SF Pride 2016

• • • • ALSO IN THIS ISSUE • • • •

Grassroots Effort for More City Hall Transparency

 

 

 

Activists aim to get on this November’s local ballot a package of sunshine-law amendments that would, among other things, increase the independence and effectiveness of the city’s 11-member open-government watchdog commission and lessen the ability of public officials to sabotage the commission’s work as happened in 2012.

 

The grassroots group San Franciscans for Sunshine has drafted a series of revisions to the city’s open-meeting and public-records laws known collectively as the Sunshine Ordinance (Administrative Code Chapter 67) and hopes to put the measure to the voters by collecting upward of 9,500 valid signatures, meaning a “safety” quota approaching 13,000, by July 11.

 

Failing that, SFS could try to get it on the ballot in a near-future year, maybe even as a Charter amendment, though that would require a lot more money and other resources and political muscle than keeping the ordinance in the city Administrative Code.

 

Besides giving the commission more power and autonomy, the initiative would bring the Sunshine Ordinance into the 21st century on the technology side, mandating live televising or videostreaming of all policy-body meetings in City Hall and tightening requirements for retention, storage and accessibility of electronic records. The initiative would also prescribe a $500 to $5,000 fine for willful violations of the ordinance.

 

The measure’s text appears on the home page of the SFS website, SanFranciscansForSunshine.org. It is the product of more than a decade of work by the commission, called the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, drawing on the body’s own experiences and input from dozens of citizens.

 

The SFS steering committee (disclosure: this writer is on it) comprises current and former task force members and other sunshine activists, most notably Bruce B. Brugmann, the retired Bay Guardian editor who shepherded the original ordinance through the Board of Supervisors in 1993 and helped lead a successful initiative campaign to strengthen it in 1999.

 

But remaining loopholes in the law and persistent refusal of entities and officials who can enforce it to do so signal people in City Hall that they can violate it without consequence, sunshine advocates say.

 

On top of that, task force members who vote to find willful violations of the ordinance risk political retaliation. In September 2011, the task force found unanimously that Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Supervisors Eric Mar, Malia Cohen and Scott Wiener had violated local and state open-meeting laws by ramming through a Parkmerced redevelopment contract with 14 pages of amendments that Chiu had slipped in at the last minute.

 

The following spring, Chiu, Wiener and Supervisor Mark Farrell orchestrated a purge of the task force resulting in appointments of five neophytes and a former member, David Pilpel, well known for trying to curry favor among elected city officials and department heads.

 

At the same time, the board failed to appoint anyone with a physical handicap – even though incumbent Bruce Wolfe met that criterion – prompting a deputy city attorney to caution that in light of a requirement in the ordinance that the task force at all times have a physically handicapped member, any actions taken without such a person seated could pose legal risks to the task force and its individual members. The task force had to take a five-month hiatus, exacerbating an already thick backlog of complaint cases.

 

In 2014, the board’s Rules Committee, which conducts initial vetting of board and commission applicants, recommended reappointment of Pilpel and two other Anglos to the task force and then deferred action on other appointments, saying there wasn’t enough racial/ethnic diversity among the remaining applicants.

 

Subsequent scathing commentaries in the Westside Observer and the San Francisco Chronicle embarrassed the committee into ending its stall.

 

The appointments process this year went relatively smoothly, but unless the system is changed, there is no safeguard against recurrence of the 2012 outrage. SFS’s initiative proposes a remedy: expanding to nine from four the number of task force members who must be nominated by outside organizations and requiring the board to appoint all nominees absent clear and convincing evidence that specific individuals are not qualified to serve on the body, which would be renamed the Sunshine Commission.

 

Also, commissioners’ terms would be staggered beginning in 2019. Currently, most of the terms start and end in even-numbered years. The length of all terms would remain at two years.

 

Equally important, the initiative would empower the commission to appoint its own executive director/legal counsel and a clerk. Currently, legal and clerical aides are assigned by the city attorney and the Board of Supervisors clerk, respectively, and that has created problems.

