Lost at sea

Could a world-class arts festival save the foundering America's Cup?

Illustration by Juan Leguizamon


AMERICA'S CUP Clear your mind, if you can, of brawls over San Francisco piers and other obscenely expensive parcels of waterfront real estate. Focus solely on the inevitability of the 34th annual America's Cup.

Summer 2013, it'll rip into town, offering self-described "adrenaline sailing at its best" to jet-setting yachting enthusiasts. In 2010, the 33rd contest was won in Spanish waters by Oracle Racing, headed up by billionaire Larry Ellison. In 2013, Ellison plans to defend his trophy as the competition (ironically, dealing with its own financial struggles; the San Francisco Business Times reported March 23 that America's Cup officials laid off half their staff) makes its San Francisco Bay debut.

Of course, average San Franciscans — often found ransacking their couch cushions to scare up burrito funds — couldn't give a rat's ass about an event blatantly catering to the one percent. But they should, and here's why: unless we want to see all those Top-Siders stride directly to wine country after each day of racing concludes, we need to give the visitors (estimates vary on the numbers: 10,000? 200,000?) a reason to hang out in SF, visit its neighborhoods, and spend money locally.

One idea: organize an arts festival with programming complementary to the America's Cup races. Such an event would potentially offer a huge boost to the local arts scene.

The most passionate supporter of an America's Cup arts festival has got to be Andrew Wood, executive director of the San Francisco International Arts Festival. Last fall, he announced the 2013 SFIAF would shift its dates from May, when it usually takes place, to July through September. That way, SFIAF could coincide with the race — and be a component in what he envisions as a much larger, citywide event.

"We first contacted the America's Cup about including an arts component before they even confirmed San Francisco as the venue," Wood remembers. "They've never really had a strong arts component to the America's Cup before, but they've never tried to do anything like they're trying to do here."

He's referring to this particular race's unique appeal for "a land-based audience." Geographically speaking, some America's Cup races are viewable only to television audiences and anyone who happens to have a boat hanging out within sight of the course; the San Francisco Bay obviously offers far more viewing opportunities for landlubbers.

"If you do either of the two largest sporting events in the world — the Olympics and the World Cup — an arts festival is mandatory. You can't even bid on the Olympics unless you have a festival that's going to run alongside it," Wood explains. "[The event will then] appeal to more people. People will stay in the locale longer and spend more money — [especially important for] the America's Cup, where there's only racing for an hour a day."

Money is always a factor when planning for an arts festival of any size, particularly something large enough to entertain 200,000-ish people.

"We can raise a lot of our own money, but what we need is some type of agreement that says we can go out and raise it as the name 'America's Cup'," Wood says, noting that he's already broached the subject of fundraising with some of the consulates representing countries with boats entered in the race. He'd like to bring artists from all of the participating countries (so far: Italy, Spain, France, South Korea, New Zealand, China, and Sweden) to San Francisco to perform alongside Bay Area arts groups. His grand vision includes theme weeks for each country revolving around the various holidays that happen to fall within the race dates — for example, France's Bastille Day, July 14.


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