Is Belonging a Place or Something You Carry With You?

Anyone with a meaningful connection to the nine-county Bay Area is invited to “share their story of belonging” by January 2. This call is deliberately open-ended.

A drawing of a bakerya drawing of a human figure with the heart highlighted

For some people, there might be a place where they feel (or have felt) belonging. (This is how I framed last year’s project exploring belonging in Albuquerque.)

For others, maybe they carry a sense of belonging with them. I was inspired to add this section by Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, in which she argues that true belonging, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, is belonging everywhere and nowhere.

[I also included a section for people who neither feel belonging tied to a place or carried with them.]

If you haven’t yet submitted, please do! There’s less than 2 weeks left before the January 2 deadline.

With these multiple definitions of belonging in mind, it’s interesting to read:

“The Galería is not just this corner. The Galería is a movement.”


—Ani Rivera, Galería de la Raza Executive Director (in Ryan Kost, “Galería de la Raza, a birthplace of Chicano art, finds respite from exile”, December 20, 2018)

As most in the SF art community members know, Galeria de la Raza was one of the birthplaces of the Chicano art movement. It was located on 24th Street in the Mission District for as long as I can remember. Over the past few months, it’s battled a 100% rent increase. Rivera is announcing that they’re going to move, and find another location, but it may be nomadic—everywhere and nowhere—for the next two years.

It’s interesting to think how a place matters (obviously they’d want to stay in the Mission), while an identity or soul doesn’t have to reside in a specific building. Maybe carrying your belonging with you is a form flexible, strategic resilience in the face of gentrification and displacement. Maybe your sense of belonging can be tied to a place and also carried with you.

Many conversations I have in the Bay Area are about loss—about the working class, families, and artists—who have moved away to outer suburbs or different metropolitan areas. Take a look at this recent report on US cities with the greatest potential influxes and outflows:

More people are thinking about moving to a new city. Some 25 percent of those looking at homes for sale were searching outside their current metropolitan areas — up from 22 percent during the same period in 2017.

The general trend was away from pricier East and West Coast markets and toward more affordable inland areas. The top 10 most-searched destinations had an average home price of $150,000 less than the top 10 areas people were contemplating leaving.

Michael Kolomatsky, “Which Cities Are People Leaving — and Where Are They Going?”, December 20, 2018

San Francisco tops the list of 10 cities with the greatest potential outflow.

San Francisco is also the top city of origin for three cities with greatest potential inflow:

Sacramento (#1)
Portland, Oregon (#4)
Austin, Texas (#7)

This is pretty outsized, considering that San Francisco is the 13th most populous city in the US.

TC was recently telling me that everything about San Francisco—from losing collaborators who move away, to the cost of living, to the ever-increasing traffic—feels like it’s pushing you out, and you have to proportionally become more determination to stay.

I replied that it sounds like San Francisco is turning into New York City.

I’ll think more about this. I’m interested in the love-hate relationship some people have to NYC. For those who can afford it, escaping the city (summering on the Hamptons or apple picking upstate) is considered a key to staying sane here. This has more to do with the place itself—crowdedness, tourists, and heat waves in the summer, and the general logistical nightmares of navigating such a large, expensive city. I wonder how love-hate relationships figure into the Bay Area. The negative emotions I’ve heard about are often about the impacts of changes, not qualities of the place itself. For me, when I lived in Oakland, it was a respite from San Francisco, but now Oakland is the US’ 5th most expensive city to live in, just after NYC.

Unfortunately, San Francisco can be a counterexample. There’s a fear that NYC (which as almost 10x the population and almost 10x the square mileage) is turning into SF:

“[Deputy mayor for housing Alicia Glen’s] legacy is bringing Amazon and turning New York into another version of San Francisco.”

—Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of Align, a group focused on labor and income inequality (as quoted in J. David Goodman, “Deputy Mayor Who Oversaw Amazon Deal and Troubled Housing Authority Is Leaving,” NY Times, December 19, 2018)

[Read “Bad Deal, Bad Company, Bad Billionaire: How Proposed Taxpayer Subsidies for Amazon HQ2 Can Still Be Stopped.”]

One of the challenges of this project is balancing rays of light against the doom and gloom of San Francisco’s changes.

Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: 2015 New York Artadia Awards

The 2015 New York Artadia Awards received 1,050 applications for ten awards.


Awardees comprise about 1:105, or 0.9% of applicants.

See all Art Competition Odds.

Art Competition Odds

art competition odds: Artist Alliance Inc. 2014 LES Studio Program

Artists Alliance Inc. received 200 applications for its 2014 LES Studio Program, and awarded three residency sessions.


Fellows comprise about 1:66, or 1.5% of applicants.

See all Art Competition Odds.


Saltz, NYC galleries, and spaces for dialogue

Jerry Saltz makes some interesting observations in “Saltz on the Death of the Gallery Show” in NY Mag (3/31/13).