 

Originally, the deputy city attorney assigned to the task force attended all meetings of the task force and its committees and stayed for their duration. Purportedly due to budget constraints, the deputy CA has for about the last decade been attending meetings of the full task force only and must leave at 9 p.m. (meetings usually start at 4 p.m.).

 

The initiative would give the commission more say in the hours and duties of its staff personnel. It would also enable the commission to exercise quality control in terms of its aides’ competence. The administrator now assigned to the task force, Victor Young, is highly regarded by task force members but a number of them give low marks to the currently assigned deputy CA. And a number of Young’s predecessors were clearly in over their heads.

 

The measure has support from the League of Women Voters of San Francisco; the First Amendment Coalition, a San Rafael-based free-speech and sunshine advocacy organization; and the Pacific Media Workers Guild (NewsGuild-CWA Local 39521). SFS is seeking additional endorsements.

 

Richard Knee is a freelance journalist who served on the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force from 2002-14.

 

• • • • ALSO IN THIS ISSUE • • • •

 

La Cage Aux Folles Comes to the Victoria Theatre Through July

 

Has the daily menu of foggy San Francisco summer mornings got you looking for a little bit of extra cheer? You’re in luck; Georges, Albin, Jacob, and all of the gang from La Cage Aux Folles are here! Bay Area Musicals is presenting an entire month of the now classic play at the Victoria Theatre in the Mission, just a few short blocks from the Castro. Matthew McCoy, founder and artistic director of BAM, is directing and choreographing the show, which runs every Thursday through Sunday in July.

 

Wendy Oakes: Everybody loves La Cage Aux Folles; it’s wonderful that you’re presenting the play this month.

 

Matthew McCoy: I could not agree more; thank you so much.

 

Wendy: I don’t know that people realize just how popular that play/book/movie really is.

 

Matthew: Yeah, it’s been around since 1983, when it first appeared on Broadway. Since then there have been two revivals, international tours, here in the US countless regional theaters have done it; community theaters have done it. It made waves when it first came out in ‘83: Best Score, Best Book, Best Musical, Best Actor in a Musical, when George Hearn won for playing the role of Albin. Once it got recognition at the Tony Awards that year and won Best Musical, it became this phenomenon, just amazing - the first Broadway musical to close with two men kissing. That was a huge step forward, not only for the LGBTQ community and the public eye, but also for the Broadway world as well, for American musical theater history. That just propelled it in a sense, where it’s become more of a classic story, not something that’s so out there or different. It’s become more and more mainstream, especially after The Birdcage, with Nathan Lane and Robin Williams, which were two very much beloved household names.

 

Wendy: And there was also the movie version called La Cage Aux Folles. I believe that came out a bit earlier than the play.

 

Matthew: The original play version by Jean Poiret, who wrote the French play—I think that was the ‘70s, and then there was the French film version, and it became a Broadway play in 1983.

 

Wendy: Right, and with some really incredible people involved: Jerry Herman wrote the music and the lyrics; Harvey Fierstein wrote the book. In your production, you are directing and choreographing of course, and have brought in Jon Gallo as Musical Director, on La Cage as presented by BAM, Bay Area, Musicals, which is in it’s inaugural season. You have founded BAM, which is filling something of a void in the Bay Area theater scene, particularly when it comes to musical theater.

 

MM: We do have some [musical theater companies] in San Francisco. We’ve got 42nd Street Moon and Ray of Light [Theatre] that do musicals only; what’s interesting about those two companies is they have their own niches. Ray of Light does a lot of new works or edgier shows, and 42nd Street Moon does shows that have rarely been done or were done an extremely long time ago. We’re trying to fill the gap that’s in the middle of all that. For our next season we’re doing Suessical, which is extremely family oriented, and the show before that is Assassins, which is not family oriented. We’re trying to serve a wider gap and a variety of people that reflects the culture, and the community, and the diversity of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area.

 

Wendy: How did BAM come together? It’s a collective of musical theater professionals that you founded?

