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Arts + CultureWhy is Soma CBD censoring leather community art?

Why is Soma CBD censoring leather community art?

Local artists find their work is not suitable for the sides of trash cans.

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In April, the Soma West Community Benefit District reached out to the LEATHER & LGBTQ Cultural District, the SoMa Pilipinas Cultural District, and a number of other local artists to create artwork that would be displayed on the neighborhood’s new Big Belly trash cans. The hope was “to support local artists, and to get something unique and creative out there,” Christian Martin, executive director of the Soma West CBD, told me.

The Soma West CBD decided this art by Dorian Katz was “too explicit” to be on the side of a trash can.

Among the artists from the LEATHER & LGBTQ Cultural District were Dorian Katz and Justin Hall. Both Katz and Hall had submitted pieces of unique artwork to hopefully be displayed on the Big Belly trash cans that are now spread out across SoMa.

They were paid for their artwork and even given a location of where their unique trash cans would be – but when they went to go see their trash cans, they weren’t there.

Katz and Hall were among five artists who painted submissions for the LEATHER & LGBTQ Cultural District but had their submissions pulled at the last minute with no notification from the Soma West CBD.

Katz, a queer/bisexual woman, has been creating queer art as her alter ego Poppers the Pony for over 15 years and has been a part of the leather and LGBTQ community in San Francisco since 2000. Katz’s submission for the Big Belly trash cans displayed her character Popper the Pony in leather.

 “For my drawings, I decided to use the hanky code as itself, a color code used to communicate sexual interests in the queer leather community,” she told me by email. “Most people, young and old and all ages in between, will not know the code. For them, I hoped they’d still enjoy these playful, cartoon-y drawings. For queer leather people, I hoped that seeing images reflecting our culture would add to their sense of belonging.”

(The hanky code was created in the 1970s; different colored hankies are used predominately by gay men to signal which type of sex they want to have.)

When Katz realized her trash can wasn’t going to be displayed she said she “was really sad, because there is a lot less to look forward to.” In a year marked by a pandemic, stay-at-home orders, and social isolation, and therefore fewer opportunities for public art display this was an exciting prospect for Katz.

She was even more disappointed that she had to find out by going to the location since she wasn’t notified by Martin or anyone at the Soma West CBD that her art had been pulled. “Once you tell someone their art is going on a corner,” she said, “it seems reasonable to expect it will happen.”

Hall, a gay man who has been an artist for more than 30 years, moved to San Francisco 25 years ago and found a home as a part of the city’s leather and LGBTQ community. When he submitted his art to hopefully be placed on one of the Big Belly trash cans he was excited to become a “trashy artist” and even more excited to be a part of the lineage of the leather and bondage scene in Soma.

He, like Katz, wasn’t notified that his art ultimately didn’t make the final cut and wouldn’t be displayed, and said the incident felt “tremendously disrespectful… nobody knew, and nobody had a chance to change their art.”

Although both Hall and Katz believe that one Soma West CBD board member, who had an issue with the hanky code, ultimately had the final call about whether certain LEATHER & LGBTQ Cultural District art submissions would be displayed, Martin said that wasn’t true.

Martin said that one board member expressed concerns about “Katz’s piece and the graphic nature of the artwork” and from there it started a larger conversation at the board level during which more voices came into the conversation.

Martin explained that Katz piece was pulled, because the board didn’t agree with having the Soma West CBD logo (which is displayed on all of the Big Belly trash cans in the neighborhood) displayed alongside her explicit art piece. The other pieces were ultimately not displayed for various other reasons.

Martin said the lack of communication about these decisions to the artists, was his fault, and only happened due to the short timeline which ultimately left the Soma West CBD scrambling to get everything together in time to meet their deadlines.  

Even though Hall was disappointed by the situation, he noted that Martin was very engaged and transparent when it came to addressing the miscommunications and missteps of the CBD during a private meeting which Hall, Katz, one other affected artist, and Bob Goldfarb, president of the LEATHER & LGBTQ Cultural District were present for.

Goldfarb wrote in an email to me, “My recollection is that the CBD’s offers included a pledge for better communication, a pledge to pay for new art or revisions, and an agreement to produce a set of standards for their art.” He continued on noting that the LEATHER & LGBTQ Cultural District, “view the situation as still in the process of being resolved and my expectation is that we will all meet with the CBD again.”

Hall and Katz suggested that the Soma West CBD work together with the San Francisco Arts Commission or California Lawyers for the Arts to build a paper trail and set of standards when commissioning art in the future.

And although Hall’s experience with the Soma West CBD wasn’t ideal this time around, he noted that “it is great that they are giving people this opportunity to be a part of this community,” and even though there was a miscommunication he wants this to be a positive thing for the community.

While Martin and the Soma West CBD hope to gather new art commissions in springtime, Martin noted that in order for that to happen they must not only find a way to ensure the mishaps that occurred this time are resolved, they must also find a way to secure more new Big Belly trash cans.

The Big Belly trash cans, which rely on solar panels to compact the trash, have been the targets of recent theft. According to Martin, seven of the new trash cans have had their solar panels stolen off of them and are now unusable until they are repaired. The CBD is working to come up for a solution to this problem but until then no new art will be commissioned.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. @Gorn huh? I’m talking about the board of SoMa West CBD, and not sure why you’re bringing up this other thing? That’s not what happened in this case at all.

  2. And I had no idea that Roberto Hernandez, the nonprofity Mayor of the Mission, the million dollar man for Carnival, which is a festival that has absolutely no sexual component whatsoever, would come out against a PDR industry that does not require a fancy degree or higher ed to work in.

