, however, the MTC voted 8-7 against giving San Francisco the $4 million, arguing that only the city’s youth would benefit from the program while there were other low-income families in other cities that need help just as much. That left Muni’s $9.4 million free youth pass plan $5 million short. Yet, in the same meeting attended by an audience of nearly 150 plan supporters, the MTC approved at least $18.6 million for the new ferry service between Alameda and South San Francisco. An example, critics say, of class bias and lopsided funding priorities. The ferry outlay amounts to a public 195

subsidy of $47 per ferry ride. Workers from biotech firms, such as Genentech, are currently the main users of the ferry. Meanwhile, coalition activists contended, the subsidy for free Muni for 40,000 kids would amount to only $2.86 per ride.

“It’s been a very eye-opening experience for me,” said Zeke Osmond, a restaurant worker and sales clerk who is also a member of POWER. “It’s been very tough and somewhat embarrassing to see these commissioners, and how they approach these situations.” 

However, on October 10 came a pleasant surprise—the MTC awarded the city $6.7 million in federal funds meant to increase transit ridership and improve system performance. The money could be used for a variety of purposes, including free fares. But Supervisors Scott Wiener, Mark Farrell, Sean Elsbernd, and Carmen Chu wanted the new funds to be spent on capital improvements and maintenance first, instead of free youth fares. 

Campaign supporters criticized them for setting up a “false choice” between increasing transit access for low-income youth and improving Muni. SFMTA transportation director Ed Reiskin stated, “I don’t see this as an either or. We have ridership goals and we have productivity goals. We’re trying to use these dollars to address both.”

Reiskin proposed to use $1.6 million of the $6.7 million for setting up the free Muni rides for low-income youth between February and June, and the remaining $5.1 million for rehabilitating Muni light-rail vehicles. The agency would set aside another $1.8 million in the following fiscal year to keep the pilot project going.

“Perhaps the most exciting part of the campaign is the leadership role San Francisco’s youth has played.” 196

Recommendations from Next Stop: Justice 1. Increase San Francisco’s investments in public transportation by taxing large developers and corporations. Large developers and corporations already benefit from public transit’s contribution to increasing property values and bringing in workers and customers. Corporations have a responsibility to pay their fair share and invest in the system as a whole. 2. Expand and improve transit in the city’s eastern neighborhoods. The SFMTA must commit to improving transit service in working class communities of color in order to meet the needs of its residents who rely on transit the most. Seriously investing in the eastern neighborhoods is essential to making San Francisco family friendly and to increasing connectivity in the city. 3. Scale back aggressive fare enforcement and use resources to improve service. Saturating bus stops and buses with police officers to catch fare evaders generates far more fear than fares, criminalizing people for trying to ride while poor and black, Latino, or Asian Pacific Islander. The money saved by cutting out the POP program should go towards improving service. 4. Reduce transit fares as a central strategy for reaching San Francisco’s climate objectives. Free Muni rides enticed more than 200,000 San Franciscans to leave their cars at home during the first two “Spare the Air” days in 2007. Make public transit the first choice for workers, youth, and families by making it truly affordable and accessible. An important first step is establishing permanent funding for free Muni passes for all youth in San Francisco.


5. Expand transit as a green job growth sector. Public transit not only supports the environment, it also sustains a racially diverse unionized workforce that earns living wages—making it a model of a green jobs sector. To expand transit jobs, San Francisco should prioritize use of transit resources for operations, rather than large capital investments. 6. Shift transportation policy to prioritize public transit over car travel. San Francisco must designate auto-free zones and expand the bus priority zones in areas where transit and alternative mobility options exist to encourage people to use transit. It should also close tax loopholes that favor wealthy drivers, including increasing the tax on corporate downtown parking garages, and closing the valet loophole in the city’s parking tax. Both the city and the region must prioritize operations and maintenance needs for public transit over freeways and capital projects. 7. Collect and publish demographic data about transit riders in the city. Low income communities and communities of color have the highest rates of transit dependency, but the SFMTA doesn’t consistently track information about the ethnicity, gender, or income levels of riders. San Francisco should look to the data tracking and transparency practices of Los Angeles and other cities to find ways to ensure that public transit serves the communities who depend on transit the most. 8. Create a mechanism for greater democracy and community accountability in the SFMTA. All members of the SFMTA Board of Directors are appointed by the mayor and have little direct accountability to transit riders. The agency manages a multimillion dollar budget and decisions made by its board have huge public impacts. Its board should be publicly elected, like the Board of Education and the Community College 198