 

MM: Yeah. We do casting six to eight months in advance, and before that, a year out, we get the design team together, and the production/artistic team, which includes directors, choreographers, music director, all of the designers for set and costume and lights, and before we begin rehearsals we have production meetings where the director talks about their vision for the show and provides research; from there the designers do their own research. Then we start having meetings and presentations to see [that] we’re all on the same page, and the final designs are in before our first rehearsal, so the cast gets to see the world of the play they’re creating. At Bay Area Musicals part of our mission is to do our individual interpretations of shows, and not really recreations.

 

Wendy: How will that hold true for La Cage Aux Folles?

 

MM: I did research on the gay culture in France during the 1970s. There wasn’t a lot for me to pick from, [from] the city that it’s located in, which is Saint Tropez, so I took a lot of information from the gay culture in Paris. There [were] a lot of gay bashings; a lot of people had to keep their relationships secret. All of the clubs that were located in Paris were all underground; everything was very secretive, so I tried to do a little bit of a darker version of it. It mostly involves sequins and feather boas and lots of glitter; we kind of toned it down a little bit to give it more of this underground, sex club feel, which really was the tone that Paris had during that time period. We’re also making it a little bit interactive; at the start of the show, as soon as you walk in, it’s gonna have this ambiance that you’re in a club. There’s cafe tables at the front of the stage; the actor who plays Georges is already gonna be performing the moment you walk in, seating people and fixing glasses of wine for people, moving people around to closer seats if he feels like they have visited the club, or they’re regulars of La Cage Aux Folles, just to give it more of this personal and intimate feel, so you’re not watching - you feel part of the show.

• • • • ALSO IN THIS ISSUE • • • •

 

Interview

Local Homeless Artist Creates Treasure From Trash

 

For as long as I've had my place in the Haight, I've seen "Gypsy" selling his artwork on Haight Street. His art mediums change from time to time, but whatever his choice might be, the materials he chooses to create his art with are always repurposed, recycled goods. The other constant about Gypsy is his shining presence; he has always been outgoing and interesting to talk with.

 

Wendy Oakes: How did your work with art begin?

 

Gypsy: My art really started on the East Coast, in Vermont and New York City, and was a product of psychedelics and really just needing to express myself. That's when it started to really get rolling. I had one friend who was into graffiti; he would go to New York City, and he got me into tagging. I had another very influential friend/girlfriend who was a lesbian as well. She did a lot of marker art, graffitiesque but more cartoonish. I actually have tattoos. She didn't do the tattoos; she just did the art. She had a big effect on me.

 

Wendy: What got you into doing the repurposed stuff that you do out here?

 

Gypsy: The Bay actually had a pretty big effect on that because being outside you're exposed to all sorts of garbage. Just about anything you want to use is available in the garbage. It's so much smarter to me to use older stuff because we're in such an age of waste, to the point where it's harming us in a lot of ways, from the stuff that's in the water, to what we're putting in the air, in our food. It's just crazy. Doing the junk art, and now I'm doing collage — part of the success of my art is not just sticking to one specific [thing]. Maybe that's why I'm not recognized, because I'm not specifically in one field of art. To me that's boring. To me that's limited. If you do one style you're not exploring the possibilities, and to me that's a product of our society. Whatever you're spending most of your time doing, that's your identity.

 

Wendy: So it's not being true to an artist's lifestyle to be so limited.

 

Gypsy: Yeah. Not that I'm saying it's all it's cracked up to be either, 'cause I'm struggling, but at least I have the integrity to do what I'm doing. I don't feel like a lot of people are too proud of what they do day to day, and I am proud of what I'm doing. I'm actually helping people. I'm actually making connections with people. I have art all over the world, especially being in the Bay. There are so many tourists that buy my art.

 

Wendy: What brought you to the Bay Area in the first place?

 

Gypsy: Luck, kind of. I came out west to grow weed and it was a good experience but it didn't produce any revenue, so it was sort of a lost experiment. The Bay was just where I ended up after that.

