This, of course, is what raises the specter of gentrification. History shows that the shock troops of gentrification — a Starbucks on every corner, a yuppie in every Beamer — are the artists, freaks, punks, and queers who move into marginal areas. They happily pay low rent and live in iffy areas so they can create alternative communities. But that success can sow the seeds of a community's destruction.
What makes the Art Murmurers different from alternative communities of the past is they are well aware of how they can be a mixed blessing for neighborhoods. The night before the April Art Murmur, Murmurers held a five-hour meeting to revisit their founding principles, which include a commitment to a sustainable neighborhood as a way to prevent yuppification.
"We are trying not to alienate the current residents," Silverstein said, while noting the harsh reality of gentrification. "If this neighborhood goes to hell and becomes another Emeryville, I don't think you can do anything about it."
Silverstein said RPS is proactively linking to, and becoming part of, the community by offering sewing classes, art classes, a community space for events, and by forging a partnership with a local high school so the collective is not just an invasive bohemian Borg.
Silverstein told us she sees more new faces at classes offered by the gallery, a statement backed by the youths of color running in and out of the gallery space. Timmins too sees a role for the galleries to provide a place for art and education for local kids, because they "are not getting it in school."
Other galleries are less clear on the concept of community and gentrification. Esteban Sabar, owner of the upscale Esteban Sabar Gallery, moved from the Castro to affordable Oakland with a grant from the city of Oakland.
"This is affordable for me," Sabar said. "It will take awhile for gentrification to happen. By putting a gallery here I will help artists and the community. I will not let anyone kick me out." But he failed to address what might happen to the poorer local residents already living there if gentrification heats up.
Perhaps Jen Loy, co-owner of Mama Buzz Café, has the most realistic take on the issue. Lower Telegraph isn't like areas that used to have vibrant communities until they were decimated by dot-commers. She said there were few people living in the area.
"The more people, the better," Loy said. "People [who have been] living here 10 or 15 years are saying, 'Thank you, it is great to have you here.'" Loy says businesses like a local market, a pizzeria, and the bar Cabel's Reef all benefit from an influx of capital.
So the question is, as always, who benefits? If an area is revitalized, tax revenues go up, more people move in, and a more vibrant area ensues, but where do the artists and people who were there first go? Will they be able to create a community strong enough to resist displacement?
Or will they do what Tracy Timmins of Auto Gallery has already had to do: "As far as being pushed out, it happens," she says. "If that happens, I start again somewhere else." SFBG