Note: this post is inspired by an announcement by Intersection for the Arts that their business model is not sustainable and they are contracting programs, laying-off staff and restructuring.
I came to San Francisco in 1996. I was 23. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but knew I wanted to create something. To make something. I had taken the scenic route across the country in my 1965 Ford LTD. Appalachia. Mississippi. West Texas. Vegas. I had a manifesto.
For an East Coast kid like me, under the thrall of Kerouac, and Ferlinghetti, San Francisco and the Bay Area was the place in this strange country where people came to try stuff, and it always had been. Coppola and Lucas left LA to make their movies here.
I dropped down with a few friends and a few ideas and in short order we started doing what generations of others had done before: creating new work, finding kindred spirits, figuring out who we were, and what we wanted to say.
For me, the expression took the form of sketch comedy, and then short films, and zines, and cabarets, and records, and improbably the centrifuge for these spiraling activities was a group I co-founded called Killing My Lobster.
I didn’t know it when I showed up 18 years ago, but I quickly learned, that for years artists and activists who’d been drawn to this place with the same abstract Dreyfuss-in-Close-Encounters urge to create that I had, were able to find their voices and realize their visions because of Intersection for the Arts.
For nearly 50 years Intersection has been one part mountain guide, one part camping supply store; training, equipping and inspiring artists to ascend all sorts of unlikely and thrilling peaks.
I walked through the Intersection’s doors on Valencia Street countless times. Originally I went not knowing what I needed for my adventure, but trusting that Deborah Cullinan would put me on the right path. And she did, many many times. And over the years I went to Intersection for advice, for support, for a show, for a play, a concert, an auction, to recruit a stage manager, to film something in the dressing room, to discuss the viability of being an artist in San Francisco, to celebrate artists in San Francisco, to learn how to apply for a grant, to discuss the conditions of making a grant, to sit in the house as the lights dimmed, and as Sean or Kevin or Rebecca or Deborah came to center stage and asked: “how many of you have ever been to Intersection before?”
And time and time again Intersection showed me that things that were not supposed to happen, could happen. The audiences at Campo Santo plays looked different than at any other theater in town; the process of making new work engaged community members in more honest, serious, creative ways than I’d ever seen done before; the sense of inclusion extended to artists who were world-famous and to the completely unknown and seemingly everyone in between. And the fearlessness with which Intersection confronted change and struck out boldly to imagine a future with new partners, and new neighbors and new models of creating, nurturing and deploying new work was unparalleled, breathtaking and necessary.
The public identity of Intersection are the programs it has run – from incubating artists in a fiscal sponsorship program (that nurtured Killing My Lobster for many years) – to producing original work across disciplines – to the people who’ve run it. Most notably for the last two decades: Deborah, Sean and Kevin.
But the impact that Intersection has made on thousands of private individuals who’ve been helped along their way, or been transported for an evening, and on the communities which it has knitted together is impossible to measure.
San Francisco is much more than a geographic location, or a physical space. It is a concept. Not a monolithic or immutable concept, but an idea nonetheless. And the idea for me is that this is where you can be different, look different, act different, marry different, say the things that are unpopular and try the things that aren’t supposed to work.
And for that idea to exist in the material world it needs agents and actors who will champion these virtues and hold your hand in moments of doubt. Intersection has done that for half-a-century and San Francisco would not be San Francisco if it hadn’t.
Knowing that Intersection is trimming its sails makes me melancholy of course, but I am hopeful that with change comes a new opportunity to try something else out, for the artists who are here now, and for those who are on the way. Will the experiment work? We don’t know, but Intersection’s legacy tells us that we have to try.