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Survey Confirms: Market Forces Pushing Artists Out of San Francisco

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Graffiti on an empty storefront nearby what used to be the home of the artist co-op CELLspace (Photo: Kevin L. Jones/KQED)

A new survey confirms what many in San Francisco already know: market forces are pushing artists out of the city.

Beginning in July, the San Francisco Arts Commission heard from nearly 600 artists that either live or recently lived in the city. The survey found that over 70 percent of the respondents had been or were being displaced from their workplace, home, or both. As for the 30 percent that weren’t being displaced, potential displacement in the near future was a common concern.

San Francisco Arts Commission meeting
San Francisco Arts Commission meeting (Photo: Kevin L. Jones/KQED)

“I would’ve reported this survey as being alarming,” John Elberling, director of the Tenants and Owners Development Corporation (TODCO), said. “It’s going to be a wipeout.”

The survey also found that the most common reasons for artists losing their leases on workspaces and homes were business-related: building conversion, rent increases, new owners and/or owners moving into the space.

The average size of workplaces utilized by the artists polled was 500 sq. ft. And though the average monthly cost of rent was reported at $1.75 per sq. ft., some artists were being charged as much as $17.33 per sq. ft.


Anecdotal evidence of the survey’s findings has already been widespread, but the commission conducted the survey to obtain hard data on artist displacement, which it will use to help guide city policy, according to Tom DeCaigny, the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Director of Cultural Affairs.

“So as there’s tension in our real estate market, we want to understand what it is that artists are currently paying so that we can make sure that those artists have affordable space for the long term,” DeCaigny said.

Example slide from SFAC report
Example slide from SFAC report (Courtesy: SFAC)

DeCaigny also noted at a meeting Tuesday that the commission provides grants that can be used toward creative spaces, and that the Mayor’s office increased the grant budget from $1.9 million to $2.9 million this year. (Deadline for applications is Oct. 15; go to the commission’s website for more information.)

The release of the survey results on Tuesday led to a handful of artists showing up to the commission’s meeting Tuesday afternoon to express their concerns about its findings. Some of them included artists who were part of Studio 17, the 70-member artist collective that was forced out of the Redlick Building by landlords in June of this year.

“Please know that this issue is much greater than the loss of artists’ space,” Truong Tran, a former Studio 17 member, said. “It is about the displacement of communities, and cultures of the working class and people of color. We artists see ourselves in these communities.”

To read more about the commission’s survey, download the snapshot of the Individual Artists Space Need Analysis.

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