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Out of ink
A Haight-Ashbury community arts program is feeling the budget-cut burn.

By Laura Allen

RIK LIVINGSTON IS an artist who spreads himself thin. As director of visual arts for the Whitney Young Cultural Center (1101 Masonic, S.F. 415-821-7550), part of the Whitney Young Child Development Center, he also recruits artists to display and sell their work in its three-story Edwardian mansion. But due to budget cuts, unless the cultural center scrounges up $60,000 to pay its staff, the arts program will shut down, and the mansion will remain empty for most of next year.

The child development center has three sites in San Francisco offering day care, before- and after-school supervision of kindergartners through sixth graders, and educational and developmental services. In February 2003, after three extensions, the funding from First 5 California (Proposition 10) ended. If the grant writers for Whitney Young aren't able to find new funding resources, then the center needs to find some other way to make up the lost money.

About 50 kids attend the Haight center every day. But without the art shows, the center will lose the 20 percent profit obtained from sales. And without Livingston on staff, the mansion will no longer be able to recruit artists for shows, and the kids will lose the opportunity to study under professionals.

Inside the 5,000-square-foot space, Eliza M. Schmid, one of this month's featured artists from Santa Fe, N.M., watches three children create their own artwork on paper laid out on the floor. All around them, Schmid's work, composed of hot paint wax, covers the walls. "This [loss] will affect the kids' experience," Livingston said. "It's like having a gallery right on the premises that gives them adult role models and makes them see it is possible to be an artist."

Livingston recruits mostly local, and some out-of-state and international, artists to display their work in the mansion, which not only acts as a venue for novice and experienced artists but also brings the talents of these professionals to the kids from the nearby center. About once a month the gallery rotates a new artwork series, but Dec. 11 marked the end of its free art shows. Besides Schmid, about 20 artists are featured this month.

"This building has wonderful potential," Schmid said. "Everyone that walks in says, 'What a beautiful building.' This could be a museum and contribute enormously to the art scene in San Francisco."

Ken Hamilton, deputy director for Whitney Young, said the building will remain empty until the center can find funding for smaller projects like arts and crafts, dance lessons, and citywide student art shows. The organization is also considering renting the house as office space to another nonprofit, but it would have to be one that doesn't mind the exuberance of the nearby children.

Currently some Whitney Young alumni are showing their work in more well-known downtown galleries like 111 Minna and the Argent Hotel's San Francisco Room. Without this neighborhood gallery, local artists will lose the opportunity to use the mansion as a launching point.

Often the mansion displays the kids' artwork alongside that of the professionals. "We don't want it to close, because kids like seeing the artwork," Theresa Stewart, a teacher at the child development center, said. "They love painting and seeing it on the wall. They say, 'That's mine,' and they recognize each others' work."

Livingston said he needs legal advice on how to potentially keep the mansion available for art shows using only volunteer curators. To support the Whitney Young Cultural Center's arts program, send donations to 100 Whitney Young Circle, S.F., CA 94124.