His main point is that

A great thing about galleries …  is that they’re social spaces….  places where one can commune with the group mind.

But due art fairs, mega-collectors, and skyrocketing rents in Chelsea, galleries are

playing a diminished role in the life of art.

The problem is

When so much art is sold online or at art fairs, it’s great for the lucky artists who make money, but it leaves out everyone else who isn’t already a brand. This art exists only as commerce, not as conversation or discourse.

….Many artists are now in “abundant production,” seducing collectors on the prowl for stuff to fill their oversize atriums.

Baffinglingly, Saltz goes on to make these statements about NYC-centrism:

Art doesn’t have to be shown in New York to be validated. That requirement is long gone. Fine. But… a good Los Angeles dealer chided me for not going to art fairs, not seeing art in L.A. and London, and not keeping track of the activity online. He said I “risked being out of touch with the art world,” and he was right….

I brooded for months over this. Then … I started thinking about “the art world.” Something clicked and brightened my mood. There is no “the” art world anymore. There have always been many art worlds, overlapping, ebbing around and through one another. 

This last realization seems a bit belated. Artists outside of NYC have had to cultivate their own art worlds for ages, not because of the recent overabundance of fairs, but because of long-standing NYC-centrism. NYC is home to major publications and art commerce, yet artists outside of NYC have found ways to persist—regardless of the facts that NYC critics focus on NYC shows (ahem!), and art fairs diminish Chelsea galleries’ audiences.

And, paradoxically, it seems as if Saltz is using the de-centralization of the art world to justify his own NYC-centrism. No one critic could see all the art in these different art worlds, but could certainly try harder to get out of his own city—and borough—more often.

He ends on an upbeat note:

When I go to galleries, I now mainly see artists and a handful of committed diligent critics, collectors, curators, and the like. In this quiet environment, it may be possible for us to take back the conversation. Or at least have conversations. While the ultrarich will do their deals from 40,000 feet, we who are down at ground level will be engaging with the actual art—maybe not in Chelsea, where the rents are getting too high, but somewhere. That’s fine with me.

That Saltz has been able to seek out dialogues in commercial galleries seems like a fluke, in my book. Most Chelsea galleries feel too-cool-for-school to strike up conversations.

Those spaces where dialogues happen, where art by artists’ artists is shown, are non-profit, alternative, and artist-run spaces. NYC has its share, but nothing like the vibrancy of SF Bay Area’s community, in my opinion.

I also sense that many NYC alternative spaces show a higher proportion of artists with commercial gallery representation (artists further along in the “emerging” spectrum) than those without. It would be fantastic to take a survey comparing the proportion of represented artists shown at Artist’s Space, White Columns, Sculpture Center, Socrates Sculpture Park, Smack Mellon, Momenta Art, Art in General, Apex Art and Flux Factory against those at Southern Exposure, Intersection for the Arts, The Luggage Store, The Lab, SF Camerawork, Pro Arts, and San Jose ICA. It would beg the question of what alternative art organizations are for, who they serve, what kind of dialogues they  create, and with whom.

What if more commercial galleries fold in NYC, but an equal number of new non-profit and alternative spaces sprung up in their wake? What if they focused on truly emerging artists—not trying to compete with commercial spaces, but were real, imaginative, risk-taking alternatives? What if big-time critics visited and wrote about alternative spaces more often, not just when they mount shows by established artists or shut their doors? What if, essentially, NYC can learn a thing or two from other cities like San Francisco?

Art & Development

Friends who rule

I’ll bend my posting-about-art-mostly rule to express gratitude (which is not entirely unrelated to my art practice, since positive psychologists advise the maintenance of gratitude journals.)

Like in a past stint in New York, I’m again surprised to find myself among many transplanted and visiting Californians. If it seems odd to be among Californians in New York—maybe it’s cheesy and inauthentic, like hanging out at an ex-pat internet café in Bali—I am unapologetic about enjoying it. Sure, I have been meeting new people and cultivating a community here, but I am also very thankful for the old friends and acquaintances that I’ve been able to rely upon—who I know, and with whom I am known. In a new environment with emergent reflections, it’s comforting to share a rapport and background with friends.

Kinship is invaluable to me. I’m so thankful to have or have had:

Fellow Bay Area artists to relate to about navigating New York.

• Grad school classmates who are mutually supportive, and who I can rely upon for no-B.S. responses to art projects. As grad school fades further in the past, relationships with esteemed peers become more precious. I would trade no amount of money or power for the certainty of some of my cohorts’ opinions. To know and trust someone enough to ask them “Does this suck?” about my latest work in progress, and to be confident in the rigor of their critique and their knowledge of my history are truly priceless.

