Volume 47 Number 22

Here, here

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STREET SEEN As the author of a style column, I spend time trawling the city for innovative new local designers. Clothes that are made here, cute ones. Let me hear about them, I’ll put it in print, swear down.

But there’s not… that much of them. Speaking historically, of course. In the heyday of garment manufacturing, San Francisco churned out mountains of readywear — more than any other city in the country besides New York and Los Angeles.

Then we started to export our business overseas. You’ve heard about how Levi-Strauss used to have a factory on Valencia Street — not just the artsy pop-up shop they opened in 2010? Your jeans aren’t made here anymore guys, unless you’re copping from newbie “Kickstarter brand” Gustin (www.weargustin.com), Holy Stitch (www.juliandash.com), Self Edge (www.selfedge.com), or one of the other small local lines that have popped up in the denim giant’s wake.

These companies cater to locavore customers who “expect their clothing labels to read like restaurant menus,” as Modern Luxury put it in a 2011 article about the state of the SF garment industry. Making clothes locally means less turnaround time, less environmental impact — not to mention the sweet San Francisco cache that locally made palazzo pants hold.

Problem is, the garment factories that the industry needs have been greatly reduced in number.

In a Hayes Valley cafe, Gail Baugh sits at her laptop, shutting it with a morning-time, capable air when I sit at her table. Her outfit says boardroom, accented with exceptions. A beautifully-patterned scarf, and large brooch-like earrings suit this no-nonsense type with a degree in chemistry of textiles, 35 years of experience in the garment industry, and a byline on the book on fashion. Really, Baugh’s The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory is a best-seller in its particular category on Amazon, she tells me.

She is the president and one of five founding members of PeopleWearSF (www.peoplewearsf.org), a Bay Area garment industry trade association that was formed in 2011 to fill the vacuum left by SF Fashion Industries, which played the role for 75 years before the garment industry collapse. PeopleWearSF’s members flip up to $25 million in yearly sales volume, though it also includes rank beginners in the clothes game.

“If you want a vibrant economy, you have to make stuff,” Baugh tells me matter-of-factly. Her organization — and SFMade (www.sfmade.org), the no-fee membership group who represents local producers and whose cheery stickers adorn a host of local retailers’ windows and product labels here in the city — provide networking opportunities to their members. These include 40-some brands, including outdoor label Triple Aught, longtime Mission District purveyor of pretty Weston Wear, and Babette, the flowing line of neutral-toned women’s wear based out of an Oakland warehouse. Those three manufacture locally, but not all PeopleWearSF members do.

Both trade associations work with public policy — specifically, through the Mayor’s FashionSF Economic Development Initiative — to provide more resources to the garment factories that were once much more prevalent in San Francisco. Efforts to keep the sew-shops open have to operate through a multi-pronged approach. It’s not just soaring rents that close the factories’ doors, but a dwindling high-skilled workforce pool that’s willing to work for the wages typically offered by the factories.

“Sharing resources, communicating issues — it’s a good business policy,” says Steven Pinksy, whose wife started Babette in 1968 and who was also a founding member of PeopleWearSF. Joiners, in other words, are welcome.

Those looking to jumpstart their Bay fashion career could do worse than attend tonight’s Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center’s panel discussion on starting small in fashion, featuring experts from PeopleWearSF, Apparel Wiz, Sheila Moon Apparel, and CBU Productions.

“Manufacturing Micro” Wed/27, 6-9pm, $20. Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, 275 Fifth St., SF. tinyurl.com/manufacturingmicro

I’m your fan

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Like most love affairs, there was little indication on our first encounter that it would turn into a lifelong infatuation. I was 17, methodically singing my way through a book of folk tunes, one of which was his first real hit, “Suzanne”. Though I admired it for its lyrical content, it weighed heavy on my range, and I soon moved on to other songs.

When I stumbled across him again, years later, it was as if we had never met. He was older, rougher, seemingly more jaded. His brutal ode “The Future” was dominating the indie-radio airwaves, hot on the heels of its appearance in Oliver Stone’s bombastic Natural Born Killers. When my then-roomie confessed a fondness for his music, it turned that single song on the radio into a sort of clarion call — the key, perhaps, to winning my flatmate’s frustratingly platonic heart. From that time, Leonard Cohen became a constant presence in my life, hovering at the periphery of countless triumphs, challenges, and betrayals, a companionship of almost 20 years that has spanned the globe, and almost every kind of circumstance.

There’s no one song or phase of Cohen’s music that seems to universally predicate the shift from uninitiated or fair-weather fan to true believer. For some it is the Cohen of the 1960s, whose laborious finger-picking and reedy, untrained voice lent equal gravitas to meticulously-plotted stories of resistance fighters and blowjobs, transcendence and squalor. For others it’s the synth-infused litanies to the naked body and the painful futility of the excess of the ’80s, or the flintier, world-weary renegade poised for flight of the early ’90s. Even the most contemporary of Cohen’s “masks,” the “lazy bastard in a suit,” currently rides a wave of almost unprecedented popularity, particularly in the US where he has mostly languished on the fringes of recognition until the last few years.

Underpinned by the spare minimalism of poetry written by a man for whom silence has played a pivotal role as much as language has (including a five-year long retreat at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center), his 2012 album Old Ideas brims over with themes that have appeared in almost every Cohen album over the last 40 years — bittersweet entanglement, elevation of the spirit, the struggles of the flesh — and marks a decided turning point in Cohen’s life, both personal and professional. An old Zen master of the music business arguably at the height of his powers: depression vanquished and horizons expanding exponentially.

