Mission Artists use the arts to express their grief over their dying community

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Ellis Act eviction Graph

On a sweltering Saturday morning, local Mission residents peek outside of their windows, as they hear the chant “Aqui estamos y no nos vamos” (We are here, and we are not leaving ).These were the voices of more than 400 local residents and supporters who participated in a community-organized anti-eviction march, which they called “Our Mission No Eviction.” The march was intended to bring attention to small businesses and famous Mission artists like Yolanda Lopez, Paula Tejeda, Calixto Robles and Rene Yanez, who are being evicted from their homes and buildings.

“We need cultural preservation, not cultural tourism,” shouted Yanez, as he stood on a moving platform down 24th Street. “They are taking the soul out of our city.”

The protest proceeded with traditional Mayan dancers, waving flags, and signs that read “housing for the people not for profit.”

This was just one of the many demonstrations that artists have used to express their grief over the rising cases of Ellis Act evictions that have taken place in the Mission. Established in 1985 as a state law, The Ellis Act allows owners to evict tenants when they want to take their property off the rental market in order to sell it. Under local law, landlords are able to evict tenants when they or their families want to move into their units.

Along with several demonstrations, artists are using what they know best, the arts, as a form of protest against recent evictions. They are using exhibits, theater productions, and art pieces to make their voices heard and express their concern about an arts culture they believe is slowly dying in the Mission.

“I felt that people needed a place to mourn for the lost of their community, said Martina Ayala, curator of the Day of the Dead exhibit that took place at the Mission Cultural Center. “This is the first stage of grieving for us.”

Since the 1950s, the Mission has been known for its colorful murals, taquerias, bakeries, and art galleries, which are all a representation of the art culture and the Latin American influence that is deeply rooted within the character of the community.

“Where is the value of all the sweat and collateral that went in by artists and the people that created this environment, said Paula Tejeda long time business owner of Chile Lindo in a recent interview with El Tecolote newspaper.

Tejeda along with other artist are approaching eviction deadlines, but they have refused to leave without a fight.

“I have roots in this community all the way back to 1980—I have been part of the artistic movement here.”

She received an eviction notice to leave her home, within just a few months.
Similarly, artist like Robles, a San Francisco based painter and printmaker, and Yanez , co-founder of Galeria de la Raza and the Day of the Dead procession, are also victims of the rapid evictions.

Four months ago, Robles along with other artist who share The Live Art Gallery at Potrero Hill Studio received an eviction notice from the landlord asking them to move in just two months. Yanez’s, pending eviction from his home on San Jose Avenue, where he has lived for 35 years, has been a reality that has yet to settle in.

“People get upset when the murals get painted on but not when the muralists get evicted,” said Yanez, at the Board of Supervisors meeting where he was honored for his dedication to the Mission community.

A recent report by the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst, which was requested from David Campos, District 9 supervisor of the Mission District, showed that Ellis Act evictions jumped by 170 percent from the year ending February 2010 to the year ending February 2013, while home prices in San Francisco rose by 22 percent over the three-year period.

Many artists are blaming this on what they call the “Tech movement.”

“Big tech companies that have lots of money are coming into the city and are bringing in their workers to displace people who are already living here in the Mission,” said long time Mission artist Luis Vasquez Gomez.

Gomez and over 70 other artists took the opportunity to express their grief over the rapid displacement in their community by participating in the Day of the Day Exhibit: La Llorona: Weeping for the Life and Death of the Mission District. The exhibit displayed 42 alters that reflected the death of the arts and Latino culture within the Mission.
“As a community, we used this holiday to celebrate life and death and to reclaim our culture,” said Martina Ayala.

Gomez’s altar, “Mad Zillion”,was dedicated to the horrors of the change in the Mission and how it is threatening the lives of many locals. Gomez’s interactive piece included a tall skeleton dressed in a striped suit with a pocket full of imitation dollars, which represented the big capitols coming into the city.

Inspired by the character Godzilla, the skeleton hovered over small figurines that were created to resemble artist, families, and businesses that were running from a monster they called “gentrification.” His piece allowed attendees to write to the mayor or the Planning Commission about their thoughts on the recent changes in the area.

“It is important that we do what we can do in this present time,” said Gomez.
In this year alone, there were 1,716 evictions and 116 of them were attributed to the Ellis Act , according to the report done by the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst.

The report also showed that housing prices rose by nearly 30 percent over the three-year period, with the Mission District being among one of the highest. It topped the list with 71 evictions between 2009 and 2013.

Other artist like Carlos Baron are using theater as a way for the locals to come together to remember their culture.

“As artist we are very talented, but we never bought anything, said Carlos Baron, a longtime Mission performance arts coordinator and college professor at San Francisco State University

“I think that was a mistake.”

In Baron’s recent musicals such as “The Still Life Cabaret” and “La Posarela”, he made sure to make his script reflect the present state of the community.

“I wanted to show that the system we live in gives priority to money. So sadly, tradition and culture is pushed to the side,” said Baron

“What remain are empty shells to be filled by newcomers that don’t have much roots, but they have a lot of money.”

The show included characters such as “the hipster”, “the local immigrant” and a devil, who gave out evictions notices to those who were opposed to his naughty request, portraying real life landlords and new businesses coming into the Mission.

Although most of the demonstrations have been opposed to the recent change in the Mission, some artists have different perspectives about the way things are headed.

“I don’t lean one way or another, for change is inevitable,” said Margarita Camarena, Mission artist and designer.

“I don’t think that everything that is happening is bad. There are some things that we can definitely work with.”

No clear solutions have acted upon , but Supervisor Campos expressed his appreciation for the recent communal efforts and has high hopes for the fate of the Mission.

“The silver lining to this crisis, this epidemic, is that it is bringing people together,” said Campos.

“A poet once said, individually we are one drop, but together we are an ocean, and I think this ocean of unity is going to make sure that we remain a city.”

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