Board. Even splitting appointments to the SFMTA board between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors would allow for greater public accountability and more motivation to refocus transportation priorities on the needs of the environment and the community. Challenges Ahead
 On December 4, the SFMTA Board approved the final funding allocation of regional transportation funds from MTC and gave the green light to launch a 16-month pilot program estimated at $6.9 million. 

 “Our challenge now is to push hard for permanent funding,” Browne said. “The Free Muni for Youth program isn’t the only thing we’re fighting for. There are other transit justice issues on our agenda.”


ELLOMENOPEE Maysha Mohamedi


An interpretive guide to 26 unexpected sites across the city, each featuring a “found sculpture,� one for each letter of the alphabet.


A: Pier 96 at Lash Lighter Basin, north of Heron’s Head Park


B: An Australian Tree in the Botanical Garden at Golden Gate Park


C: The southwest corner of Alta Plaza Park at the intersection of Scott St. and Clay St.


D: The ruin of WWII gun turret along the Lands End trail


E: Reflective strips at the southwest corner of Filbert St. and Larkin St.


F: The Illinois St. bridge over Islais Creek between Dogpatch and India Basin


G: A basement window grate at 2235 Larkin St.


H: A business called Darling International at 429 Cargo St.


I: Free-standing columns at Kezar Stadium on Frederick St.


J: Decorative molding on the front of an apartment building on Gough St., adjacent to Lafayette Park


K: Vacant grocery store on South Van Ness


L: Family pizzeria at the corner of Amazon St. and Mission St.


M: The Seventh-Day Adventist Church on the corner of California St. and Broderick St.


N: The old Francis Scott Key School on 43rd Avenue between Irving St. and Judah St.


O: A residence a few houses west from the corner of Jackson St. and Pierce St.


P: The railing leading into the Mission YMCA


Q: Dining room table, Sunset District


R: A structure at Aquatic Park, where Van Ness Avenue hits the water


S: The balcony railing of a residence near the corner of Divisadero St. and California St.


T: A row of manicured trees at the corner of Park Hill Avenue and Buena Vista Avenue East


U: Above the entrance to Marina Middle School


V: Looking east toward downtown from the intersection of Franklin St. and Oak St.


W: Lake Merced Church of Christ at 777 Brotherhood Way


X: The Presidio gate at Jackson St. and Arguello St.


Y: Angel over Golden Gate Park


Z: The exposed staircase of the parking structure at South St. and 3rd St.


Interview with Maysha Mohamedi PLAySPACE: As an artist who usually creates work for a gallery setting, what was appealing to you about this call for art? MM: Something about that question bothers me. I think that even though I’m an artist that makes work for a gallery setting; even though I identify with making paintings that go on a white wall, for the most part, no one sees most of what I make. And I think that’s the reality of most artists. Even if you’re successful, a lot of the work you make doesn’t get seen. I always include a variety of projects in my practice, but we are so taught to have a clean story. But I’m always doing things that don’t really contribute to the clean story. I was excited to not have a space and to do something different. PLAySPACE: What does social imaginary mean to you? MM: There were a lot of movies in the 1960s and 1970s that were real life mixed with really bad animation. And that’s what I imagine when I hear that phrase: A kid walking through the city and having their own visual imaginations popping up as they’re walking through a social space. It’s very playful and free-spirited. PLAySPACE: Is that often how you feel moving through the city? MM: I think so. Because I’m an only child, that’s how I lived my life growing up, following my mom around on errand after errand and entertaining myself with whatever was around me: patterns and colors and shapes that looked like things, because I was bored. PLAySPACE: What was your process of conceiving and actualizing this project?