Local author, rock journalist, and Leonard Cohen biographer (I’m Your Man, Ecco, 2012), Sylvie Simmons had her first encounter with Cohen in her adolescence as well, but for her the attraction was more immediate.

“The day I hit puberty was the day I heard my first Leonard Cohen record,” she confides over the phone when I call to get her side of her most famous subject. And though “it was outside my usual taste,” she found herself listening to his songs again and again, even today. Now deeply immersed in her own exhaustive world book tour, she’s even found a new thing to be impressed by: Cohen’s unflinching dedication to the road. “He’s got the kind of schedule that would kill an 18-year-old,” she says with a laugh. “He’s definitely a better man than I!”

Seeing Leonard Cohen perform at the Montreal Jazz Festival in ’08, after years of worshiping from afar, will always remain one of my most luminous memories. The prodigal son gone good, working the hometown crowd for an epic three-and-a-half hours, holding his hat over his heart as we applauded each song until our hands were sore, bowing his head humbly again and again, prophet as fellow supplicant. By a twist of good fortune, I managed to see him twice more on that tour — in Oakland and in Paris — and each time, though the controlled orchestration of the event revealed itself more and more, so did the sense of sheer joy emanating from both the stage and the audience, an orgy of admiration, and, a real rarity in the business, of gratitude.

Simmons has an explanation for this gracious humility as well. “He just loves life on the road,” Simmons explains. “He told me it was wonderful…’for a man my age to have a feeling of full employment’.” I rather suspect that this weekend’s events will be just as wonderful for us as they will be for him. Thank you, Leonard Cohen, for being our man.

“THE NIGHT BEFORE LEONARD” WITH SYLVIE SIMMONS

Fri/1, 6pm, free

Marsh Berkeley Cabaret

2120 Allston Way, Berk.

(415) 641-0235

www.themarsh.org

LEONARD COHEN

Sat/2 and Sun/2, 8pm, $71.50–$253

Paramount Theatre

2025 Broadway, Oakl.

(510) 465-6400

www.paramounttheatre.com

Threequel blues

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arts@sfbg.com

GAMER Crysis 3 (Crytek/Electronic Arts; PC, PS3, Xbox 360)is a very familiar experience, and not just for players versed in the story and mechanics of the Crysis series. If you’ve played a futuristic shooter in the past 10 years, you’ve seen everything Crysis 3 has to offer: a hodgepodge of sci-fi clichés, stealth combat, and big alien guns. It’s an exercise in déjà vu that leaves little in the way of a lasting impression, but it’s a really good-looking hodgepodge.

After its moderately successful 2011 home console debut, developer Crytek set out to expand upon Crysis 2 and — to hear the company tell it — it began with the story. Twenty-four years after the events of Crysis 2, Prophet, the last of the original Crysis super-soldiers, infiltrates a post-apocalypse New York City on the hunt for a big bad alien. Half rubble, half jungle, NYC survives within its own ecosystem, thanks to a giant overhead dome controlled by evil corporation CELL.

Prophet himself might as well be a walking cardboard box, but Crysis finally achieves an emotional core in his soldier companion, Psycho, who struggles to deal with the loss of his own super-powered nanosuit. Unfortunately, attempts to wrangle a complicated story into something subtle and meaningful means tossing aside Crysis‘ rich mythos in favor of highlighting character moments that frequently lack context.

So, scrap the drama, let’s talk about how Crysis 3 boasts some of the finest graphics of this generation — especially on PC. Skyboxes are mighty impressive and incidental animations such as swaying grass, smoke, and fire promote the apocalyptic atmosphere. On consoles, the game sets a similar benchmark but it’s one that often reveals how near we are to the end of the road for this hardware. Similar to seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) in high-frame rate, the studio’s ambition sometimes exposes flaws and behind-the-scenes trickery that players would otherwise ignore.

Juggling between Prophet’s nanosuit camouflage and his armor powers allows players to choose the kind of combat experience they want, and the ruins of New York allow the freedom to tackle objectives using any number of methods. It’s a nice turn on the traditional run-and-gun format to be given the freedom to move about the environment in any way you choose, but objectives ultimately boil down to moving from point A to point B anyway. If you like the mechanics but find the structure limiting, try multiplayer, where managing stealth and shield adds considerable depth to the traditional death-match game.

Crysis 3 pushes the visual boundaries of first-person shooter, but a $60 game can’t be propped up on graphics alone. If you’re into shooting your friends online, Crysis offers a solid alternative to self-serious war games. The rest of the adventure is too often a tech-demo sandbox with no compelling reason for you to explore it. 

 

Volume 47 Number 22 Flip-through Edition

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American horror story

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM “Go look in the refrigerator.” Normally, that’s not a particularly sinister phrase. But if the fridge in question happens to be sitting in Jeffrey Dahmer’s Milwaukee kitchen, circa 1991, it contains the following: a box of Arm & Hammer, condiments (mustard, ketchup, steak sauce), and a freshly severed human head.

With details like that, there’s no wonder the Dahmer case continues to fascinate, 22 years after his capture (and 19 years after he was bludgeoned to death by a fellow inmate). Chris James Thompson’s The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, a documentary with narrative re-enactments, is savvy to the fact that lurid outrageousness never gets old. It also plays off the contrast between Dahmer’s gruesome crimes and his seemingly mild-mannered personality.

