Tom DeCaigny, Director of Cultural Affairs for the City and County of San Francisco, on keeping artists in the city
Tom DeCaigny, San Francisco’s Director of Cultural Affairs, considers himself a champion for artists in a city where ever-increasing rent prices are forcing them out.
“We want San Francisco to remain the draw for creativity that it has been over the years,” said DeCaigny. “We have a robust arts community — some of the most incredible arts organizations in the world. We still have more arts nonprofits, per capita, than any other city in the country.”
Countering rapid gentrification, DeCaigny and the City are engaging in a process of “creative place-keeping” — making sure smart investments are made to maintain affordability for people living at every income level and maximizing access to arts and culture in every neighborhood.
Specifically, they are working to help artists and arts workers access the City’s “affordable housing pipeline,” providing technical assistance and support services so artists can income qualify and take advantage of various affordable housing programs funded by the City.
“People want to have their offices here, their headquarters here; it’s where people want to live,” DeCaigny noted. “For many artists, it’s more about the quality of life than simple economic stimulation. It’s a sense of belonging in the community — a feeling of community cohesion.”
Other projects DeCaigny is working to help the Central Market area become a livelier and stable arts district; a recent renovation of the Bayview Opera House; as well as helping artists find affordable spaces to showcase their work.
While some have demonized the booming technology industry as the source of San Francisco’s struggles, DeCaigny believes San Francisco’s economic success and subsequent housing crisis is less a result of any one sector than an overall shift in global economics.
“There are a lot of affordability challenges in global capitals where there is a growing segregation of wealth; tech is really just one sector of the equation in a much more complex economic environment,” said DeCaigny. “San Francisco’s biggest economy is actually in healthcare: research and services.”
DeCaigny noted that there is a lot of innovation on how companies can be good community partners, good corporate citizens — and that “there’s a clear understanding that they have to be involved in culture.”
Previously, DeCaigny served nine years as Executive Director of Performing Arts Workshop, a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to helping marginalized young people develop critical thinking, creative expression and basic learning skills through the arts.
While at The Workshop, he led three U.S. Department of Education research projects examining the impact of the arts on educationally disadvantaged youth; organized broad-based coalitions to advocate at the local, state and national levels for the role of the arts in improving public education; and managed The Workshop’s Robeson and Rivera Academy, an arts-intensive middle school and treatment program for repeat juvenile offenders.
While many artists have already lost their longtime San Francisco homes to the housing crisis, DeCaigny is optimistic about the future of art in the city.
“There is this sense that we need to mourn the moment, but what if we could take the visibility that the city has now to create new solutions?” DeCaigny said in 2014. “There is a real way in which San Francisco could lead the country in looking at these issues. What do we want to preserve? What do we want to champion? We can have all of that, and we can have fun doing it.”