Silicon Struggle: The Battle for The Bay Area Arts' Scene

If you told the average San Francisco resident 40 years ago that the art scene in the Bay Area would be gasping for life in 2015, they probably would have laughed in your face.  But it is 2015, and that is the reality we are facing.  The tech giants have moved in, and  tension is building between the Silicon Valley community and its non-profit entities.  In particular, arts organizations seem to be at an extreme disadvantage for a few reasons:

  • Rising rents have displaced an alarming number of galleries.
  • Drastically increasing wealth disparity adversely impacts San Francisco’s homegrown art scene and low- income resident artists.
  • The value system that once governed the area has shifted dramatically.  Technological innovation has replaced creativity as a credo for the region.

So what can arts mangers do to protect the remnants of San Francisco’s once vibrant arts scene?  And is it even possible to revive what is left?

We have to look for the middle ground and find the shared values between high- tech and arts culture.  In fact, startup culture and the Open Source arts movement overlap in some significant ways, offering the common space necessary to breathe life back into the Bay Area Arts scene.  San Jose’s Zero1 festival serves as a model example of how to capitalize on the innovations in both fields to create shared value.  The Zero1 Biennial presents an international showcase of speakers, installations, performances, and artworks throughout the Silicon Valley region.  As the “Art & and Technology Network”, Zero1 believes that “things get interesting where disciplines rub against each other.”  This philosophy has helped create the shared space necessary to initiate a dialogue between fields, and help restructure the conversation between the arts and tech giants in a constructive way.

There are other areas of opportunity as well.  Many tech companies are making a concerted effort to improve public relations, and recognize the need to give back to the community they have so drastically altered.  A number of companies, including Facebook and Autodesk have developed artist residency programs, commissioning imaginative murals to decorate their office’s common spaces.  Google has topped The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s top ten most giving companies list for several years. 

The arts want to stay in Silicon Valley, and big tech definitely wants to improve community relations with local organizations the general population.  It’s just a matter of getting them on the same page.  As arts managers, we have the capability to produce projects that foster these ideals and educate both sides about the possibilities that come from effective collaboration, a shared value by both artists and technologists.