And thankfully, these aren’t cheesy, America’s Most Wanted-style re-enactments. We see Jeffrey (Andrew Swant) going about a mix of mundane and fraught-with-meaning tasks: being fitted for new glasses, eating a hamburger, shopping for 10-gallon drums, and buying way more bleach than one man could possibly ever need. We never see him kill, though we do witness him entering a hotel with another young man — and leaving with a suspiciously heavy suitcase. Swant isn’t a dead ringer for Dahmer, but he has the same “serial killers look like everybody else” quality. It’s unsettling, and goes a long way toward explaining why, as real-life Dahmer neighbor Pamela Bass recalls here, the Jeff she knew (“kinda friendly, but introverted,” Bass says) hardly seemed like a murdering cannibal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSzeu6ohgeA

But Wisconsin’s most passionate body-part hoarder (since Ed Gein, anyway) was 100 percent authentic, a fact made abundantly clear to the homicide detective assigned to the case, Pat Kennedy (who made that stomach-turning fridge peek), and medical examiner Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen, tasked with identifying Dahmer’s torn-asunder victims. “We were dismantling someone’s museum,” Jentzen remembers of the crime scene, a tidy one-bedroom in a rough part of town where, months earlier, flippant cops had ushered a dazed teenager back into Dahmer’s clutches, believing his tale that the younger man had stormed out after a domestic spat. Oops.

Since Dahmer is dead and his crimes have been well-documented — in books by Dahmer’s father and others, true-crime specials, and the 2002 narrative film that gave future Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner his breakout role — The Jeffrey Dahmer Files does well to concentrate on people whose lives have been forever changed by the case, two because of their jobs and one due to an unfortunate coincidence. Though Kennedy and Jentzen offer compelling interviews, Bass’ participation is key; unlike the two men, who’ve no doubt told their stories dozens of times before, her emotions still feel raw.

She speaks about getting to know her across-the-hall neighbor — he stood out for being the only white guy living in the Oxford Apartments, a fact made more notable when it was revealed he killed mostly men of color, many of whom were also gay. (As his victims’ families would no doubt agree, if Dahmer’d had a taste for rich white girls, his story would certainly have played out differently.)

Not only did Bass have to deal with the revelation that she’d been living next to a killer (“I remember a stench, an odor”), she found herself surrounded by a media circus, harassed by gawkers, and blamed by strangers for “not doing anything.” Even after she’d moved — the entire apartment building was torn down — the stigma of having been Dahmer’s neighbor lingered.

Kind of like the killer’s own notoriety. Speaking of, the Akron, Ohio house where Jeffrey Dahmer grew up (and committed his first murder) has been on the market for six months. Refrigerator included.

THE JEFFREY DAHMER FILES

March 1-7

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St, SF

www.roxie.com

 

Punting for Peru

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS First time she touched a football it was a wonky, bouncing punt, and she plucked it up and ran it back 180 yards to the five-yard line. I say 180 yards because there was a lot of zigging and zagging involved. Coach’s grillfriend Zeezee is a professional surfer, and ever since that punt return (October), I have had newfound respect for the athleticism of professional surfers. Not to mention which, a bouncing punt is the hardest kind of football to pick up cleanly.

So . . . nice hands!

Her dad down San Diego way teaches surfing, as far as I know, and music. He made a cajon, which is that Peruvian box drum that you sit on while you play. I’ve seen Zeezee play the cajon, and she played the kaboodle out of it. In fact, ever since then I have had a newfound respect for punt returners. As musicians, I mean.

Anyway, Zeezee lives in S.F. now, so we get to have her for a full season this Spring, so long as she doesn’t get a job. That’s right: If you are looking for a rad-ass surfing teacher with great hands and cajones, look away. Please. We need her. Sunday mornings, at least.

For Hedgehog’s birthday I bought a cajon from Zeezee’s dad. It’s beautiful enough to be furniture, and Hedgehog has been spending a lot of time on it. She uses her hands, uses brushes, wears her washboard . . . Somehow I knew she would know what to do with a beautiful box.

But there is something about February makes me mad. Maybe because you never really quite get your money’s worth, rentwise. I don’t know. Or Valentine’s Day, which bugged me this year very literally. One of my cute little charges got sent home from school on account of lice, and me and her mom had to pick through her and her sister’s hair looking for and yanking out nits.

Then their mom went through my hair and found one there, too, so I had to sit on the edge of the tub just like them and get sprayed and combed and just all around humiliated. All on account of one lousy nit, yuk yuk.

And also, yuck.

So that was how I spent my Valentine’s evening: at the laundromat, washing our clothes and towels and bedding and everything, while the lovers passed two-by-two on their way to Delfina.

My own lover was in New Orleans, out with her single work friends. I called her, I was so depressed, and she sang “You Are My Sunshine” to me — wisely leaving out the verses. The day before she had sent me flowers with the sweetest little note attached. I forget what it said, but I read it again that night once everything was finally folded and put away, and I went to bed.

Her birthday is the real holiday, and she was back for that, like I said, slapping out straightforward 4/4 rhythms, as she ain’t Peruvian. She’s rock’n’roll. But for dinner we went to her favorite restaurant (and mine), Limon Rotisserie — not even thinking that it completed the Peruvian circle.

Next morning I woke up a little later than usual, threw on some clothes, sprayed my hair down with tea tree oil, and risked life and limb and driving record only to get to work two hours early. I had forgot (as usual) to look at my work calendar.

And this is where Olivia’s comes in. Olivia’s Brunch and Fine Dining. In Bernal Heights, down from Holly Park on Mission. Instead of driving all the way back home, during rush hour no less, I decided to kill two hours with two eggs.

Huevos Rancheros!

Good ones! With pinto beans, avocado slices, ranchero sauce, a corn tortilla underneath, and a whole damn quesadilla on top. Note: That’s two meals in one. Yeppers, Olivia puts the unch back in brunch. Which wasn’t exactly what I needed, since it was still pre-9am. But it did help kill the time.