Longtime friends—and new friends—of deep integrity, who live life with enthusiasm, curiosity, adventure, courage, vision, insight, and conviction; who are unapologetic intellectuals; who talk and listen with warmth and generosity. I’ve been inspired by their dynamism—to learn more about cognitive science, to enact my principles more often, and to buttress my values. As ET put it, “Being nice matters.” New York is filled with ambitious people; I hope that I won’t get inured to the sight of boorish self-promotion and transparent displays of power-hunger.

• A steady stream of visitors. When I left the Bay Area, I knew I would miss everyone. But having friends, family, and art community members come to NY has eased the transition.

Colleagues. It’s neat to know that so many people—especially CCA alum—are operating in so many parts of the NY art world. The implication is that I’ll find a place soon enough; and with their help and generosity, I feel like I’ve already started down a path.

Of course, I would be adrift without those in California who continue to reach out, and put in the extra effort to maintain long distance friendships.

(With apologies to MW for lifting the post title.)

Art & Development

Coffee cups, and military strategy

I am often told that my art work is about design, which surprises me. I rarely think about design as I’m making my work, and further, I couldn’t make work in a design-free vacuum. Design is the matrix of material forms in our lives. Typography is the very medium of visual-textual communication. As one would apply formal and conceptual considerations to materials, so too should typography be thoughtfully selected. Materials provide visual, textual, material content, as well as design meaning.

The importance of design ought be self-evident. This week, the New York Times provided positive and negative reminders to appreciate design.

“Leslie Buck, Designer of Iconic Coffee Cup, Dies at 87”
Margalit Fox, April 29, 2010

“We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint”
Elisabeth Bumiller,, April 26, 2010

Above: An epic fail of an infographic. (Unless the point was to convey “quagmire.”)

Art & Development, Research

heart NY

Like: H&FJ, type designers extraordinaire

Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones are lecturing at Cooper Union next Tuesday night. If only I lived in New York…

H&FJ are among the country’s best and most influential living type designers. Years ago, I parlayed my art skills into illustration and graphic design; in the past year or two, I’ve focused my attention on typography — thanks to books by Robert Bringhurst and Ellen Lupton. I think you can see the effect on both my design and art work.

I admire H&FJ for the consistency of the excellence of their output, which is always considered and gimmick-free. Their type families are remarkably thorough and usable; they manage to both timeless and modern. I know my praises sound like platitudes, but you can see their skill with the ubiquity of the typeface Gotham. More recently, Archer has been catching my eye with more regularity. It’s cute, fresh and a little cheeky.

LIKE: Conceptualism and Identity Art, neither compromised

I DON’T WANT TO BRAND something called “Black Conceptual Art.” It’s less a question about who produced the work than of the object’s material history. If you can get to that history, and if that can take you to a very specific place, culturally and racially, then that’s where you locate the blackness. It becomes a secondary discovery rather than a necessary attribute of the work itself.

“30 Seconds Off an Inch” does not look at the conceptualisms that followed Minimalism. Instead, it investigates the kind of art that asks the viewer to think about something beyond the sheer materiality of the object, beyond formalism and formal practice. The works ask you to wonder where the trash originated, for instance, and about the history of a specific cloth and clothing, or whether the work is appropriated. There is a history and a lineage to all the works in the show that lend themselves to conceptual thought beyond the objects.

The viewer should have a sense of recognition when walking through the exhibition. There is not a lot of tape around the objects—I want visitors to be able to put their noses up to the works. The objects in the show are not to be seen as metaphors, but very literally, and you don’t need an advanced degree in art history to read them.

—Naomi Beckwith, “500 Words,” Artforum, 11/25/2009

Beckwith is the assistant curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, where she organized “the exhibition ’30 Seconds Off an Inch,’ which explores the intersection of identity politics and dominant tendencies of the 1960s, from conceptual practices to Arte Povera.”

Wowee. I like this. It’s plain language on how to look at conceptual art, and how material can have content relating to identity. It challenges the ideas that conceptual art is too élite to be easily appreciated or too hermetic to have meaningful content, and that art relates to identity has to be populist/symbolist/representational. Well done.

LIKE: studio

This morning, in my dream, I found myself in a bare room: white walls, unpainted wood floors. I was sitting at cheap melamine dinette table. To my left was a the kind of kitchen you’d find in economy apartments — cream colored, with a small fridge and low fluorescent tubes. A cutout in the wall from which a cook might engage guests while attending the electric stovetop. But ahead of me was an expansive room, maybe 75 feet long. One side was all old industrial windows. The space was empty, unlit and dusty. It was my studio, and the sense of potential surged in me. It was so much space that I could work on a project, walk away from it, start a new project, and so on, for a long time before running out of space. I wouldn’t have to re-organize whenever I changed projects. To the side of the kitchen, I found a walk-in closet: my painting and flat work storage. The place was a bit drafty and quiet, but I was overjoyed. I was in New York. My job was to make art. The studio was mine.