How Public Art Exposed Class Tensions in San Francisco — a series of conversations about art, class and race that emerged from “Block by Block,” a public art project.

The Neighbor Longing for Community Change

Reflections by Wayne Shaw, Resident of San Cristina Hotel

Wayne Shaw, Central Market neighbor. Credit: Wayne Shaw

Shaw’s role: Shaw, 64, has lived in the single room occupancy hotel overlooking San Francisco’s Market and Sixth streets since 2000. He attended the city planning department’s community meetings about “Block by Block’s” fate.

Read the series intro: How Public Art Exposed Class Tensions in San Francisco


Wayne Shaw’s Perspective

I have back problems. I wish there was somewhere to stop and sit on Market Street, but I have to force myself to keep going because there’s nowhere to sit. So when “Block by Block” first came, I was the first person there: I met the artist, I sat on there, and it was a needed convenience and a great novelty.

Having a place to sit…I thought was cool. I could imagine that up and down Market Street, not just in one place.

But the people out there they don’t see it as a place to be appreciated or to sit, they see it as a place to sell drugs. They congregate there and it becomes like a territory. There was some fear of a drive-by right here, and that’s kind of intimidating.

Most of Market Street is devoid of public seating. Credit: Kenneth Rainin Foundation

There was some hostility against “Block by Block” that I didn’t feel was deserved [from other residents of the hotel]. They would say, “I’m working to stay off drugs, I don’t need this right here.” You get tired if every time you walk out of the house you hear, “Do you want this [drug], or do you want that?” It’s called a trigger. All of a sudden your attention goes to that, when it really wasn’t on that. You start feeling like your house is not safe, that you have no control over what goes on. If you could avoid it you would, but if it’s right there, you can’t.

Still, the complaint cannot be leveled at the structure. This neighborhood is a dumping ground, man. This is where you go when you ain’t got nothing, and are trying to get something. And they make sure it stays that way by putting so many people together in the same area by Sixth Street [in the single room occupancy (SRO) hotels]. Our rooms are small — just one room. They don’t have restrooms or kitchens. A lot of us live by the skin of our teeth, and we don’t have opportunities to leave that building: our Section 8 doesn’t apply anywhere but that building.

I’m not glad that “Block by Block” is gone.

I really believe more of that type of thing would be an improvement, and if there were more seating, people could spread around and use it for what it was intended for.

This post is part of a series of conversations about art, class and race that emerged from “Block by Block,” a public art project.

Let’s hear from the next stakeholder…

The Guardian: Darryl Smith
The Artist:
Marisha Farnsworth
The City Planners:
Paul Chasan and Neil Hrushowy
The Entrepreneur:
D’Mond Hill
The Changemaker:
Ilana Lipsett
The Gatekeeper:
Simon Bertrang
The Funder:
Shelley Trott

Where does the story begin?

How Public Art Exposed Class Tensions in San Francisco

What did we learn?

Insights From Our First Public Art Collaboration