There was no one else in the place to talk to. Just Mona Lisa, a painting of a mounted deer head, a charging elephant, and a very crooked picture of our lord and savior Jesus Christ pulling some crazed dude out of a pretty turbulent sea. Either that or pushing him back in. No no, he’s got him by the arm. See? They don’t call Him lord and savior for nothing.

Nice place. Good food for under 10 bucks. Boom, back to work.

OLIVIA’S

Mon-Sat 8am-2pm, 5-9pm; Sun 8am-3pm

3771 Mission St., SF

(415) 970-0375

AE/D/MC/V

Beer & wine

 

Game on

1

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Unlike more commercially competitive markets, the Bay Area is, fortunately, still a place where young choreographers have the freedom to grow. This past weekend, two who are primarily known for dancing other people’s works showed their own promising premieres.

Katharine Hawthorne graduated from college with degrees in physics and dance. On February 22, its opening night at the Joe Goode Annex, you could not possibly miss Analog’s dual pedigree. This startlingly intense quintet opened on the quietest of notes but built its trajectory like a smoldering volcano that finally erupted into a threatening destructive force.

Looking at movement through a scientist’s lens, in conjunction with knowing it to be the dancer’s basic tool, allowed Hawthorne — and her fearlessly athletic dancers — to offer a fascinating perspective on how art and science can elegantly coexist with each other. However, why the dancers repeatedly lugged around an overhead project (and barely used it) remains a mystery.

A 19th century illustration of a mechanical hand, against which Katherine Disenhof wiggled her fingers, set the tone. Those tiny live gestures led other dancers (Hawthorne, Jesse Chin, Luke Taylor, and Megan Wright) to use their arms in almost machine-like ways, as if to demonstrate speed, direction, level, and space. Movements changed with sharp angles, trajectories were linear, and collisions avoided. Dancers also looked like planets circling a sun. Chin and Taylor repeatedly repulsed each other like two positively charged particles. Wright found herself in a whirling circle — a tornado about to take off.

But more and more the movements’ relentless and increasing intensity began to look like threats to the dancers’ well being. Several times I thought Chin was about to collapse though touches and handholds seemed to suggest temporary respite. Yet Analog resembled a nightmarish perpetuum mobile until finally the clock began to slow everything down. We were left with darkness descending on the two dancers left. I couldn’t decide whether that meant peace or the ultimate catastrophe.

As a performer, Tanya Bello brings a ferocious appetite for space, soaring elevations, and dizzying spins to her dancing. So it was almost expected that as a young choreographer she brought many of these characteristics to GamesWePlay(ed), which premiered at the ODC Dance Commons this past weekend. The half-hour piece is a nicely calibrated essay on play as both an innocent activity but also as a means to manipulate those around us. Bello wisely engaged dancers from top local companies: Vilte Bacinskaite, Tristan Ching Hartmann, Kelly Del Rosario, Norma Fong, Chin-chin Hsu, Mei-ling Murray, and Katherine Wells. The work also greatly benefited from Judy Hansen’s costumes, which were elegant, tiny dresses with just a wisp of a tutu suggestion.

GamesWePlay(ed) consisted of a number of distinct episodes which included versions of tag, races, imitation, and mirroring activities, but also pure dance sections. Some looked highly structured only to explode; others involved repeated and fast partner changes. Woven wicker balls were passed around but also hung onto. When Del Rosario curled up on the floor, a tiptoeing Wells gently sent him back into the fracas. I couldn’t help but wonder whether there was a joke here since as the ensemble’s only male, Del Rosario had to do all of the heavy lifts.

Though the work was not particularly fresh in terms of the vocabulary used, Bello showed an already impressive control in the way she used the dancers on stage. The choreography — from solos to septets — flowed and dissolved with almost filmic quality. A mirroring duet opened up into a group, loosing its architecture but gaining breath. Two dancers approaching each other from opposite corners became a double duet. But the piece also had its moments of (ballet?) humor when Fong released a quartet of shadowing women from their monotonous tasks. At another point dancers flopped over received a magic touch to blossom again like those eternal flowers in the Nutcracker.

Towards the end Bello went back to material used earlier in the piece. Was that just to lead up to a finale? There must be better ways to end a show.

Performing on the same program was Karen Reedy Dance from Washington, D.C. Reedy’s Sleepwalking (2008) was a beautifully danced septet, a work that gently yet penetratingly considered what makes us panic and silently scream at night.

Giving consent to capitalism

15

caitlin@sfbg.com

SEX “BDSM so quickly and easily gets painted with a broad brush,” said porn performer and author (her piece this week on Jezebel, “How I Became a Feminist Porn Star” is not to be missed) Dylan Ryan.

I’d called her in the wake of last week’s SF Weekly cover story (“Gag Order,” 2/20/13), which included some healthy critiques of Kink.com, the local porn company often held up as the standard when it comes to shooting kinky sex.

The piece also included testimony that was run without being fact-checked from certain ex-Kink employees — and that aside, the article was clearly timed to capitalize on controversy surrounding owner Peter Acworth’s recent drug and gun arrest. (ATTN: Weekly, you need not call into question the “strict code of ethical behavior and transparency” a pornographer is known for when it is discovered that said pornographer does cocaine, nor when he fires guns in the bowels of a building made for that purpose.)

The Weekly’s investigation continues. Hopefully it will help move conversation forward on how to make better porn.

As Ryan — who has shot for Kink.com for nearly 10 years — pointed out, the trouble with porn wars is that they can be skewed into a referendum on whether such-and-such porn (and often, by extension, the sexual desire it portrays) should exist.

So real quick, let’s use this moment to convene members of our occasionally dysfunctional, but forever-forward thinking sex work community. The question: can sexual consent exist when you’re doing it for the money? Who is in charge of making sure everyone’s needs are respected?

