Workers at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum were in full takedown mode on Wednesday afternoon as they prepared to move the collection to a storage facility.
The only museum in the western United States dedicated to cartoon art went up against the city’s rental market and lost. Saturday was the museum’s final day at its downtown location behind San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, near the offices of LinkedIn, Salesforce and other tech giants.
Landlords Brad Bernheim of Coast Counties Property Management and Matthew Cuevas of Cappa and Graham Inc were honest with Kashar and the museum about the rent increases.
“We knew that our rent was going to be untenable for a while now and our landlord has been very compromising for months, but we knew it wouldn’t last,” the museum’s executive director, Summerlea Kashar, told the Guardian.
On Thursday evening, in a final event for the museum, dozens of local artists mixed with the community, sketching images for guests in return for a small donation. The money will be put towards a fund that will, Kashar hopes, help establish a new location for the museum.
The tech boom has seen prices skyrocket across the Bay Area and in San Francisco, and the changing landscape has hit non-profits like the museum hardest.
“We live in a world where cartoons and comics are all around us in popular culture, and they become part of our lives from the time we are very young. But it’s very easy to think that the work appears as if by magic, forgetting that there are hardworking humans creating it for us,” said Brian Kolm of Atomic Bear Press.
According to museum curator Andrew Farago, rent accounts for approximately 50% of the nonprofit’s budget. When told the museum’s rent would be doubled, it was the game-over moment.
“Right now, we are expecting to be closed for about six months at the minimum as we search for a new location,” Kashar explained. She would like to see the museum remain in San Francisco, but that will be difficult.
Museums and nonprofits are not the first to face a San Francisco exodus.
Last month, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a stem cell research agency that made the city its home a decade ago in what was dubbed a major coup for the city, announced it was leaving due to the expected rental costs due to the expiration of its 10-year rent free arrangement with the city that expires in November.
According to the institute’s spokesman, Kevin McCormack, to rent a similar space in the city would cost approximately $1.5m annually, but in Oakland, just across the bay to the west, it would be less than half that amount. The institute is relocating to a high rise office complex in Oakland’s Lake Merritt.
Commercial rent, which does not benefit from rent control as residential properties do, has been rising quickly since landlords are permitted to increase prices whenever and however often they want. Kashar would not divulge the rent requested by the museum’s landlord, but Farago was concerned that the continued increases in rental costs could be detrimental to the overall art scene in the city.
“The rent issue makes it more difficult for artists to move into the city, and for artists to stay in the city,” he began. “Many arts organizations are thriving, and the independent gallery scene continues to hang in there … but I have to admit that I know a lot more artists living in the East Bay now than I do in San Francisco.”
Statistics published by The Information show commercial rent per square foot in San Francisco has nearly doubled in four years, from $34.02 in 2010 to $64.45 presently. In the third quarter of 2000, at the peak of the dot-com bubble, per square foot commercial rent hit $67.20.
San Francisco mayor Ed Lee’s office has pushed forward on initiatives to assist nonprofits to remain in the city, but it is proving difficult. His office said they were doing “all that we can at the moment to assist the many requests for assistance that are coming in as rent prices soar”.
Farago thinks it’s a shame. He believes that the museum has been a way of bringing people together through art. He says the museum is a rare example of how artists often show up and make themselves available for an impromptu tour.
“I’ve made a lot of lifelong friends at the Cartoon Art Museum, and it’s where I met my wife, the very first day that I volunteered at the museum in the summer of 2000. I’ve lost track of the friendships that have developed between staff and volunteers, fans and artists, artists and staff,” Farago continued.
The final art on display at the Mission Street location includes original art from two of Irish artist Tomm Moore’s films, The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. In the other room is art from Oakland-based artist and Image Comics publisher Eric Larsen’s Savage Dragon. One of the images is a survivor from the 1989 fire that hit Oakland following the Point Loma earthquake.
“What this museum has been able to do is bring people here for the big names like Moore and Larsen, but then we bring in other artists and people get to see alternative art they wouldn’t normally have been able to or known about,” Kashar added.
With the coming void that will be left by the museum, local artists are hopeful that the museum can find a new home and continue to deliver art to the community. “Having access to great art libraries is tough anywhere,” said Ron Turner, publisher of Last Gasp Eco Funnies Co. Turner believes the museum allowed people to see comic art in a new perspective that was adult and intellectual. “It truly has been one of my most endearing and soul fulfilling pleasures to visit the place.”
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