Joan Madonna's Art Advocacy

By Alisa Scerrato | Additional Reporting by Audrey Heller

When Joen Madonna began her tenure at ArtSpan as the Executive Director, she immediately saw the need for the organization to broaden its reach. “SF Open Studios has a strong history as a way for artists to show their work, but when I realized how many of our members were losing their workspaces, and how many couldn’t afford to stay in the city, I knew that we needed to get involved with cultural issues at the city level, and we needed to join with other arts organizations.”

Madonna, with ArtSpan, is taking a three-pronged approach to halt artist displacement and to provide more funding for the arts. One approach is a November ballot initiative: Proposition S, Allocation of Hotel Tax Funds, which will require San Francisco to return hotel tax funding back to the arts that has been redirected to the general fund. In addition, Madonna is working on a second ballot initiative to help limit artist displacement, Proposition X, Preserving Space for Neighborhood Arts, Small Businesses and Community Services in Certain Neighborhoods, and third, ArtSpan is developing artist residency studios across San Francisco to provide affordable space for artists to create.

ABBA and The Arts and Families Hotel Tax Fund Initiative
The Allocation of Hotel Tax Funds ballot initiative (Prop S) was developed by a broad coalition of city arts organizations of all sizes, including many of the members of Arts for a Better Bay Area. ABBA was formed in 2014 as a coalition of practitioners devoted to improving San Francisco’s quality of life, creative expression, cultural equity, and vibrant neighborhoods. ABBA’s goal is to develop an environment that raises public accessibility to art and cultural activities by increasing San Francisco’s budget allocation to the arts.

Early in 2016, ABBA joined with several other arts organizations and homeless advocacy groups to draft a measure to boost funding for the arts. The city’s hotel tax was originally created to provide support for local arts industries, but over the last 20 years, much of it has been reallocated into general funds. Today, San Francisco’s arts granting agencies receive less city funding than they did in the late 1990s. The November ballot measure will return much of that funding to the arts and create a fund for homeless families. On July 11, 2016, the petition for the ballot measure was submitted at city hall in the presence of citywide supporters during a Rally for the Arts and Ending Family Homelessness. The petition only needed 9,500 signatures, but received almost double that.

For the the ballot measure to succeed, it will need a two thirds popular vote. Polls show that the people of San Francisco strongly support it; the challenge is getting a high voter turnout.

“Bringing in a coalition of all the art organizations, large and small, together was the biggest feat. We had the big institutions and the tiny organizations standing side by side. Having everyone working together really reinforced the idea that we are all part of the fabric of the city,” said Madonna. “And joining our voices with the Ending Family Homelessness Fund is really exciting. We need to ensure that parents and children who have no home have services to help them get off the streets. The hotel tax fund is significant because San Francisco is a global destination. It’s appropriate for that money to support what makes this city great; our creativity and our humanity.”

Joen Madonna is curious, smart, social, and endlessly energetic, a combination that makes her magnetic. It didn’t take long for her to become essential to the alliances and projects working to preserve San Francisco’s cultural space.

Madonna is one of 12 Stewards who share ABBA leadership, and she is also co-chair of their Cultural Space Committee. “We don’t necessarily lobby,” said Madonna. “It’s more about empowering people and informing them about what’s going on with the budget, or how to attend meetings at City Hall to make sure their voice is heard. We’ve created a much-needed dialogue between all the city arts organizations.”

ABBA hosted an “Advocacy Day” at City Hall this past May, where the Team of Stewards went door-to-door and asked the Mayor and City Supervisors for increased arts budgets. It was the first time that a broad coalition of arts groups united to make a grand presence in City Hall, and their directness made an impression on City Hall employees. Madonna said, “Many supervisors told us that it was the first time any arts group has come to their door and said ‘this is what we need, and this is why.’ ”

Anti-Displacement Initiative: Proposition X, Preserving Space for Neighborhood Arts, Small Businesses and Community Services in Certain Neighborhoods
Also on the November ballot is Proposition X, an anti-displacement ballot initiative, drafted by Supervisor Jane Kim. Over the past year and a half, Madonna has been meeting with the Artist Anti-Displacement Working Group at City Hall, along with the staff of Supervisors Kim, Avalos, and Campos to create this legislation that will help control artist displacement. The ballot measure will address artist, business, and nonprofit displacement by requiring conditional-use approvals citywide. This will help retain light industry space into the future to ensure creative businesses have a place in the urban landscape.

Studio Residencies
Madonna and ArtSpan have been doing more to fight artist displacement than work on ballot measures; they are addressing and fighting it directly by providing artist residency studios. ArtSpan has formed creative alliances with developers and property owners, and now has 33 artist residency studios in two separate buildings that provide a space for artists to do their work. “The best way to retain space is to own the buildings,” said Madonna, “but for now, we’re very glad to have even temporary spaces to ensure artists can remain stable and continue to thrive.”

ArtSpan’s Continued Commitment to Advocacy
Madonna remains optimistic for the future, but she sees a tremendous amount of work ahead. “When I came to ArtSpan, I thought, ‘We have to do so much more. We need to do more to help protect artists.’ Overall, it’s wonderful for ArtSpan, an organization of its size, to be involved in this work and these ballot measures. It’s an exciting time to be involved, especially at this political level, something that I haven’t done before,” said Madonna. “It’s making me realize there is a way for everyone to be involved. Every one of us can make a difference in supporting what we love about San Francisco; whether with your dollars, your voice, or your vote.”

Message from ARTSPAN

Make sure to get to the polls in November and do your part to return city funding to organizations dedicated to ending homelessness and preserving the arts in SF. It’s a critical time and artists desperately need support from organizations that are dedicated to their survival. So many artists have already been displaced; it’s time to stop this exodus and help keep artists where they are inspired to do what they love, in their fair city by the Bay. Please vote Yes on Prop S and Prop X.