“When capitalism is involved, it makes the situation…interesting,” wrote performer Maxine Holloway [after protesting and ceasing to shoot for Kink.com when it removed base pay for web cam models, Holloway settled out of court with the company. Her voice appears in the Weekly article.] “As models we want to perform well, we want to push our boundaries, we want to get paid, and we want to be hired again and again.”

But, she continued, “money can be a perfectly legitimate reason to consent. Most people would not agree to show up at their nine-to-five job if they were not being paid an agreed amount of money.”

Ryan re-enforced the importance of the shoot’s producers stating clear run times, expectations, and other matters with performers before filming. After that point: “it’s a fine line, but so much of the onus is on the person to be their own agent.”

Locally, performer Kitty Stryker has examined these issues in her “Safe/Ward” consent workshops. And Holloway wrote she hopes to create an “industry standards” rating system that could guide performers to responsible producers. “Porn performers are not inherently victims and producers are not inherently exploitive,” she cautioned.

“These things can be positive, sexually healthy,” Ryan continued. “Every performance I do is about showing women how much fun I’m having.” Would that all debate on ethical porn started off with how its participants want to demystify, and excise shame from, sexuality — instead of drug charges.

THIS WEEK’S SEX EVENTS

“Bling My Vibe” Fri/1-March 31, free. Good Vibrations, 1620 Polk, SF. tinyurl.com/blingmyvibe.

Who says no to creating a work of art with a $3 vibrating dildo? Not this writer — check out my handiwork, and that of other Bay Area artists and sexy local celebs at this sex toy art show on view ’til the end of the month.

The Great Church of Holy Fuck Fri/1-Sun/3, 8pm, $15. Counterpulse, 1310 Mission, SF. www.counterpulse.org. The name, the fact that this production is helmed by Annie Danger, queer trans utopia-seeker, the promise of nudity — surely these will add to a truly religious interactive theater experience.

International Sex Workers Rights Day picnic Sun/3, 11am-2pm, free. Dolores Park, 19th St. and Guerrero, SF. www.swopbay.org. The Sex Workers Outreach Project and St. James’ Infirmary are hosting this gathering of past and present sex workers and their allies in celebration of this day of commemoration, which started in 2001 at sex worker festival in Calcutta, India.

 

Why labor should oppose the pipeline

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OPINION As pressure from the fossil-fuel industry, conservative Canadian and US politicians, and some construction unions mounts on President Obama to greenlight the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project, a growing coalition has a different message.

On February 17, tens of thousands rallied against the pipeline in cities across the US, including San Francisco — a testament to the climate movement, ranchers and farmers, First Nations leaders, most Canadian unions, some US unions (including my nurses’ organization), transport and domestic workers, and young people who are rightfully alarmed over the global impact of Keystone XL.

For nurses, who already see patients sickened by the adverse effects of pollution and infectious diseases linked to air pollutants and the spread of water and food borne pathogens associated with environmental contaminants, Keystone XL presents a clear and present danger.

First, extracting tar sands is more complex than conventional oil drilling, requiring vast amounts of water and chemicals. The discharge accumulates in highly toxic waste ponds and risks entering water sources that may end up in drinking water, as is already occurring.

Second, the corrosive liquefied bitumen form of crude the pipeline would carry is especially susceptible to leaks that can spill into farmland, water aquifers and rivers on route, threatening an array of adverse health outcomes.

Public health costs from fossil-fuel production in the US through contaminants in our air, rivers, lakes, oceans, and food supply are already pegged at more than $120 billion every year by the National Academy of Sciences. The Environmental Protection Agency warns that exposure to particulate matter emitted from fossil fuel plants is a cause of heart attacks, long term respiratory illness including asthma, cancer, developmental delays and reproductive problems. Global-warming inducted higher air temperatures can also increase bacteria-related food poisoning, such as salmonella, and animal-borne diseases like the West Nile virus.

That’s just the tip of the melting iceberg given the planet altering consequences of rising sea levels, intensified weather events including droughts, floods and super storms already in evidence, and mass dislocation of coastal populations and starvation that may well follow our failing to stem climate change.

Far more jobs would be created by converting to a green economy. As economist Robert Pollin put it in his book Back to Full Employment, every $1 million spent on renewable clean energy sources creates 16.8 jobs, compared to just 5.2 jobs created by the same spending on fossil-fuel production.

And, as one person acerbically commented on a recent New York Times article, there are no jobs on a dead planet.

Further, stumping for the pipeline puts labor in league with the many of the most anti-union, far right corporate interests in the U.S., such as the oil billionaire Koch Brothers and energy corporations, abetted by the politicians who carry their agenda.

The future for labor should not be scrambling for elusive crumbs thrown down by corporate partners, but advocating for the larger public interest, as unions practiced in the 1930s and 1940s, the period of labor’s greatest growth and the resulting emergence of a more egalitarian society.

Deborah Burger is a registered nurse and co-president of National Nurses United, the nation’s largest organization of nurses.

Morale, management, and money

3

rebecca@sfbg.com

The lack of a director at the Fine Arts Museums comes at a time when staff members say morale is low and some key employees have been dismissed. The agency is still suffering from the fallout of the firing of Lynn Orr, former Curator in Charge of European Art, who was stationed at the Legion of Honor and is widely respected in international art circles.

Orr planted the seed to bring Dutch paintings to the de Young in 2007, when she traveled to Maastricht and had tea with the former chief of collections at Mauritshuis, The Royal Picture Gallery. He’d told her that museum renovations would soon be in the works, so she encouraged him to schedule a tour and add San Francisco to the list of venues.

