Could a world-class arts festival save the foundering America's Cup?
AN IMPOSSIBLE DREAM?
Wood was optimistic after his first meeting with Mark Bullingham, then the America's Cup director of marketing, in April 2011.
"Then I jumped into SFIAF in May," Wood remembers. "When I came back in June or July, he'd resigned. We were never able to get traction with the America's Cup after that."
As time for fundraising grows short — and the America's Cup deal shrinks and evolves as development plans are tinkered with; the latest incarnation was presented to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors March 27 — Wood holds out hope that an arts festival will be included in the deal. A little bit of hope.
"If they let the deal be signed without including an arts component — or even just mentioning 'Well, we'll have a future conversation around this' — then Larry Ellison can do what he wants. Oracle can have some entertainment if they wish, or they can cut the entertainment if they wish," he says. "The way the actual America's Cup legislation is written at the moment, the city is going to let the America's Cup Event Authority escape without having to commit to any type of arts program whatsoever."
From the city's point of view, that's not entirely true. San Francisco's Office of Economic and Workforce Development acknowledged the importance of having an arts component in a memo titled "America's Cup Neighborhood Engagement Strategy" presented to the Board of Supervisors February 22, 2012 — though so far, that's been the only official word on the subject.
"We're still trying to get our approvals here so we haven't really moved much beyond [what's in the memo]," says the OEWD's Jane Sullivan, Communications Director for the America's Cup project. "I think what we in the mayor's office are concentrating on is trying to make sure the economic benefits spread across the city, and probably using the neighborhoods as a focus of how to do that. But certainly that would include the arts component in the neighborhoods and maybe beyond."
One promising idea outlined in the memo is to use a smart phone app to help alert visitors to neighborhood activities, including arts events.
"There's an app that exists right now called Sfarts.org that is a project between the [San Francisco] Arts Commission and Grants for the Arts," Sullivan explains, noting that working with the San Francisco Travel Association would be a way to market the app to visitors.
Though discussions are "ongoing," Sullivan says the city is focused on "coordination and promotion, and then helping to develop or further develop a robust technology platform to support that."
When asked if she thinks an official, large-scale arts festival would make its way into the America's Cup deal, she's straightforward: "I do not think that's going to happen."
X GAMES 2.0
Tony Kelly — facilities manager at Bindlestiff Studio, and a longtime participant in San Francisco's arts and political scenes — believes that arts events are "the only way to save the America's Cup" in terms of reaping any of the event's promised neighborhood economic impact.
"It's not just having arts events, it's putting them in places to draw people to the neighborhoods," he says. "If people go to the races in the afternoon, then you draw them out into the neighborhoods for arts events in the evening, then they actually stay in the city longer. They go to restaurants, bars, hotels, and merchants."
However, he cautions, "If you think this many people are showing up, you better have things for them to do. If you don't think this many people are showing up, you better create things so that people do show up. Either way."
He's concerned about the city's strategy of promoting existing arts events without offering additional support to arts groups.