 

Wendy: How long have you been here?

 

Gypsy: It's hard to honestly say. Time doesn't really matter when you're outside so much. Around five years, four to five, that's the guesstimation.

 

Wendy: And you've been in the Haight for those five years?

 

Gypsy: No. I started out on the Haight and then I started going down to the Mission, and really exploring San Fran. I've sold art in the Castro, in North Beach, downtown multiple places, the Wharf, and then I finally made it over to Berkeley. The last year or so, I've actually been spending a lot of time there. It's kind of balanced 'cause I have storage over here so I have to come back every month at least. I haven't really explored Oakland. I've been to First Fridays a couple of times but it's a haul. It's worth it; I always sell at least one piece.

 

Wendy: What are the changes that you've seen out here over the past five years or so?

 

Gypsy: Not a whole lot honestly. I feel like cities run on an even keel to a degree; there's got to be some sort of balance kept to keep it all going. The most change I see is within the traveling people, and some subtle changes. The kids that come and go on the Haight — there's always a new crowd of kids that come through — that's one of the biggest differences. They just got a shower bus up here … it's a small but huge difference. They have a shower every Saturday from 10 till whenever the people peter off. I told the guy working there that sometimes I would get so frustrated with the shower scene in SF that I would go to Berkeley just for the shower. That's a 20-minute commute, four dollars, for a shower? That's just a small example of some of the crazy things you have to get used to living outside. Adaptation. That's partially why it doesn't really work for a lot of people. They end up outside because of one or another reason: their drug addiction, or they lose it with society, they're done with working, or whatever the reason, but not a lot of people are actually geared to deal with what's after that. I've been outside in the Bay for five years and I've pretty much kept my whole deal positive, focused. I've tripped up here and there; I think I spent a little too much time focused on women. It's something to think about. It's a different kind of relationship, 'cause when you're in the world [and] you have a relationship with somebody, you go on dates, you go out to dinner, then you go home, or you go out to movies and then you go home, or maybe you go back home with them, and then you go home again. When you're outside and you're with a chick, you're with them every single day, every single day! There're definitely advantages but at the same time you’ve really got to like that person! You really have to understand that it's a blessing that you guys connected. Out here it's crazy; I don't think people really understand what's going on with the world.

 

Wendy: What would you tell them?

 

Gypsy: I feel like more people should try to become more aware. I feel like people are living the "dream" but if you want to have a positive effect on the world you have to wake up to what's going on. That's another interview in itself. It's crazy what people take for granted. I feel really bad for the possible futures of a lot of the children 'cause we're f**king up the environment so badly. You know, when I was growing up I had all of these zoology cards, and a lot of these animals and ocean creatures are gone. We're systematically killing life on the planet basically, and it's going to come down to us eventually. The sad thing is that we can really do something to change it. We're so advanced. We've been to space, to the moon. All this crazy [stuff] that we've come up with, how come we can't come up with a way not to harm the Earth, which is really what supports us and really what we need to be thankful for. I feel like people are just really distracted with everything. I feel like everything is a distraction to a degree: religion, astronomy, the phone, the TV. Everything is just distracting you from what is really going on.

 

Wendy: That's so true Gypsy. What about yourself personally? What would you like to see happen next?

 

Gypsy: I'm really just health focused at this point. I really need to figure out everything that I can figure out about my own health, and then just onto the next stage. I'm almost 40 now. Next year I'll be 40; I've been outside for almost 10 years, between West and East Coast.  I won't be able to do it much longer. I've been telling all my closest friends that I'm trying to tune in with the universe, really see the signs of what I should do. Honestly, art is going to be too much work soon if I can't break through somehow and cause some sort of ball to roll, where I'll be selling some art or working in some sort of artistic field. I just don't know how to do that. I've got to think of plan B, plan C, and plan D, and then get on them I guess.

