Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Luis Cancel, San Francisco's New Culture Czar
The San Francisco Symphony sponsored a reception for the swearing-in of Luis Cancel, San Francisco's new "Culture Czar" who will be in charge of the San Francisco Art Commission.
It was held in the Wattis Room at Davies Hall, which is a lovely salon for the swells to have cocktails and meals before symphony performances. After being introduced by Art Commissioner PJ Johnston who was in charge of the search committee for a new "culture czar," Mayor Newsom gave a speech that rambled on about the incredible "diversity" of San Francisco.
The speech reminded me of my days working for a large financial institution where upper management would have day-long workshops for branch managers about how important "diversity" was to the corporation. Of course, the irony of upper management being almost universally gringo and the branch managers being almost universally "diverse" was not addressed.
Meanwhile, the various arts leaders in San Francisco were out in force this rainy evening to see which way the new political winds were blowing.
There was a funny moment during the ceremony, where Mr. Cancel was reciting the baroquely complicated swearing-in oath phrase by phrase after Mayor Newsom, and stopped dead in his tracks, confused, when asked to repeat the phrase "I have no mental reservations about taking on this task," and it was obvious he had misheard the phrase to mean "mental" something else.
Cancel was the head of New York City's Arts Commission under David Dinkins in the early 1990s, and then went on to refurbish the Bronx museum, meanwhile trying to keep some of New York City affordable for working artists, which was almost as impossible a task as trying to reproduce the same results here.
It's going to be interesting watching how this relationship plays out, as Cancel deals with a mayor who is big on populist rhetoric but short on any actual results. I wish him all the best of luck.