MM: I came up with this idea of trying to identify the alphabet within the city. That was a personal, visual challenge for myself. I work a lot with objects that I find in thrift stores and I’ve really honed my thrill of the hunt skills. I have this exhaustive list of junkyards and thrift stores in the Bay Area and I’ve gotten good at identifying what I want and what I don’t want. So I like the idea of bringing this to a very grand scale. It actually flips the scale. Before, I was a big person and it was a little object. Now, I’m the little person and the city is the big object. When I looked for the letters it was the same thrill of the hunt. Another motivation for this project was that I have been very interested in the evocative power of shapes and how a shape can evoke a feeling or emotion or resemble something. In doing this project, I though that identifying these letters that I knew would be abstracted—I knew they wouldn’t be the perfect “A”—I was really excited to have a new arsenal of shapes to play around with. In the next phase I want to move from identification to manipulating this language I’ve culled from the city. PLAySPACE: It’s interesting that this phase of the project is the research as well as the art practice. Do you make that distinction? MM: It is, yes. I think I always do this phase and that most artists do. But there is rarely a way you can exhibit that. And even though this is a unique project in that there is no exhibition space, the viewer does get to see what we made, which I think is really special. I’m always dying to show people my little scraps of paper, ticket stubs, pieces of plastic and other things I collect because that’s so much part of the excitement for me. There’s rarely a way we can do that because we value the end product so much in exhibition space and I think people are afraid to complicate their show. But I don’t 255

know why we are so afraid of messiness and complexity. So it’s exciting that this phase gets to be shown to people. PLAySPACE: Have you been collecting ephemera as you’ve been working on this project? MM: No, not in the same way, particularly because I was finding a lot of the letters after [my baby] was born so I had to be more streamlined. But there are a lot of emotional landmarks for me, especially because he was a teeny tiny baby and he’s come along with me so I feel like I’ll always remember the excitement of finding a letter and he was there. He was a witness to all of this. The ephemera are in my mind. PLAySPACE: Were there any letters that were particularly challenging to find? Did you have any surprising discoveries? MM: Well, I still haven’t found Q. So I’m toying with either being very upfront that I didn’t find it and having it be incomplete, because that breaks my expectation of myself. It bothers me that I didn’t finish. But I do think Q is really hard to find, because any letter that is a combination of a curved and a straight line is really hard, and this one especially. So I was going to leave it out and have it be a free space. And that relates to how I make a painting because when I make a painting there is always this disjunctive moment. Or, what I was thinking of doing, which also relates to my work, because I like humor and have a lot of subtle humor in my work, is obviously staging a Q. The photographs are all black and white, minimal text. In the end I like that it would break the continuity, which is in line with my other work. What I sussed out early on is that letters that are composed of straight lines are easier 256

to find. And letters that have curves, a lot of the time I could find those in nature. So these seem like obvious things, but I didn’t quite get it till I was looking. I also thought I would find more free-standing structures that look like letters because the first few I found were that. That’s not at all how it was. Most were letters that are embedded in the building or a landscape. Very few are free standing structures. I actually feel disappointed about that. But it’s not really realistic that there would be non-artwork structures that I could use. So my fantasy got punctured there. PLAySPACE: Did the process change your perception of San Francisco? MM: Yes, it definitely changed my perception because in order to do this project I had to be open to a huge amount of detail that I don’t usually take in or allow myself to absorb. It made me see San Francisco as a foundation for all of this detail, both literally and symbolically. It made me kind of weary for San Francisco. I felt tired for it that it had to support all this un-ending detail. It was under the weight of all this information and data and detail that I don’t usually think about. PLAySPACE: You use the terms “found sculpture” and “found font,” which is interesting because each term implies a different materiality—sculpture as physical and font as symbolic/semiotic. MM: The found font, I literally duplicated my process of when I would go to thrift stores and find things. So I would find a structure in San Francisco that already exists and assign a letter identity to it, thus making it into a sculpture or art piece just by my saying. So it made sense for me to call it a found sculpture. The font, I feel like I haven’t really explored yet. Maybe when I make the sculptures [in the next phase of 257

