Could a world-class arts festival save the foundering America's Cup?
"If the city pretends that we have this ongoing international arts festival any weekend of the year, and therefore we'll just promote what we already have, and that'll be our festival during the America's Cup, that essentially works as a budget cut," Kelly says. "There's a certain amount of funding that dribbles down to the arts right now. It is what it is. And then they're like, 'We're gonna add this whole other thing, and we hope you guys can add capacity to handle this stuff, because here come all these people. But no, we're not going to support it at all.' That's a classic unfunded mandate. 'Oh, you can take this on too.'"
Kelly, Wood, and other members of the arts community have brainstormed a hypothetical list of festival events: an America's Cup-themed parade, allowing Sunday Streets on Market Street throughout the weeks of racing, outdoor musical performances, an art walk along the Embarcadero, and more, tapping into publicly-owned venues around the city. A sample budget was also drafted.
"It is definitely an example of what could be done fairly quickly and efficiently in this year's budget, if anyone at City Hall chose to do so," Kelly says.
Unsurprisingly, Wood shares Kelly's frustration with the city's let's-promote-what's-in-place plan. "San Francisco has this enormous arts infrastructure that it isn't using properly," he says. "Why not hotwire the system to create a program of events that would also complement [arts events which are] already going on? There's been no real effort to try and corral what's going on and figure out how it fits together, so that's what we've been trying to do."
Kelly remains skeptical that the America's Cup will even draw the promised crowds; he suspects its actual impact on the city will more resemble the X Games — which San Francisco hosted in 1999 and 2000 — than an event "as big as multiple Super Bowls."
He also views the city's reluctance to support an arts festival as part of a larger, long-standing problem.
"San Francisco is this great, hip, fun, creative city — why is that? It's because of the artists. But housing prices keep going up, so more artists have to leave," he says. "However, when there's an event that's counting on us to actually deliver this stuff to the neighborhoods, there's no support for it. Push is coming to shove and has for a number of years now, and this is just one more obvious, obvious example of it."