As John Ferrannini describes in the Bay Area Reporter, the South of Market West Community Benefit District (SOMA West CBD) was looking for trash-can art to represent its neighborhood–an edgy, lively neighborhood that has managed to resist gentrification more than many San Francisco neighborhoods. They reached out to the Leather and LGBT Cultural District for submissions, very appropriately.
They accepted five of the submissions from that group, and notified the artists where their art could be found, and when. You can guess what happened next …
When our friend Dorian Katz, whose art is bylined Poppers the Pony, and her fellow artists (including Justin Hall) went to look for their work, Dorian very specifically at the “southwest corner of 11th and Harrison Streets,” it wasn’t there. Trash can, check.
Artwork, check. Dorian’s artwork, not there.
by Dorian Katz
SOMA West CBD is, of course, being mealy-mouthed and vague.
“We received more leather LGBTQ-themed submissions than anticipated and unfortunately, we couldn’t use them all,” [Christian] Martin, [the director] wrote. “… If we had more time, we would have made clear that we reserved the right to choose (or not choose) whatever art we wanted, and that we could not guarantee that every submission would be selected. I’ve apologized and taken responsibility for not making that clear. We did make sure that each artist was compensated fairly for their time and work, whether we used the images or not.”
When pressed in a phone interview, Martin said that while “each piece of art was judged independently … the hanky code depiction was raised as a concern that some might have.”
Martin stressed that other LGBTQ and/or BDSM-affirmative imagery was chosen for the trash bins, among art representing other communities. Some displayed art features the now-shuttered queer bar The Stud, the now-scant “Miracle Mile” that was once full of gay bars and bathhouses, the Powerhouse, a jock strap, and bondage gear.
“Much of the art has BDSM themes,” Martin said. “We didn’t put any prohibition on hanky codes,” though some of the art was “a little too risqué for 24/7 public display.”
Martin said that since the art display is rotating, the artists whose works were rejected have been “reserved a spot in the next round.”
In other words, they had time to request art from the Leather and LGBT group, and the time to tell artists exactly where and when to look for their work, but somehow not the time to say “Sorry, we aren’t using your work,” let alone the time to say “Sorry, we don’t want our neighborhood associated with your sexuality any more.”
This is not only unprofessional. It isn’t only a sanitized view of the neighborhood and the city. It isn’t only rude. It’s also completely and utterly disrespectful of artists who spend not just time and thought, but also talent and care, depicting visuals they consider important. And it’s disrespectful of the political power of the censored art. It’s all part and parcel of how our culture treats artists–as interchangeable commodities, who can supply the right subject matter in the right colors in the right size for the trash can (!), and then people who are not artists (but have the power) can simply toss away whatever doesn’t suit them.
San Francisco, like all US cities, has a lot on its plate. Nonetheless, this disrespect and sanitizing deserves public outcry. And the artists whose work is missing deserve to have their art reinstated.
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