© Castro Courier 2014 No part of this website or artwork portrayed may be redistributed or republished without the express permission of the Castro Courier. Opinions expressed are strictly those of the writers and do not reflect the opinions of the publisher or staff.

• • • • ALSO IN THIS ISSUE • • • •

Grassroots Effort for More City Hall Transparency

 

 

 

Activists aim to get on this November’s local ballot a package of sunshine-law amendments that would, among other things, increase the independence and effectiveness of the city’s 11-member open-government watchdog commission and lessen the ability of public officials to sabotage the commission’s work as happened in 2012.

 

The grassroots group San Franciscans for Sunshine has drafted a series of revisions to the city’s open-meeting and public-records laws known collectively as the Sunshine Ordinance (Administrative Code Chapter 67) and hopes to put the measure to the voters by collecting upward of 9,500 valid signatures, meaning a “safety” quota approaching 13,000, by July 11.

 

Failing that, SFS could try to get it on the ballot in a near-future year, maybe even as a Charter amendment, though that would require a lot more money and other resources and political muscle than keeping the ordinance in the city Administrative Code.

 

Besides giving the commission more power and autonomy, the initiative would bring the Sunshine Ordinance into the 21st century on the technology side, mandating live televising or videostreaming of all policy-body meetings in City Hall and tightening requirements for retention, storage and accessibility of electronic records. The initiative would also prescribe a $500 to $5,000 fine for willful violations of the ordinance.

 

The measure’s text appears on the home page of the SFS website, SanFranciscansForSunshine.org. It is the product of more than a decade of work by the commission, called the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, drawing on the body’s own experiences and input from dozens of citizens.

 

The SFS steering committee (disclosure: this writer is on it) comprises current and former task force members and other sunshine activists, most notably Bruce B. Brugmann, the retired Bay Guardian editor who shepherded the original ordinance through the Board of Supervisors in 1993 and helped lead a successful initiative campaign to strengthen it in 1999.

 

But remaining loopholes in the law and persistent refusal of entities and officials who can enforce it to do so signal people in City Hall that they can violate it without consequence, sunshine advocates say.

 

On top of that, task force members who vote to find willful violations of the ordinance risk political retaliation. In September 2011, the task force found unanimously that Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Supervisors Eric Mar, Malia Cohen and Scott Wiener had violated local and state open-meeting laws by ramming through a Parkmerced redevelopment contract with 14 pages of amendments that Chiu had slipped in at the last minute.

 

The following spring, Chiu, Wiener and Supervisor Mark Farrell orchestrated a purge of the task force resulting in appointments of five neophytes and a former member, David Pilpel, well known for trying to curry favor among elected city officials and department heads.

 

At the same time, the board failed to appoint anyone with a physical handicap – even though incumbent Bruce Wolfe met that criterion – prompting a deputy city attorney to caution that in light of a requirement in the ordinance that the task force at all times have a physically handicapped member, any actions taken without such a person seated could pose legal risks to the task force and its individual members. The task force had to take a five-month hiatus, exacerbating an already thick backlog of complaint cases.

 

In 2014, the board’s Rules Committee, which conducts initial vetting of board and commission applicants, recommended reappointment of Pilpel and two other Anglos to the task force and then deferred action on other appointments, saying there wasn’t enough racial/ethnic diversity among the remaining applicants.

 

Subsequent scathing commentaries in the Westside Observer and the San Francisco Chronicle embarrassed the committee into ending its stall.

 

The appointments process this year went relatively smoothly, but unless the system is changed, there is no safeguard against recurrence of the 2012 outrage. SFS’s initiative proposes a remedy: expanding to nine from four the number of task force members who must be nominated by outside organizations and requiring the board to appoint all nominees absent clear and convincing evidence that specific individuals are not qualified to serve on the body, which would be renamed the Sunshine Commission.

 

Also, commissioners’ terms would be staggered beginning in 2019. Currently, most of the terms start and end in even-numbered years. The length of all terms would remain at two years.

