Theater Around The Bay: A Community Conversation

Barbara Jwanouskos steps outside of her usual role at the Pub to talk about the recent developments at Intersection for the Arts.

Last Tuesday, July 15th, I attended the Community Conversation about the future of Intersection for the Arts. I’m sure you all have heard the recent news that Intersection has had to substantially cut back on its programming. Initially, longtime program staff, Kevin Chen, Rebeka Rodriguez and Sean San Jose had been laid off, but then changed to furloughed positions.

For a little background before I get into it, Intersection for the Arts holds a special place in my heart because it was the organization that I first got involved with once I had graduated from UCSB about ten years ago. I didn’t know which direction to go in or how one even pursued arts, much less made a career out of it. I worked as an intern with Campo Santo, Intersection for the Arts’ resident theater company, for a number of years. I grew from being insecure and shy about being a theater maker to feeling confident. It’s because of the hands-on learn-by-doing education I received here, that I have progressed to where I am now.

When I first learned the news about the threat of closure, I was in shock. Literally, I had no words to say about it for a long time, other than to friends and family. It’s taken me a while to process all of what’s happened, and I’m not even in the middle of it. I went to Intersection’s community conversation last night because I needed to learn what was going on and how I could help.

I am in a very different place than I was ten years ago or even five years ago. Ten years ago, I didn’t have money, but I had a bit of time to come up to San Francisco from San Jose and work on productions. Then, I got a job, and the situation reversed, I didn’t have time, but I could support Intersection through donations, by attending performances, and spreading the word about the work they do with artists. Then, with the move to Pittsburgh, I was out of the loop of most Bay Area theater and arts conversations. I’m back now, but am unemployed and access to arts, theater, and even San Francisco feels like a luxury that I have to constantly weigh. Will I have enough money to pay for groceries if I travel from an hour away to see my friends’ performances?

Last night’s conversation was the first of many conversations the organization hopes to have with the community. Looking around the room, it was a veritable Who’s Who of San Francisco theater, arts, music, and community organizers. We were given a bit of information on what is currently happening. Intersection is being led by a Transition Team made up of former program directors, board members, and other community partners. The goal of the evening was to look to the future. What was it about Intersection’s programs that was essential? How could people support? What resources could the organization draw upon?

We broke up into groups: Shared Spaces and New Models, Community Engagement, Fundraising, Performing Arts, and Visual Arts. I attended the Performing Arts group. Everyone seemed to agree that Intersection’s model of allowing artist to incubate for years while developing a new project was a key resource that was hard to find in other areas around town (though, it was also pointed out that other groups are also using or have adopted this model). Folks described their personal experiences with Intersection and how, like my own experience above, they really grew and became fully fledged artists by being involved in Intersection’s program.

Surprisingly the biggest issue that kept on being brought up in the discussion was whether Intersection for the Arts should or should not 1) have a space 2) keep the space they currently have at the old Chronicle building 3) should partner with organizations that have spaces 4) should explore entirely new models. The group was divided on whether to go forward in one particular direction.

There were vehement opinions that Intersection either needed to establish a space or forget trying to do that all together. Many pointed out that we are losing our artistic arts spaces and if Intersection had a space that was accessible to the community they serve, that would at least be one more space to see quality performances. Others added that it wasn’t just needed for performances, but space was needed for artists to develop, explore and be allowed to fail. Those on the other side of the debate, claimed that space doesn’t need to be as important if Intersection was allowed to extend its partnerships with other community organizations, schools that have unused theaters, arts organizations that run a theater already, etc. These partnerships were talked about as opportunities for Intersection to continue the cross-pollination or “intersection” of multiple disciplines that defined the organization.

This conversation made me wonder what other theater artists feel their largest issues are? Is it that you don’t have a space to create? That the scene is too silo-ed? Are there enough resources to go around? Give us your thoughts!

I ended up needing to leave before the large group gathered again, but there will be continuing conversations about the future of Intersection and what it will transform into. Another is scheduled for about a month later. Once more details of this are known, SF Theater Pub will share it with the public. For more information on Intersection for the Arts’ transition, click here and here.

Barbara Jwanouskos learned how to be a theater artist from Campo Santo and Intersection for the Arts. She is a local playwright who writes for the blog series, “The Real World, Theater Edition” on San Francisco Theater Pub. You can follow her twitter @bjwany.

5 comments on “Theater Around The Bay: A Community Conversation

  1. Claire says:

    This is from James Nelson’s article about the same evening: “We spent a lot of time…trying to understand the dynamic and the complexity of the situation,” he (board chair Yancy Widmer) said humbly. “We probably, and I believe that we did, spend too much time trying to figure that out, and not enough time trying to actually do something like we’re doing tonight, bringing all of you together.” Read the rest of that here:

    • bjwany says:

      Great article by James. Thank you for sharing! I think there are still a lot of questions looming on how the organization got to that point and what is going to happen now, as James highlights in his post.

      I think it’s worth pointing out the KQED update (the second link listed in the last sentence of the Pub article above) that it seems as though program staff didn’t know how dire the situation was until two weeks before the annoucent to make cuts and layoffs happened. I guess this is one of the points that baffles me the most.

  2. Rob Ready says:

    So does anybody know what happened here? Like, what killed their budget? And how did they not see it coming?

    • bjwany says:

      I agree with you, Rob. These are the unanswered questions I still have as well. I wonder if we’ll get more info at the Aug. 19th meeting.

      One thing I think is interesting, and not to belabor the points people were making online when the news first came out, but why was it SO hard for Intersection to raise unrestricted/general operating funding when so many seem to support the overarching work they do? I guess I’m just wondering fundraising strategy and if any longterm donors who gave in that manner dropped out over the years. I know when I was working at the Food Bank this was a big concern with foundations in 2010-12 (don’t know about now) because foundations’ investments were affected by the recession a year or two after businesses. Maybe that had a role? Just speculation.

      Considering that (according to the KQED article) program directors don’t plan on returning, I’m curious what people are going to salvage and who’s going to run it. The program directors at Intersection truly breathed life into those programs, it’s hard to imagine the org without them…

  3. bjwany says:

    Reblogged this on The Dynamics of Groove and commented:
    This is an update I wrote for SF Theater Pub regarding the recent announcement that Intersection for the Arts would be paring back its programming. I attended the Community Conversation on Tuesday, July 15th to get a sense of how the organization got to that point and what was next. This post discusses the biggest issue brought up during the breakaway sessions. I attended the group on “Performing Arts” where they main topic of conversation was employing a dedicated space vs. nomadic programming.

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