SAN FRANCISCO — On March 8 the first Bay Area Arts and Education Justice Festival took place, bringing activists, teachers, and artists together around shared concerns about economic precariousness for artist-educators and broader social justice issues for workers and activists throughout the community. Held at The Lab, one of the few remaining arts spaces in San Francisco’s rapidly-gentrifying (and thus heavily policed) Mission District, the festival (titled “No Justice, No Service”) worked to move from campus-bound struggles over wages and working conditions to wider cross-class alliances coalescing around fights to live and work with dignity and security in the Bay Area, where high rents have pushed artists, teachers, and service workers to the margins. In addition to adjunct union organizers, we heard from students, fellow teachers and union activists, fast food workers organizing around the Fight for $15 struggle, poets and artists who address issues of police violence, gentrification, and debt, as well as members of the Black Lives Matter movement (made even more urgent by the police murder of a Latino man just blocks from the Lab).
Having lived in the Bay Area for 20 years, with experience in multiple activist movements, I have seen my share of similar events fall prey to self-congratulatory art exhibits, tepid displays of diversity for its own sake, co-optation by well-meaning but institutional liberal nonprofits and similar organizations, lip service from local politicians, and the difficulty of maintaining and building on whatever alliances might outlast the buildup to what often become one-off meet-ups. This felt different, though, especially in light of other recent actions, like fast food workers and other allies showing up at local campuses forNational Adjunct Walkout Day on February 25, and adjuncts turning out in support of April 15’s national Fight for 15 actions. Students have worked alongside adjuncts and non-unionized staff to build viable networks of campus activism and artists, often saddled with student debt and unable to afford studio space, have lent their energies to supporting their peers caught in the nexus of the art-education-academic-corporate complex.
“Like so many other artists and academics,” said San Francisco Art Institute alum Jessica Tully, “I am inspired by the collective action and by seeing all the creative ways our art teachers are finding to make it feasible to continue to teach.”