the project] that will come together. I think the font makes the most sense when you’re talking about recombining the letters because you’re talking about language. And right now they’re just letters. The font comes later. There is this potential for combining them. Once I make the shapes that could come into play. You know how my photos don’t look like my other work; it’s almost like I just created my own source material. Those photos look a lot like stuff I like to collect. I just thought of that now. PLAySPACE: Why is this project meaningful to you? MM: Farsi was my first language and that’s a language full of many metaphors, more so than English. My first complete thoughts about the world had much more flexibility, and I would even say playfulness, than if I’d thought them in English. A large part of Persian culture is these stories, anecdotes, or riddles where a main character seeks a truth and finds a truth in a circuitous way. That’s a fixture in Persian storytelling and folktales. So from the time I was born I was thinking in these abstract, indirect ways to understand the world around me. If I’m making an artwork, my motivation really is to better understand the experiences of my life. That is my way of deeply understanding my emotions and my experiences and hopefully it has some impact on the other people who look at the work. So with that as my motivation, I will use abstraction or multiple methods to get to an understanding of an idea or a thought I might have. Related to the baby, it is connected, but I don’t think I saw how connected it was beforehand. I just liked the idea of an ABC project, but then, of course, there are a lot of connections there. I would narrate to him so it’s almost like he got exposed to our alphabet in a really unusual way. I also designed a project I could physically do with the baby. So in that way it was also a bridge. I had been working with really toxic 258

materials like melting foam and plastic and using noxious oil paints. On a very practical level I had to change my art practice at least temporarily. So this was definitely a bridge. I’m sure the content is related but I didn’t think about it at the time. PLAySPACE: You studied cognitive science as an undergrad. Is that an influence on your practice? MM: Definitely. For us to understand our visual environment, there are points of light that reflect off the back of our retina. And those points of light are computed and transferred into a more sophisticated brain area that then comprehends it as “chair.” Even though we understand biologically how that works, I still think it’s really mysterious philosophically, how you go from perceiving to knowing. That was my motivation as a scientist, and that underlies my artistic practice too, because I think about that all the time when I make paintings or sculptures. I think about how these are dots and lines that are being burned into the back of my retina and causing a shift in emotion or whatever affect it has on the viewer. And so that translation from points of light that I’ve created and some shift in emotion is really fascinating to me. One thing about this project that relates to my cognitive science background is our threshold for recognition. I definitely saw some letters that to me were just gorgeous, say, as a W. But I knew in photographs it wasn’t enough of a W. So that became interesting to me too. For example, the letter I think was the most abstract is K. Because you have to see the right shadow to see it. You have to stand at an angle and there has to be the right shadow.


PLAySPACE: What do you want other people to get out of interacting with this piece? MM: When I first conceived of the project it was important that people actually visit the sites. But now that’s not important to me at all. This project works when you see all of the letters next to each other and I really think the photographs are the project. That being said, I did have the experience of showing some of my artist friends some of the letters—the photos—and then later have them text me and say “I think I saw the K.” I’d ask where and they’d tell me the right location. That was really exciting and an unanticipated effect. So what I would like—though anything that happens would be great—is if people saw my work and then accidently or spontaneously recognize the letters while they’re going around town, because there seems to be a sense of excitement at discovering them. It opens up that dialogue in your meaning as you’re traversing the city. PLAySPACE: Do you have plans for the next phase of your project? MM: I will probably pull out the letters I am most excited about at this point and view them as shapes. I’ll drop the language for the next part of the project and just see how the shapes play out. And then I can imagine the language will circle back in later. I would like to make wooden play objects based on those shapes. That’s something I can do with [my new baby] because it’s nontoxic and it’s meditative. That meditative slowing down of life is so much a part of my life now, so unlike my approach before, which was fast.



