Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Fences and Gatekeepers

The chain-link fence is still up around the new "Hayes Green" which is housing the David Best pagoda/temple "temporary" sculpture, but somebody has opened up a small entrance off of Linden Alley.

I wrote about the official "opening" last Thursday here, where either Larry Harvey, the Burning Man festival founder, or David Best, the artist, mentioned that people had come to them with concerns that the piece would be vandalized. His response was "it can't be vandalized, the piece is interactive and people are free to do whatever they want, including writing on it."

That's already been happening, as people leave memorials for dead friends, family and lovers.

Next door to the Hayes Green sculpture is a weird non-profit called the Neighborhood Parks Council that is the brainchild of a woman named Isabel Wade.

Every office has gatekeepers, the low-level receptionists and junior level staff who are forced to deal with strangers.

How they behave says a lot about the actual organization they work for, and today I encountered a full range of good and bad behavior. At NPC, I was directed to an arrogant young jerk named Jeff.

I asked him if the organization was working towards liberating the sculpture from the chain-link fence, since they had been one of the sponsors of its "World Environment Week" unveiling all the way back on June 3rd. "No way," he replied. "The fence is going to stay up at least another month while the sod grows in." I asked him if he thought the sod was more important than the temporary sculpture, and he replied, "Definitely. The sod is a lot more important." Remember that remark next time this group asks for money.

The next stop was the San Francisco Art Commission on Van Ness where just about everyone was out to lunch (literally). Though she didn't know what her boss was doing on the project, Kristin Zaremba was charming, funny and free with information.

Then it was off to City Hall where Boris and Jeremy, two aides to Supervisor Mirkarimi, had taken on the removal of the fence as a personal project. As Boris said, "there are going to be thousands of people here for Gay Pride Weekend and it would be nice to be able to show off this neighborhood and its transformation."

The Department of Public Works, which has been responsible for the fence logjam, is on the third floor of City Hall, and whenever the department was mentioned by anyone, it was with a bit of a shudder.

The offices looked fairly empty except for a woman who answered all my questions with contempt and who really couldn't have been nastier.

I started by explaining about the fence and she said she knew nothing about it, but that since I'd come to the office she was required to refer me to someone. She made a phone call and asked, "who would somebody talk to who has a question about a fence around a sculpture?" She was given a name and a number, there was no response, and she gave me the phone number of Nick Elsner. "You really haven't seen the pagoda temple?" I asked her. "It's only a couple of blocks away." Her reply was "I don't live in San Francisco," and she made it sound as if she was glad of the fact. "How did you get this job then?" I asked, which got her even grumpier. "You don't have to live in San Francisco to work here."

My final stop was back at the Mayor's Office, where I was greeted by Armina Brown, the Mayors Office Manager, who has been consistently sweet, helpful and delightful as I've repeatedly barged into her office over the last week about this issue.

The Mayor, it seems, has finally been made aware of the DPW problem and had a meeting with somebody from the department, which is a good thing since the artists and the Black Rock Art Foundation had been working on the mayor's deadline, getting the sculpture ready for the June 3rd World Environmental Week photo-op. To have it surrounded by a fence for the next month has just been grotesque.

Breaking News: Leslie Pritchett, the director of the Black Rock Arts Foundation, called and said the official word from the Mayor's Office was that the fence would be down "in nine days." We'll keep you posted.

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