Thursday, August 18, 2005

PROTEST in SF 8/19 - Susan Cervantes - "Cultural Cornerstone of the Mission Faces Eviction" (Beyond Chron)

Cultural Cornerstone of the Mission Faces Eviction

Susan Cervantes
Casey Mills 12.AUG.05

"Ask any San Franciscan to name their favorite things about this city, and the murals of the Mission almost always find themselves near the top of the list. Tourists from across the globe wander down Balmy Alley and gaze at the colorful celebrations of culture adorning its walls. Yet now, Susan Cervantes, a woman who painted and helped bring over 200 of those murals here, could be evicted from her home of 35 years.

Cervantes currently lives on Precita Avenue, just blocks from where she runs the well-known Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center. Cervantes founded Precita Eyes, a non-profit devoted to creating, celebrating, and involving youth with murals across the city. For more than 25 years, the organization has led tours of the Mission’s murals, held festivals celebrating their contribution to the city, facilitated the creation of new murals, and involved youth in the art form.

Considered a cultural institution of the Mission by many, the Center is responsible for bringing hundreds of murals to the neighborhood and Bay Area, as well as teaching thousands of interested locals and visitors about the murals’ history. The Center also serves as the only resource in Northern California for low-cost classes and arts supplies for young muralists.

“She’s been in the community for the longest, working in a medium that is highly valued,” Jennie Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. “She gives opportunities for everybody of all ages to learn and participate in this artistic discipline, and we really value her skills and her contributions to the community.”

Now, however, the future of Cervantes and the Center appears uncertain. Cervantes received a three-day notice to vacate her home several days ago, issued to her by Douglas Wong and Pearl Yee, who recently bought the building she’s lived in over half of her life.

Should the evictors prove victorious, Cervantes said she would most likely be forced to leave San Francisco because of the high cost of rent. According to Cervates, her absence would leave Precita Eyes “unable to operate in its previous state,” including the probable cutting of several of its programs.

The threat of eviction has left Cervantes shocked and confused, particularly because she feels she’s given her life to her community, only to receive the reward of being removed from it.

“I’ve never been in any other place than San Francisco that supported art and community so much,” said Cervantes. “When you get that kind of support, you want to give back. And I gave back everything I had, all of my income to promote what I believed was important - light and color and beauty and the sharing of public space that belongs to everyone. We tried to preserve culture and bring art…and now I may have to leave.”

Not only does Cervantes have strong connections to the community, but her personal connections to her home run deep as well. Two of her three children were born in the building she’s being evicted from, and her husband delivered the youngest in their living room. Cervantes lost her husband recently, and he passed in the same place.

Cervantes and her husband, also an artist, designed and began many of the murals they’ve painted throughout the Mission in their home. In fact, the home’s ability to serve as a studio as well as a residence presents the reason for the possible eviction.

Back in the late 60s, the buildings owner converted the bottom two units of the three-floor flat into one unit. This meant merging the bottom floor, zoned for commercial use, with the second floor, zoned for residential, creating what the new owners call an illegal unit.

Cervantes’ attorney, Tenderloin Housing Clinic's Raquel Fox, hopes to fight the eviction due to irregularities in the eviction notice. Yet regardless of the eviction’s legality, Fox says the building’s owners have displayed a disregard for Cervantes’ rights and emotions seldom seen.

“This is a harsh and cruel approach to the displacement of a legacy of this woman,” said Fox. “This family has contributed so much to the mission, to the arts community, to women’s rights, and this is her thank you – get out!”

Members of the arts community agree, expressing concern about the loss to the city Cervantes would represent.

“This is the kind of institution that needs to be anchored in the community so we can continue to work with them,” said Rodriguez. “With the recent general displacement of artists in the community three years ago, it’s concerning. If they have to move away, we’re being left without an artistic service that is so important.”

Despite the hardship, Cervantes says she is trying to keep an open mind about the situation. Yet she says she still finds the idea of leaving her home and community as hard to think about.

“I just find it really sad,” said Cervantes. “We’ve always felt we were secure in our home. My husband’s studio is even still intact with what he was working on before he passed…to leave would just break my spirit.”

~ Casey Mills


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