INDEX A activism 19, 35 air quality 191, 194, 196 alphabet 14, 203, 257, 260 ambiguity 117 Ana Labastida 3, 4, 5, 143, 144, 174 Anton Refregier 20, 23, 32, 33 anxiety 174, 176, 180 Arash Fayez 3, 4, 5, 116, 117, 119 architecture 9, 23, 46, 55 archive 160, 181 Arthur Rothstein 15 Artists’ Union 19 Asian American 117, 118, 136, 137

B BART 63 Bay Bridge 144 Bayview-Hunters Point 186, 188, 194 Beach Chalet 42 Beat Generation 18 Ben Kimont 150 Berkeley 9, 14, 18, 20, 46, 48, 50, 80, 98 Bob Allen 3 body 99, 102, 107, 108, 117, 191 boundaries 111, 133 boxes 145, 150, 152, 160, 162,


169, 171, 180 bridge 171, 179, 214, 260, 261 bus 156, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 194, 195, 197, 199, 200

C Canessa Gallery 9, 19 capacity 104, 106, 183 casual carpool 144, 145, 148, 156, 158, 160, 162, 167, 171, 175, 176, 177 CATALYSTRANSIT 4, 5, 143, 144, 145 census 117 Chapel of the Chimes 42, 43, 46, 48, 53 Chinatown 17, 69, 73, 74, 75, 124, 129, 186, 188, 190, 194 Chinese Culture Center 42, 66, 70, 72 Christie Noh 3, 4, 5, 116, 117, 119 Civilian Conservation Corps 14 civil rights 67, 68, 69, 71, 73, 74, 75, 77, 78 civil society 9 Clay Spohn 11, 17 coalition 183, 184, 190, 191, 197 Coit Tower 8 collaborate 152, 192 collaboration 119, 133 collaborative 9, 144, 160, 183

Colorlines 3, 136 communities 16, 97, 99, 133, 183, 186, 188, 190, 191, 194, 199, 200 commute 5, 144, 145, 152, 164, 169, 174, 179, 180, 181, 185, 196 Conjuring Multiple Histories 4, 5, 37 connections 37, 58, 260 control 45 conversation 129, 141, 148, 150, 156, 158, 160, 162, 164, 165, 169, 171, 174, 175, 178, 179, 180, 181 cooperative 12, 18 craft 99

D Dana Ginn Paredes 3, 94, 97, 98 dangerous 132, 142, 148, 177 data 137, 138, 141, 179, 192, 200, 259 Diego Rivera 17, 19, 20, 29, 33 discipline 86, 180 discussion 9, 28, 37 dollar 167, 169, 200 Dorothea Lange 9, 15, 17, 28, 29, 30, 31 dystopia 43, 45

E earthquake 17 ecological 164 economic crisis 11

economic depression 6 eliminate poverty 183 ELLOMENOPEE 4, 202 Emma Goldman 9, 17 Employee Free Choice Act 34 engage 95, 104, 160, 171 environment 5, 117, 175, 194, 196, 200, 201, 261 equity 35, 99, 102, 107, 142, 183 Excelsior 186, 188, 194

F fair wages 7 families 15, 43, 97, 139, 183, 184, 185, 186, 188, 195, 197, 199 family 45 farm 15 fate 45 FBI 53 Federal Art Project 11, 16, 23, 28, 32, 33 federal arts programs 9 federal government 17 feminism 77, 78, 111 Femitype 4 Ferry Building 42 Financial District 17 food 29, 129 Forward Stance 4, 95, 97, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108 Forward Together 3, 4, 97, 98, 100, 101, 104, 106

found sculpture 203, 259 Franklin Delano Roosevelt 12, 14, 15, 16, 34 Frank Ogawa Plaza 42, 60, 63, 65 Free Muni 4, 190, 199, 201 Fremont 145, 154 Frida Kahlo 9, 17, 29 Fruitvale 145, 175 future 37, 133