Yet when “Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis” opened at the de Young on January 26, Orr was not invited, she told the Guardian.

“I was told on Tuesday before Thanksgiving at 4:30 in the afternoon that I was terminated immediately, with no prior discussion, no prior warning,” Orr explained. When she demanded to know why she was being fired, “they said it was for performance reasons,” she recounted. However, “They gave no specific examples.”

Orr was employed at the museum for 29 years, and considered it her life’s work. Her recent Victorian exhibit had been lauded in Apollo Magazine, an arts publication, and she had brought other celebrated exhibitions to the museum over the years. “The job of curator not just doing exhibitions,” she explained. “It’s being the steward of the city of San Francisco’s public collection.” The de Young’s European collection, she added, is “one of the most distinguished collections in the country. It generates a huge amount of scholarly research and correspondence. It’s an important city asset.”

Since June, Orr said, more than half a dozen staff members have been fired from the de Young. Among them “are seasoned professionals who have been with the museum for decades,” she explained. While some city employees hold some staff positions at the FAMSF, Orr’s employer was COFAM. An email forwarded to the Guardian showed that the most recent notice of termination was handed down to Bill White, who managed the de Young’s Exhibition Design department and worked at the museum for more than three decades. His assistant is also being let go. Reached by phone at the museum on Feb. 21, White told the Guardian he was unable to discuss his pending termination.

Orr said she was deeply affected by the news that two more long-term staff members would no longer be a part of the museum. In the meantime, she has hired an attorney and plans to challenge her own abrupt dismissal. “To fire me after 29 years without any prior notice, having received nothing but very positive feedback regarding my performance during that entire time, and to then refuse to provide me any detail or information about the supposed performance issues,” Orr said, “not only seems deceptive and unprofessional — but also affects my professional reputation.” Yet she is heartened by the fact that many have rallied to her defense. “I’ve heard from almost 100 people directly: Former directors, former colleagues, arts historical and curatorial colleagues all across the country.”

In another incident raising serious questions about leadership at FAMSF, records provided to the Guardian show that museum staff were involved in reducing the value of a painting on government forms, apparently to avoid customs payments.

An oil painting was being sent to Paris in September 2012 for authentication, where experts at the Wildenstein Institute would determine whether it was the work of Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani. Its value, originally reported on an accompanying pro forma export invoice at $500,000, could have risen considerably depending on the results of the evaluation.

At the last minute, however, when the painting was already on a pallet at the airport, museum staff learned that they would be subjected to a nonrefundable customs fee amounting to $35,000. To resolve the matter, “the decision is to have Maria issue a new Pro Form [sic] Invoice with a value of $15,000 so that the French customs fee would be lower,” Director of Registration Therese Chen wrote in an email to several staff members including Maria Reilly, then a senior registrar. Reilly, another staff member who has since been let go from the museum, balked. “With all due respect, I am quite uncomfortable working with two sets of values for one painting,” she responded via email, documentation shows.

Orr, the European exhibits curator, was also included on that thread. “I think $15,000 is absolutely unacceptable,” she wrote in an email in response. When asked during a telephone interview about this email thread, Orr confirmed to the Guardian that the exchange was authentic, and added that she had been overruled.

Ken Garcia, spokesperson for the museums, told us: “For security reasons, we do not disclose information about the value of works in the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco’s collection. Although we can’t discuss the value of specific works in our collections, we can say that prior to expert authentication, the estimated values of art works naturally fluctuate and may be difficult to determine.”

An undated statement sent to the Guardian expressing “points of great concern amongst a broad range of professional staff” at FAMSF suggests that, while no one is prepared to come forward and say so publicly, some employees are unhappy with the way things are going at the museums. “While recognizing and appreciating the dedication and support of all the Board of Trustees, members of FAMSF staff are alarmed with recent decisions made and the current lack of clear direction of the museums,” the statement begins. It concludes with, “The general morale among staff is at a low point. Many believe that the recent personnel decisions … will make it difficult to attract the caliber of staff that is needed to move the Museums forward in the coming years.”

Garcia declined to discuss personnel issues, citing employee privacy. There’s no evidence that Dede Wilsey had anything whatsoever to do with the dismissals, the morale problems, or the financial issues. But she is the president of the board, and it’s happening on her watch.

Mrs. Wilsey’s fine art

66

rebecca@sfbg.com

A little more than a year ago, Therese Chen, director of registration at San Francisco’s de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, sent an email to another staffer concerning “Mrs. Wilsey’s new Matisse.”

That would be Diane “Dede” Wilsey, the wealthy art collector who is also president of the Board of Trustees of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Chen asked Steve Brindmore, then a museum staff member who also runs a personal art crating business, whether he had a crate for the oil painting, which is titled “The Pink Blouse.” According to records from Sotheby’s New York auction house, the estimated value of this painting is between $3 and $4 million.

“The painting is on an A-frame in the Examination Room,” Chen wrote. “I’m taking the painting over to Dede on Wednesday … for [an event], and then it will come back here to the de Young to be crated for Portland around the week of Jan. 23.”

The exchange suggests that public museum facilities were being used to store and crate a piece of art from Wilsey’s personal collection.

Timestamps show that the exchange happened around 1:30 on a Monday, during museum hours. The correspondence was sent using museum staff email. It’s unclear what, if anything, this task had to do with the operations of a public museum. But FAMSF clearly handled a painting from the growing private art collection maintained by Wilsey, a major donor and key FAMSF fundraiser who loves Impressionist paintings and seems to gravitate toward works incorporating the color pink.