 

Equally important, the initiative would empower the commission to appoint its own executive director/legal counsel and a clerk. Currently, legal and clerical aides are assigned by the city attorney and the Board of Supervisors clerk, respectively, and that has created problems.

 

Originally, the deputy city attorney assigned to the task force attended all meetings of the task force and its committees and stayed for their duration. Purportedly due to budget constraints, the deputy CA has for about the last decade been attending meetings of the full task force only and must leave at 9 p.m. (meetings usually start at 4 p.m.).

 

The initiative would give the commission more say in the hours and duties of its staff personnel. It would also enable the commission to exercise quality control in terms of its aides’ competence. The administrator now assigned to the task force, Victor Young, is highly regarded by task force members but a number of them give low marks to the currently assigned deputy CA. And a number of Young’s predecessors were clearly in over their heads.

 

The measure has support from the League of Women Voters of San Francisco; the First Amendment Coalition, a San Rafael-based free-speech and sunshine advocacy organization; and the Pacific Media Workers Guild (NewsGuild-CWA Local 39521). SFS is seeking additional endorsements.

 

Richard Knee is a freelance journalist who served on the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force from 2002-14.

 

• • • • ALSO IN THIS ISSUE • • • •

 

La Cage Aux Folles Comes to the Victoria Theatre Through July

 

Has the daily menu of foggy San Francisco summer mornings got you looking for a little bit of extra cheer? You’re in luck; Georges, Albin, Jacob, and all of the gang from La Cage Aux Folles are here! Bay Area Musicals is presenting an entire month of the now classic play at the Victoria Theatre in the Mission, just a few short blocks from the Castro. Matthew McCoy, founder and artistic director of BAM, is directing and choreographing the show, which runs every Thursday through Sunday in July.

 

Wendy Oakes: Everybody loves La Cage Aux Folles; it’s wonderful that you’re presenting the play this month.

 

Matthew McCoy: I could not agree more; thank you so much.

 

Wendy: I don’t know that people realize just how popular that play/book/movie really is.

 

Matthew: Yeah, it’s been around since 1983, when it first appeared on Broadway. Since then there have been two revivals, international tours, here in the US countless regional theaters have done it; community theaters have done it. It made waves when it first came out in ‘83: Best Score, Best Book, Best Musical, Best Actor in a Musical, when George Hearn won for playing the role of Albin. Once it got recognition at the Tony Awards that year and won Best Musical, it became this phenomenon, just amazing - the first Broadway musical to close with two men kissing. That was a huge step forward, not only for the LGBTQ community and the public eye, but also for the Broadway world as well, for American musical theater history. That just propelled it in a sense, where it’s become more of a classic story, not something that’s so out there or different. It’s become more and more mainstream, especially after The Birdcage, with Nathan Lane and Robin Williams, which were two very much beloved household names.

 

Wendy: And there was also the movie version called La Cage Aux Folles. I believe that came out a bit earlier than the play.

 

Matthew: The original play version by Jean Poiret, who wrote the French play—I think that was the ‘70s, and then there was the French film version, and it became a Broadway play in 1983.

 

Wendy: Right, and with some really incredible people involved: Jerry Herman wrote the music and the lyrics; Harvey Fierstein wrote the book. In your production, you are directing and choreographing of course, and have brought in Jon Gallo as Musical Director, on La Cage as presented by BAM, Bay Area, Musicals, which is in it’s inaugural season. You have founded BAM, which is filling something of a void in the Bay Area theater scene, particularly when it comes to musical theater.

 

MM: We do have some [musical theater companies] in San Francisco. We’ve got 42nd Street Moon and Ray of Light [Theatre] that do musicals only; what’s interesting about those two companies is they have their own niches. Ray of Light does a lot of new works or edgier shows, and 42nd Street Moon does shows that have rarely been done or were done an extremely long time ago. We’re trying to fill the gap that’s in the middle of all that. For our next season we’re doing Suessical, which is extremely family oriented, and the show before that is Assassins, which is not family oriented. We’re trying to serve a wider gap and a variety of people that reflects the culture, and the community, and the diversity of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area.