G gender 97, 99, 111, 131, 183, 200 General Strike 19 geometric 37 Ghirardelli 82, 83 Glass-Steagall Act 14, 34 Golden Gate Park 87, 92 Gold Rush 18 government 9 grassroots 19, 35, 183, 184, 190 Great Depression 7, 9, 11, 12 greenhouse gas 192

H handcrafting 180 Harvey Smith 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 27 Hearst 46, 47, 48, 50, 51, 52, 53, 55, 89 Heinhold’s First and Last Chance 42, 43, 56 history 6, 7, 11, 16, 17, 20, 21, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 43, 57, 64, 68, 102, 107, 111, 156, 177

Hollywood 48, 69, 73, 74, 75, 77, 78 housing 15, 16, 64 humor 121, 124, 132, 258

I identity 5, 6, 117, 124, 131, 132, 259 ideologies 37, 43 Ina Coolbrith 43, 56, 57, 58, 60, 63, 64, 65 infrastructure 16 insurance 15 interview 5, 11, 17, 21, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 97, 117, 120 invisibility 135, 138 irony 124

J Jack London 17, 42, 43, 56, 60, 63 Jack London Square 42 James Lick 43, 67, 79, 81, 82, 83, 85, 88, 92, 93 Julia Morgan 43, 46, 48, 52, 55 Julianne Hing 3, 4, 134 justice 6, 98, 99, 136, 183, 190, 201 Justice 184, 189, 190, 199

K Kearny 3, 42, 117, 118, 119, 130, 132 Kearny Street Workshop (KSW) 3, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121,


130, 132 Knowledge 37

L labor organizing 19 landscape 9, 14, 259 language 5, 141, 160, 257, 260, 262 Lauren Marie Taylor 3, 4, 5, 36, 37, 66, 81 legacy 9 Library 18, 34, 42, 43, 47, 48, 52, 53, 54, 56, 60, 61, 63, 64, 65, 80, 81, 90, 92, 93 listening 68, 150, 171, 179 Living New Deal 3, 9, 10, 14 local economy 197

M make art that matters 6 map 1, 124, 132 Marie Ellen Pleasant 43 Mark Twain, 9, 17, 60 Mathematics 6 Maureen Burdock 3, 4, 110 Maysha Mohamedi 3, 4, 5, 202, 256 Mechanics Institute Library 42, 43, 81, 90, 92, 93 memory 45 Mexican 29, 82, 148, 174, 175 Mexican-American War 82 Mexico 29, 148, 177 micro-utopian 177, 178 migrant 30


migration 117, 141 Mills College 48, 52 misogyny 6 model-minority 137, 139, 142 Model Minority Myth 4 money 17, 46, 48, 68, 69, 73, 74, 75, 90, 129, 150, 154, 158, 164, 175, 188, 195, 198, 199 Monkey Block 10, 17, 21 Montgomery Block 10, 13, 17, 18, 19, 21, 29, 31, 33, 34 monument 9, 87 Mormon 57 Mountain View Cemetery 42, 43, 46, 48, 52, 55, 64, 83 move 5, 6, 33, 43, 68, 82, 95, 97, 100, 104, 183, 257 movement 95, 100, 104, 108, 150, 165 mundane 144, 145, 150, 158, 179 Muni 4 mural 9, 20, 28, 31, 32, 34, 35 museum 11 myth 4, 137

N nationalism 117 National Labor Relations Act 15, 34 National New Deal Preservation Association 9, 10 Nauvoo 57, 63, 65 network 97 New Deal 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 23,

25, 30, 32, 33, 34, 35 New Deal Art 9 New York 18 North Beach 17, 18, 33

O Oakland 42, 43, 46, 48, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 60, 61, 63, 64, 65, 97, 129, 145, 165 Oakland Public Library 42, 43, 53, 54, 56, 63 Occupy 7, 63 office 31, 32, 52, 117, 118, 119, 121, 138 Orozco 29