Beth Heinrich, a spokesperson for the Portland Art Museum, confirmed to the Guardian that a Matisse titled “The Pink Blouse” was indeed loaned to the museum from a private collection, and placed on display in its Impressionist galleries in February of 2012.

The email exchange between Chen and Brindmore is just one thread in a trove of correspondence, invoices, and other documentation anonymously submitted to the Guardian. Put together, the information shows museum staff being asked, during normal business hours, to handle, photograph, crate or arrange shipments for more than a dozen different pieces from Wilsey’s personal art collection in just the past two years. The documentation also shows several examples in which museum employees were directed by Chen to digitally reproduce works from Wilsey’s private collection.

It’s not uncommon for art collectors to put private pieces in the collection of a museum, nor it is unusual for collectors to lend out art to other museums. And if the de Young received some benefit from its association with Wilsey’s art, it wouldn’t be surprising (or inappropriate) for the museum to help reproduce or ship it.

On the other hand, if Wilsey is loaning out the pieces on her own, from her private collection, and using museum resources, it could raise conflicts of interest.

The de Young, for example, wasn’t cosponsoring the Portland exhibit where the Matisse was shown. Since Wilsey just bought the Matisse, it couldn’t have been part of the de Young’s collection.

There’s no indication that it was anything but her personal loan of a valuable painting — facilitated by the staff of a nonprofit that runs a city museum.

Invoices show that some staff members were paid separately for assisting with Wilsey’s art collection, in some cases through independent businesses.

WHO’S IN CHARGE?

The Fine Arts Museums include the de Young and the Legion of Honor. Included as charitable trust departments under the City Charter, they are governed by a 43-member Board of Trustees, which is responsible for appointing a director. Wilsey has presided over the body as board president since the 1990s. The bylaws of the board were changed to eliminate term limits for the president, meaning she could stay in the post for as long as her board colleagues want.

The FAMSF has been leaderless since director John Buchanan died in December, 2011.

Though the museums are public institutions, their governance structure is similar to that of a public-private partnership, since a private nonprofit organization called the Corporation of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco handles museum administration and employs a number of museum staff, including curators and other professionals.

The city contributes some public funding to FAMSF, but the majority of revenue is derived from private sources. Wilsey, a multi-millionaire, contributed $10 million to the de Young, and spearheaded a 10-year fundraising campaign that culminated in 2005 with more than $180 million raised to rebuild the museum.

The socially connected philanthropist, known for throwing Christmastime bashes that attract a roster of powerful luminaries from government and big business to her Pacific Heights mansion, is often the subject of press reports or gossip surrounding San Francisco high society. Her stepson, Sean Wilsey, famously characterized Wilsey as his “evil stepmother” in his memoir, “Oh, the Glory of It All,” which includes an unflattering scene in which she is said to have pinned $200,000 brooches onto her bathrobe one Christmas morning.

She owns a fair amount of art — and apparently moves it around. In August of 2011, for instance, email threads show that Chen, using her FAMSF email address, contacted Jamil Abou-Samra of Masterpiece International, the shipping company, regarding “Mrs. Wilsey’s Degas.” Chen wrote: “I brought the Degas to the de Young last week for glazing. It should be ready for Steve to measure for crating any days [sic] now. Are we still looking at August 30, Tuesday, for pick up?” The thread indicates that the painting was destined for the Royal Academy of Arts, in London.

An Internet search shows that the Royal Academy indeed hosted an exhibit titled “Degas and the Ballet,” which opened in September of 2011. Press reports highlighting the artwork on display include an image of a Degas credited to “Collection of Diane B. Wilsey.”

There is no mention of the de Young or the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco anywhere in the web or press materials discussing the exhibition. Numerous other cooperating museums are identified by name.

When the Guardian reached Abou-Samra by phone, she indicated that she was not at liberty to discuss any of Masterpiece International’s handling of art shipments.

OFF TO PARIS

In February of 2011, email records show, Chen contacted Brindmore on his FAMSF email regarding a crate for a painting by Jean-Louis Forain that was bound for an exhibition at the Petit Palais, in Paris. The Parisian exhibit was launched in partnership with a Forain exhibit at Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis.

“Dede has a Forain painting that needs to be packed and crated … The painting is currently in our storage and [FAMSF staff member Steven Correll] knows the exact location,” Chen wrote to Brindmore. A few weeks later, Chen provided some special handling instructions for the Forain in an email to Samra, of Masterpiece International, just before it was transported to the airport.

There are established professional standards governing the operations of art museums, and the Guardian phoned several experts to determine whether it’s common practice for a member of the Board of Trustees to call upon museum staff members to handle their personal artwork. In response, communications director Dewey Blanton of the American Alliance of Museums highlighted an ethical standard stating, “No individual can use his or her position with the museum for personal gain.”

The code of ethics at the Boston Science Museum put it quite clearly: “When Museum of Science Trustees seek staff assistance for personal needs they should not expect that such help will be rendered to an extent greater than that available to a member of the general public in similar circumstances or with similar needs.”

It’s unlikely that a member of the general public who wanted to ship artworks would have the staff of the de Young at his or her disposal.

The Guardian telephoned a number believed to be Wilsey’s seeking comment, and was greeted with a receptionist who answered with the bright greeting, “Wilsey residence!” After being informed that Wilsey was traveling, we requested comment from her via email, explaining that documentation appeared to show use of museum time to manage her personal art collection. She had not responded by press time.

Ken Garcia, press spokesman for the Museums, told us “there are situations in which the museum facilitates loans to the Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums (COFAM), loans to other museums, and in other ways assists with the care and handling of artworks for private collectors, including trustees when there is significant value to our museum.” He added: “The reasons for museum staff to have handled the board president’s private art collection reflect standard practice for exhibitions and loans.”