 

Wendy: How did BAM come together? It’s a collective of musical theater professionals that you founded?

 

MM: Yeah. We do casting six to eight months in advance, and before that, a year out, we get the design team together, and the production/artistic team, which includes directors, choreographers, music director, all of the designers for set and costume and lights, and before we begin rehearsals we have production meetings where the director talks about their vision for the show and provides research; from there the designers do their own research. Then we start having meetings and presentations to see [that] we’re all on the same page, and the final designs are in before our first rehearsal, so the cast gets to see the world of the play they’re creating. At Bay Area Musicals part of our mission is to do our individual interpretations of shows, and not really recreations.

 

Wendy: How will that hold true for La Cage Aux Folles?

 

MM: I did research on the gay culture in France during the 1970s. There wasn’t a lot for me to pick from, [from] the city that it’s located in, which is Saint Tropez, so I took a lot of information from the gay culture in Paris. There [were] a lot of gay bashings; a lot of people had to keep their relationships secret. All of the clubs that were located in Paris were all underground; everything was very secretive, so I tried to do a little bit of a darker version of it. It mostly involves sequins and feather boas and lots of glitter; we kind of toned it down a little bit to give it more of this underground, sex club feel, which really was the tone that Paris had during that time period. We’re also making it a little bit interactive; at the start of the show, as soon as you walk in, it’s gonna have this ambiance that you’re in a club. There’s cafe tables at the front of the stage; the actor who plays Georges is already gonna be performing the moment you walk in, seating people and fixing glasses of wine for people, moving people around to closer seats if he feels like they have visited the club, or they’re regulars of La Cage Aux Folles, just to give it more of this personal and intimate feel, so you’re not watching - you feel part of the show.

• • • • ALSO IN THIS ISSUE • • • •

 

Interview

Local Homeless Artist Creates Treasure From Trash

 

For as long as I've had my place in the Haight, I've seen "Gypsy" selling his artwork on Haight Street. His art mediums change from time to time, but whatever his choice might be, the materials he chooses to create his art with are always repurposed, recycled goods. The other constant about Gypsy is his shining presence; he has always been outgoing and interesting to talk with.

 

Wendy Oakes: How did your work with art begin?

 

Gypsy: My art really started on the East Coast, in Vermont and New York City, and was a product of psychedelics and really just needing to express myself. That's when it started to really get rolling. I had one friend who was into graffiti; he would go to New York City, and he got me into tagging. I had another very influential friend/girlfriend who was a lesbian as well. She did a lot of marker art, graffitiesque but more cartoonish. I actually have tattoos. She didn't do the tattoos; she just did the art. She had a big effect on me.

 

Wendy: What got you into doing the repurposed stuff that you do out here?

 

Gypsy: The Bay actually had a pretty big effect on that because being outside you're exposed to all sorts of garbage. Just about anything you want to use is available in the garbage. It's so much smarter to me to use older stuff because we're in such an age of waste, to the point where it's harming us in a lot of ways, from the stuff that's in the water, to what we're putting in the air, in our food. It's just crazy. Doing the junk art, and now I'm doing collage — part of the success of my art is not just sticking to one specific [thing]. Maybe that's why I'm not recognized, because I'm not specifically in one field of art. To me that's boring. To me that's limited. If you do one style you're not exploring the possibilities, and to me that's a product of our society. Whatever you're spending most of your time doing, that's your identity.

 

Wendy: So it's not being true to an artist's lifestyle to be so limited.

 

Gypsy: Yeah. Not that I'm saying it's all it's cracked up to be either, 'cause I'm struggling, but at least I have the integrity to do what I'm doing. I don't feel like a lot of people are too proud of what they do day to day, and I am proud of what I'm doing. I'm actually helping people. I'm actually making connections with people. I have art all over the world, especially being in the Bay. There are so many tourists that buy my art.

 

Wendy: What brought you to the Bay Area in the first place?