  3. Marke, You’re gaslighting when you suggest that I claimed that there was no diversity in any community.

    You’re gaslighting when you infer that since there are queers in communities of color, that means that those queers are progressive or there is no homophobia in het conservative and religious communities of color.

    The interests that have the money and run the agencies are in general more conservative, do not necessarily share your progressive values, even as they might get you all to consider them as progressive because you feel guilt tripped into legitimating whatever bullshit any oppressed person throws your way, lest you be shunned by your in-group for racism..

    Meanwhile, the history of “community” erasure of queer culture speaks for itself.

  4. @Gorn — I get the history and I now why the assumption was made — many Filipino activists I know are hella queer. In this case the objection came from someone on the SOMA West board, which is all deeply involved arts and community folks. Very strange.

  5. Going back into history: Sam Ruiz and Roberto Hernandez protest Kink at the Armory. I wonder if Acworth failed to pay their extortion toll or otherwise genuflect to kiss their asses?

    ‘”Is that right?” said Roberto Hernandez, the artistic director for the annual Carnaval parade. “Maybe we have to go to court to stop it. This neighborhood is already plagued with enough violence and prostitution as it is.” ‘

    ‘”This is oppressive and inappropriate for our community,” said Sam Ruiz, executive director of Mission Neighborhood Centers. “It’s not OK to promote acts of degradation and violence. We don’t want this kind of stuff here.” ‘

    News // Bay Area & State
    SAN FRANCISCO / Porn studio says armory filming has begun / Protesters surround building in Mission where Kink.com says 3 videos were made

    , Chronicle Staff Writer
    Feb. 9, 2007
    Updated: Jan. 18, 2012 9:04 p.m.

    Fifty soggy yet passionate pickets marched Thursday in front of the old armory on San Francisco’s Mission Street to protest the movies being shot on the other side of the brick walls.

    Carrying signs reading “Shut it Down” and “Stop Sex-ploitation,” the protesters demanded that Kink.com, an online pornographer, stop its plans to make X-rated bondage videos inside the building.

    But instead of backing down, Kink boasted that it already had shot three videos inside the 93-year-old armory building, featuring porn star Princess Donna, who was “expertly suspended above the drill court … with no complaints from anyone.”

    “This is oppressive and inappropriate for our community,” said Sam Ruiz, executive director of Mission Neighborhood Centers. “It’s not OK to promote acts of degradation and violence. We don’t want this kind of stuff here.”

    Protesters complained that Kink degrades the neighborhood, demeans women and offers “dead-end” jobs that no decent person would want.

    Kink, which bought the building in December for $14.5 million and announced plans to turn the 200,000-square-foot landmark into a pornography production palace, said it wants to be a good neighbor and that no one need ever know that adult movies are being shot inside.

    Kink has been operating from an unadorned, two-story building on Mission Street, a block east of the remodeled Westfield San Francisco Centre. Few of its neighbors know anything about the whips, handcuffs, ropes, shackles and chains inside. Kink owner Peter Acworth said any Mission District community leader was cordially invited to tour that studio and see how decently the company treats its manacled performers.

    None of the protesters Thursday seemed aware that filming at the armory already had begun.

    “Is that right?” said Roberto Hernandez, the artistic director for the annual Carnaval parade. “Maybe we have to go to court to stop it. This neighborhood is already plagued with enough violence and prostitution as it is.”

    Acworth said he understood the protesters’ concerns and said his studio was a “closed shop.” He promised that residents would “have a better idea what’s going on inside their neighbor’s bedrooms than inside the armory.”

    The company, he said, has already removed graffiti from the armory walls and is arranging to replace broken windows and install outside lighting. There is no Kink sign on the building.

    As for the filming that already has taken place, Acworth said in addition to Princess Donna being suspended above the drill court last week, two other bondage videos were shot this week in the basement boiler room.

    “No neighbor noticed,” Acworth said. “There were no complaints from anyone.”

    The only problem, Acworth said, was that the old building was too cold for performers during shooting. The company will be investing in more portable heaters, he said, because it’s important for his hog-tied and horsewhipped actors to be comfortable.

  6. @Marke, because there are never any tensions between oppressed groups and acknowledging these tensions means endorsing and supporting them. The proposal for “children and family zoning” in the heart of Western SOMA from SOMCAN back in the day exemplified these tensions. Remember when Catholic families protested kink dot com’s porn production? Do you remember the posture of the SF Arch Diocese during the AIDS pandemic? That’s the first thing that pops to mind when it comes to WSOMA rejection of queer culture because that fits the pattern for the past few decades. In this case, the Christian majority is the oppressor class in power, the LGBT community the oppressed. The presumption has been rebutted. Yet WSOMA ratchets inexorably more “family friendly,” making a tombstone of the LGBT/Leather district. Not to worry. The Central SOMA plan will make short work of the remaining SOMA Pilipinos.

    And how the hell did WSOMA ever get a privatize the streets Community Benefit District given that D6 has had “progressive” supervisors since district elections came back?

  7. When we came up with the idea of coterminous LGBT and Pilipinas cultural districts in Western SOMA, thwas te idea was not to establish a nonprofit to control minutiae, irrelevant crap like trash cans. The goal was to empower city government with tools to ensure that the living, breathing, functioning cultures were not totally erased.

    SO many of these cultural districts, Transgender and the incipient Latinx Mission CD, and apparently these two in WSOMA, are nothing more than end points for politically connected patronage corruption that serve other interests than those of the cultural communities involved.

    Who ever thought that there would be any conflicts between leather LGBT and often conservative Catholic Pilipinas on cultural issues?

    These kinds of cultural districts are tombstones for cultures that have been declared functionally dead.

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