He noted: “Reproductions of artworks (2D) are routinely requested by collectors when the loan of a picture conflicts with the lenders need for privacy, represents a potential security issue, or interrupts the continuity of the enjoyment of a collection. FAMSF provides for the photographic reproduction of artworks as an appreciative acknowledgment of the negotiated loan. Mrs. Wilsey has on occasion requested a reproduction be made of a loaned picture but on each occasion has generously assumed responsibility for the associated costs.”

Maybe it’s all perfectly fine and normal, “standard practice.” But there’s a lot of it going on, and some is at the very least curious.

Cutting from the bottom

86

news@sfbg.com

While the looming federal budget cuts known as sequestration were designed to equally hit Democratic and Republican party priorities, from social services to the military budget, in the Bay Area they would disproportionately target society’s most vulnerable citizens and strain already-stretched local agency budgets.

If Congress and the White House fail to forge a budget deal by March 1, the cuts could begin to withdraw $9-10 billion of federal support from the California. In the Bay Area, these cuts would have the biggest impact on low-income families, the homeless, victims of domestic violence, adults living with AIDS, and children ages 3-5.

Back in September, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee signed a U.S. Conference of Mayors’ letter that called on federal lawmakers to resolve the budget conflict before the sequestration cuts could take effect, labeling the budget cuts “a threat” to local economies nationwide. Now, with the deadline looming, city officials and social service providers across the Bay Area are bracing for the impact.

Depending to how the cuts are eventually allocated, San Francisco alone could lose more than $10 million in critical social services. “All across the city, the sequestration hurts those most in need of services and support,” Gentle Blythe, spokesperson with the San Francisco Unified School District, told the Guardian.

San Francisco Unified stands to lose $3.8 million in funding, over 5 percent of the district’s federal education dollars. The cuts would strain an already-tight education budget, which has suffered from the slow economy and the corresponding dip in tax revenue. “We’ve been in a climate of cuts for years,” Blythe said. “There is a definite sense of fatigue.”

The pending round of cuts would force San Francisco district officials to make a series of uncomfortable decisions. The bulk of San Francisco’s federal education funding comes from Title I and Title III grants, money specifically earmarked for low-income students and English-language learners. If the state does not step in to fill the hole, the $3.8 million shortfall will translate into a significant rollback of services for the city’s most at-risk students and potential layoffs of teachers and resource officers.

Early childhood programs are especially vulnerable to the impact of the sequester. San Francisco Head Start Director Marjorie Weiss told us the demand for these federal education programs is spiking as more San Francisco children are living in poverty.

US Census figures show 13.8 percent of San Francisco residents were living below the federal poverty line in 2011, up from 12.2 percent in 2005. Over the last decade, 850 additional children became eligible for SF Head Start, which operates federally funded preschool programs in 19 classrooms at 9 different centers across the city.

These programs significantly improve the long-term employment and educational prospects of children living in or near poverty. But as the need for these early-childhood services grows, the money is drying up. Over the last two years, state and local funding for early-childhood education has be cut by nearly 20 percent.

Now, with the sequestration looming, San Francisco Head Start providers are worried about their ability to continue providing services. “At Head Start, we have already been dealing with years of budget cuts,” Weiss told us. If the sequester comes through, the program will lose an additional $1.1 million and will be forced to eliminate programming for more than 100 low income children ages 3-5.

“This will be devastating. These cuts will have a crippling effect on low-income children in the community and their ability to be ready for school” says Weiss. The funding cuts will take effect June 1st and directly impact the incoming class of 3-year-old preschool students.

Although education will absorb a significant impact from the sequestration, social services across the city will be cut back. San Francisco homeless advocates are forecasting a $1 million cut in federal assistance and AIDS groups have warned that nearly $800,000 dollars in housing vouchers for AIDS patients are on the chopping block. Federal funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which subsidized medical care for AIDS patients, is set to be slashed by nearly 8 percent across the board.

Advocates for the victims of domestic abuse are also worried about the sequester’s impact on local survivors of domestic violence. In San Francisco, federal money provides crucial services for victims of domestic violence through nationally-mandated Family Violence and Prevention Services (FVPS). The city’s three primary domestic violence shelters rely on this revenue stream for outreach programming, translation services, and extended operating hours. The pending sequester would cut nearly 10 percent of FVPS grants, forcing shelters to tighten their belts.

“The sequester is going to dramatically impact the funding for lifesaving services for domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, as well as legal service, and children’s programs,” Beckie Masaki, the founder and former executive director of San Francisco’s Asian Women’s Shelter, told the Guardian. Masaki now works with the Asian and Pacific Island Institute (APIDV) on Domestic Violence, where she advocates for more federal funding for domestic violence service providers.

Masaki is worried that the cuts will disproportionately impact the city’s most vulnerable women: low-income and non-English speaking victims of domestic violence, as cash-strapped shelters lay off translators and cut back on outreach and group therapy.

“In the past, when we were facing cuts, we did our best to minimize the impact on survivors,” she explains. “But in this era of constant cuts, it’s going to mean layoffs, and ultimately fewer services for the most vulnerable survivors”. As lawmakers in Washington scramble to pass a budget deal before the March 1 deadline, the climate of uncertainty leaves local service agencies in a state of limbo. With future funding in doubt, long-term planning and strategizing become increasingly difficult. Yet for many local service providers, the most recent threat of sequestration is a familiar consequence of an increasingly fragile social safety net. According to Masaki, the sequestration should motivate Congress to rethink its budgeting priorities: “If they invest in these baseline life-saving services for those that are most vulnerable in our community, in the end that is the path to better economic and social sustainability for our whole nation.”