 

Gypsy: Luck, kind of. I came out west to grow weed and it was a good experience but it didn't produce any revenue, so it was sort of a lost experiment. The Bay was just where I ended up after that.

 

Wendy: How long have you been here?

 

Gypsy: It's hard to honestly say. Time doesn't really matter when you're outside so much. Around five years, four to five, that's the guesstimation.

 

Wendy: And you've been in the Haight for those five years?

 

Gypsy: No. I started out on the Haight and then I started going down to the Mission, and really exploring San Fran. I've sold art in the Castro, in North Beach, downtown multiple places, the Wharf, and then I finally made it over to Berkeley. The last year or so, I've actually been spending a lot of time there. It's kind of balanced 'cause I have storage over here so I have to come back every month at least. I haven't really explored Oakland. I've been to First Fridays a couple of times but it's a haul. It's worth it; I always sell at least one piece.

 

Wendy: What are the changes that you've seen out here over the past five years or so?

 

Gypsy: Not a whole lot honestly. I feel like cities run on an even keel to a degree; there's got to be some sort of balance kept to keep it all going. The most change I see is within the traveling people, and some subtle changes. The kids that come and go on the Haight — there's always a new crowd of kids that come through — that's one of the biggest differences. They just got a shower bus up here … it's a small but huge difference. They have a shower every Saturday from 10 till whenever the people peter off. I told the guy working there that sometimes I would get so frustrated with the shower scene in SF that I would go to Berkeley just for the shower. That's a 20-minute commute, four dollars, for a shower? That's just a small example of some of the crazy things you have to get used to living outside. Adaptation. That's partially why it doesn't really work for a lot of people. They end up outside because of one or another reason: their drug addiction, or they lose it with society, they're done with working, or whatever the reason, but not a lot of people are actually geared to deal with what's after that. I've been outside in the Bay for five years and I've pretty much kept my whole deal positive, focused. I've tripped up here and there; I think I spent a little too much time focused on women. It's something to think about. It's a different kind of relationship, 'cause when you're in the world [and] you have a relationship with somebody, you go on dates, you go out to dinner, then you go home, or you go out to movies and then you go home, or maybe you go back home with them, and then you go home again. When you're outside and you're with a chick, you're with them every single day, every single day! There're definitely advantages but at the same time you’ve really got to like that person! You really have to understand that it's a blessing that you guys connected. Out here it's crazy; I don't think people really understand what's going on with the world.

 

Wendy: What would you tell them?

 

Gypsy: I feel like more people should try to become more aware. I feel like people are living the "dream" but if you want to have a positive effect on the world you have to wake up to what's going on. That's another interview in itself. It's crazy what people take for granted. I feel really bad for the possible futures of a lot of the children 'cause we're f**king up the environment so badly. You know, when I was growing up I had all of these zoology cards, and a lot of these animals and ocean creatures are gone. We're systematically killing life on the planet basically, and it's going to come down to us eventually. The sad thing is that we can really do something to change it. We're so advanced. We've been to space, to the moon. All this crazy [stuff] that we've come up with, how come we can't come up with a way not to harm the Earth, which is really what supports us and really what we need to be thankful for. I feel like people are just really distracted with everything. I feel like everything is a distraction to a degree: religion, astronomy, the phone, the TV. Everything is just distracting you from what is really going on.

 

Wendy: That's so true Gypsy. What about yourself personally? What would you like to see happen next?

 

Gypsy: I'm really just health focused at this point. I really need to figure out everything that I can figure out about my own health, and then just onto the next stage. I'm almost 40 now. Next year I'll be 40; I've been outside for almost 10 years, between West and East Coast.  I won't be able to do it much longer. I've been telling all my closest friends that I'm trying to tune in with the universe, really see the signs of what I should do. Honestly, art is going to be too much work soon if I can't break through somehow and cause some sort of ball to roll, where I'll be selling some art or working in some sort of artistic field. I just don't know how to do that. I've got to think of plan B, plan C, and plan D, and then get on them I guess.