P past 37, 43, 118 Paul Carey 21 perception 259 periphery 133 philanthropy 46 place 1, 5, 90, 183 Pointelss Show 4, 116 policy 12, 15, 35, 97, 98, 106, 117, 194, 200 politeness 174, 175 Portsmouth Square 42, 43, 66, 72 possibility 6, 144, 181 potential 95, 97, 102, 104, 106, 107, 171, 181, 191, 260 poverty 183 power 6, 77, 78, 97, 257 POWER 3, 183, 188, 189, 190,

196, 198 practice 28, 77, 78, 95, 100, 104, 106, 108, 111, 120, 124, 131, 158, 180, 256, 257, 261 present 1, 6, 11, 32, 33, 37, 169 private 45 public 45 public memory 37, 43, 67, 69, 73, 74, 75 public school 98 public transit 69, 73, 74, 75, 184, 188, 190, 191, 195, 196, 199 Public Works Administration 14, 15, 33 Public Works of Art Project 16

Q Quaker 68 questions 1, 5, 6, 7, 117, 150, 164, 179, 181

R race 97, 136 racial justice 99, 136 racism 6, 142 Ralph Stackpole 17 refugee 141 Rene Ciria-Cruz 3, 4, 182, 183, 184 research 1, 5, 37, 98, 124, 136, 137, 138, 144, 191, 257 responsibility 12, 21, 31, 142, 199 Rincon Annex 8, 20, 23, 32

Robert Louis Stevenson 17

S Sadie Harmon 3, 4, 5, 36, 37, 46, 56 San Francisco Bicycle Coalition 190 San Francisco’s Youth Commission 190 Sargent Johnson 17, 21, 28 scale 190, 257 sÊance 5, 37 SEC 14 Securities and Exchange Commission 14 San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA ) 184, 196, 198, 199, 200, 201 shape 117, 257 slave 68 social change 6, 97 social imaginary 1, 6, 119, 181, 256 social safety net 12 social security 12 space 5, 37, 89, 103, 104, 108, 119, 124, 130, 131, 162, 171, 175, 177, 178, 179, 180, 256, 257, 258 spirit 33, 43, 77, 78, 95, 104, 118 spiritual 37 Stock Exchange 29 stock market 12, 15 strength 102, 107 students of color 137 Sunset 236

sustainability 164 Sutro Baths 42, 43, 81 system 54, 144, 158, 175, 177, 191, 198, 199

T Tammy Johnson 3, 4, 94, 97, 99 Telegraph Hill 18, 20 The Black Cat 25, 28 the Mission 186, 188, 191, 194, 234 TMJ Abundance 3, 97, 99, 100, 104, 106 toll 145, 150, 164, 167, 169 toxic 192, 260 traces 37 traffic 148, 158, 165 Transamerica Pyramid 19, 34 transit 183, 184, 188, 190, 191, 194, 196, 197, 198, 199, 200, 201 truth 102, 107, 260

U UC Berkeley 46, 48, 50 Underground Railroad 68 unemployment 12, 15, 137 unknown 5, 66 Urban Habitat 3, 183, 189, 190, 191 utopia 45 utopian 43, 177, 178


V violence 50, 69, 73, 74, 75, 148 visible 5, 58, 171 voodoo 67, 68, 69, 71, 73, 74, 75, 77, 78

W Walker Evans 15 Wall Street 12 war 6, 82, 150 welfare 15 women 33, 48, 52, 60, 77, 78, 87, 97, 106, 108, 190 working class 183, 185, 196, 199 working conditions 15 Works Progress Administration (WPA) 11, 16, 17, 19, 21, 28, 29, 30, 32, 33 World’s Fair 33 World War II 16, 20, 210


youth 14, 15, 29, 97, 98, 183, 184, 185, 190, 191, 192, 194, 196, 197, 198, 199, 201


Touring the Social Imaginary  
Touring the Social Imaginary  

A PLAySPACE Publication Conceived and Edited by Gina Acebo and Tali Weinberg In 2012/2013, PLAySPACE co-directors Gina Acebo and Tali Wein...