With the support of the New California Arts Fund (NCAF), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) generates culture that moves people.
YBCA believes that any major political or social change that has happened has always been preceded by a cultural shift and that arts institutions must play a role in creating that cultural shift. Since opening its doors in 1993, YBCA has established itself as an important contributor to the local and national arts ecology, serving as a catalyst for artistic activity and social change in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the current political and social climate, their work has taken on an increased urgency.
Each year, more than half a million people participate in programs at YBCA’s downtown campus and throughout the Bay Area. YBCA intends to create a more inclusive and equitable culture; one that brings together citizens of all kinds from across the Bay Area and beyond in order to build a cultural movement. They are encouraging visitors toward active, inclusive participation instead of mere observation of art. The James Irvine Foundation is funding aspects of each of YBCA’s five key platforms for change:
YBCA’s curators and artist-collaborators present hundreds of programs annually, making YBCA a hub of creative energy throughout the year. The Center is not a museum that maintains a permanent art collection, but rather a non-collecting organization, freeing up resources for innovative cultural programs. And unlike museums, YBCA places equal emphasis on visual arts, performing arts, the art of film, and their civic engagement work.
The team at YBCA believes in putting resources behind game changing ideas, which they know could come from artists, community members, or their own staff. In 2017, acclaimed performance artist and political dissident Tania Bruguera told YBCA she wanted to open a school in the art gallery. The YBCA team lept into action and classes were held for eight weeks over the summer in the Escuela de Arte Útil (or “School of Useful Art,”). In collaboration with local schools, including the UC Berkeley, and California College for the Arts, Bruguera and other artists taught free drop-in classes on such topics as “Reforming Capital” and “Sustainable Outcomes.”
Another example of YBCA incubating game changing creative ideas comes from the Market Street Prototyping Festival, which gives the Bay Area community agency to shape the future of their city. This three-day festival features temporary interactive installations conceived to make Market Street a more engaging and vibrant destination. The street comes alive with more than 30 prototype projects, and festival-goers are invited to walk the entire route, providing instant feedback to the designers on their creations. The festival is part of a larger effort to redesign Market Street in response to community needs and ideas.
YBCA CEO Deborah Cullinan on the Market Street Prototyping Festival
Since 2015, YBCA has hosted YBCA 100, in which they name the 100 people each year that they believe are shaping the future of culture. YBCA invites all of the honorees to an annual summit to ask about the questions that drive their work in the world. Instead of artists talking about art practice, YBCA asks - what questions are keeping you up at night, what questions does your work seek to answer. Those big urgent questions help act as a frame for YBCA’s curatorial choices throughout the year, and guide the ongoing inquiry of the YBCA Fellows program.
YBCA considers the art center as a public square in the modern world, where people come together to share ideas, actions, and insights that can change the world. But change requires cultural shifts from many different places, peoples, angles to get lasting results. YBCA’s Public Square is an ongoing series that uses art and creativity to explore the crucial questions surfaced by the YBCA 100. YBCA Fellows investigate these questions all year, and their responses are revealed through performances, installations, and participatory events that YBCA designs to provoke societal change at a time when it’s most needed.
As a citizen institution, YBCA is as committed to fulfilling their mission outside of their walls as they are inside, using their unique power as an arts organization to advocate for a culturally healthy and equitable San Francisco. One recent effort in which YBCA played a key role building a coalition of diverse partners was the 2016 ballot initiative that aimed to restore historic allocations to the arts community from San Francisco’s Hotel Tax Fund. The campaign for Proposition S brought together a groundbreaking coalition of arts leaders and cultural workers throughout the city who, in collaboration with leaders of San Francisco’s homeless family services and advocacy communities, succeeded in securing 64% of the vote. While 3% short of the 2/3rds majority needed to ensure victory at the polls, Prop S brought YBCA’s community together and the mandate is clear: the city’s people support dedicated arts funding to ensure a better San Francisco.
A shift in policy isn’t always about a specific piece of legislation, but instead might be about shaping the way a community comes together to support itself. In 2016, YBCA began building a coalition of more than 30 neighborhood organizations in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, where more than 4,000 children face the highest concentration of open drug dealing, the constant threat of violence, and a lack of healthy food options or green space. YBCA worked in conjunction with these organizations and the students of a local school to develop a curriculum that uses art and community gardening as tools for local Filipino youth to hold onto something as fundamental to culture as food in a time of extreme struggle, dislocation and gentrification in San Francisco.
All people are welcome at YBCA, because it will take the imagination and creativity of everyone in the community to create a more hopeful and equitable future. Through these powerful art experiences and deep opportunities for participation, YBCA hopes to kindle inclusive culture that promotes empathy, awakens personal and societal transformation, and reaches for a world fueled by inspiration. In 2017, YBCA launched their groundbreaking Pay What You Can membership model for artists, thinkers, makers, model citizens, soon-to-be citizens, and senior citizens, allowing everyone in their community to experience unlimited free admission to galleries and events.