From 3.9 to the Last: San Francisco’s African American Creative Legacy Now

Still image from "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" starring Jimmie Fails (right) and Pretice Sanders (left) and directed by Joe Talbot.

Still image from “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” starring Jimmie Fails (right) and Prentice Sanders (left). Directed by Joe Talbot.

Rampant housing speculation, aggressive evictions, and rapid increases in the costs of living reveal continuing economic vulnerabilities among many of San Francisco’s historic cultural communities. This summer’s troubled closing of San Francisco’s Marcus Books, the oldest black-owned, black-themed book store in the country, marked yet another painful blow to San Francisco’s celebrated diversity. In response to these upheavals, artists like the 3.9 Art Collective and filmmakers Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails, are devising poignant new terms of engagement for the future of San Francisco’s African American creative legacy.

In 2011, the San Francisco Bay View, reported preliminary findings from the 2010 Census estimating the percentage of African American residents in San Francisco to be 3.9% of the total population. While the actual percentage determined by the US Census Bureau was eventually raised to a little over 6%, the initial 3.9% estimate prompted intense discussion about the City’s shrinking black population. In response the 3.9 Art Collective was forged. The collective is “an association of African American artists, curators, and art writers who came together to draw attention to the city’s dwindling black population.” Even at over 6%, the City was experiencing an overall decline in its black population of nearly 36% over the last two decades while population counts for other races increased.

Initially shaped by the “Second Great Migration” of African-Americans from 1940-1970, San Francisco’s black population grew ten-fold in the wake of World War II, establishing the city, and the Fillmore District in particular, as a lively urban region bustling with black entrepreneurship and cultural innovation. While the reasons for this reversal are complex, they include voluntary relocations to Bay Area suburbs, an emerging “New Great Migration” to the South, as well as forced relocations arising from gentrification and persistent structural classism and racism, one result has been a visible and solemn diminishing of a legendary cultural presence.

Rodney Ewing (of 3.9 Art Collective), 0-19 Seconds, wall drawing and installation, 2014.

Rodney Ewing (of 3.9 Art Collective), 0-19 Seconds, wall drawing and installation, 2014.

Since 3.9 Art Collective’s first exhibition, Still Here in October 2011, the group has continued to press upon the vexing and painful conundrums of place, longing, belonging, diversity and cultural diaspora while “drawing attention to the historical and ongoing presence of black artists in the city and creative expression in its black communities.” Current members include, recently appointed SOMArts Curator of Inquiry and Impact, Melorra Green, as well as Samuel Lewis, Mark Harris, Virginia Jourdan, Rhiannon MacFadyen, Ramekon O’ Arwisters, Kristine Mays, Nina Fabunmi, Tim Roseborough, Ron Saunders, Rodney Ewing, Sirron Norris, Sage Stargate, Melonie Green, Michael Ross, Nancy Cato, Kevin Jones, Jarrel Phillips, Ako Jacintho,  Jaqueline Francis,  AT Stephens, and William Rhodes.

Working in a similar vein, Longshot Features out of Bernal Heights, recently released the trailer for its upcoming feature film, The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Directed by former San Francisco School of the Arts film student Joe Talbot, the film is inspired by the true life-story of Joe’s best friend Jimmie Fails, a third-generation black San Franciscan and the family home hand-built by Jimmie’s grandfather during the “Harlem of the West” hey day of the city’s Fillmore District. In the trailer, we learn how the home was subsequently lost by Jimmie’s parents and follow Jimmie as he skates the long hills of his hometown, reminiscing about his family’s local history. “Through the friendship he forms with a fellow outcast and faithful companion, Prentice Sanders, the film explores what it is like to be outcasts in your hometown.”

The trailer for the Last Black Man in San Francisco will screen November 22, 2014 alongside Chip Lord’s short films Movie Map and Esta Noche (written and starring René Yañez) as part of Overnight Strange: A Vaudeville for the Displaced, the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism’s live-performance showcase and launch party. Several of members of the 3.9 Art Collective will be showing at SOMArts Cultural Center’s Place/Displaced later this month and in April 2015, the collective will install Hiraeth (a Welsh term that connotes homesickness tinged with grief, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire ) at USF’s Thacher Gallery.

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Posted in Art & Activism Quarterly, Art Exhibitions, Artist-Activists, Bay Area, Posts, Racism, Video

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