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Occupied Space

Artists, activists and pagans draw the line against the clearcutting of community and culture in San Francisco

"This occupation was about freedom.... freedom to live life as we have chosen. Having been evicted out of Berkeley, the occupation of Footwork was my fight back against personal displacement and a stand in solidarity with the dancers and artists of the Bay Area." — Max

On August 15, Dancers' Group Footwork studio in the Mission District of San Francisco lost its lease for the space from which it had served the community for 18 years, due to a rent hike from $3,100 to $15,500 per month (over 500% increase). The space has been a dance studio for over 50 years, and was the rehearsal and performing home for hundreds of dancers and performance artists.

"To me, Earth-based spirituality means honoring the place we live. It means taking a stand against greed and preserving the communities we already have." — George

The new landlord, Pomegranate Design and Development, bought the building at the current hyper-inflated "market value," and tried to pass the cost on to the non-profit dance organization. When the dancers were unable to meet the new rent, an eviction was ordered.

"There is this sense that money and capital are taking our art, and I want to keep giving it back. We gave something back to people, every artist and witness at the circus of resistance. We gave each other some hope and some reclamation." — Victoria

In response to the eviction notice, artists and activists organized a performance festival in the street outside the space on its final night, with a thousand or more people closing the entire block for music, dance and theater performance. That night, twenty-five people occupied the space, refusing to acknowledge the eviction.

During the next three days, dozens of community members helped maintain a round-the-clock occupation. Offerings of food, blankets, and other supplies were donated by supporters. Inside, free classes and performances were organized.

"The dancers' space is special to me. I think it was really fun dancing with Priscilla in the talent show. If we lose all the dance spaces, then where will we dance?" — Ingi, age six

Members of Reclaiming took part in the occupation. Circles were cast each night, and a ritual was held on the second evening.

"The action was full of faerie and goddess energy. A lovely example of what we have the power to create." — Max

The occupiers held the building for three days, until a police raid on the morning of August 18 forced them out. Ten people still refused to leave, and were arrested.

"I knew I was willing to sit, and to be arrested. I felt like my own perception and belief system, around culture and living in an awake state, required my participation in that way." — Victoria

After the eviction, cultural events and protests continued outside the Dancers' Group space. Community meetings were held to discuss how to save this and the many other cultural and nonprofit spaces threatened with destruction as San Francisco is overrun by nouveau riche businesses and entrepreneurs whose sole cultural interest is upscale restaurants.

The meetings spawned several demands that transcend any one space or building:

  • that 3221 22nd Street (formerly known as Dancers' Group) remain a community space for dance and the performing arts, affordable for artists and low income people
  • sustainable, nurturing communities which are vibrant with diverse cultures and non-commercial art forms
  • no more displacement — begin a city planning process that respects people over profits

"It makes me remember to take myself seriously. It makes me want to do whatever it takes over the long haul, on a non-violent path of resistance, to help society recognize places for people. It makes me want to create art that is about this, and also art that is not just about this. It makes me want to really value my community on an on-going basis." — Victoria

How you can help

  • Call the 848 Community Space Hotline: (415) 923-9599, or visit
  • If you are in the Bay Area, come to the many events being organized in threatened neighborhoods such as the Mission and SOMA districts of San Francisco as well as Berkeley and Oakland.
  • Call or write Pomegranate Design and Development, (415) 826-8860, or — tell the profiteers they must preserve community!
  • Write to Carol Midgen (state assembly member) and ask her to sponsor cultural preservation legislation and funding:
  • Write to Mayor Willie Brown and ask him to sponsor cultural preservation legislation and funding:

Edited by George Franklin/RQ. Thanks to Pod for background material.