Intersection for the Arts

Funding Received: 2011
San Francisco, CA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
March 1, 2012

“How do words and places divide us?”
“How do words and places bring us together?”

These are questions that frame “In Other Words”, an exhibition at Intersection for the Arts new home in the 5M Project that explores the language we use and the places we create. 5M is a four-acre mixed-use development project in the heart of San Francisco. At 5M, more than 2,000 creative organizations have linked together through a network of tenant partners: TechShop, Hub, SoMa Central, SFMade, Off the Grid, SOCAP and Intersection, among others. Together, they are transforming an underutilized property into a vibrant place for community and innovation.

With the support of ArtPlace, Intersection for the Arts and Forest City Development are co-creating 5M PlaceWorks, a pioneering organization that proposes new models for collaboration and community-inclusive development. Through programs and partnerships, PlaceWorks is working to make the innovation-focused resources at 5M into an asset that strengthens the surrounding neighborhoods, creating meaningful places for people to come together and fostering economic opportunity in the community.

Deborah Cullinan, Executive Director of Intersection, reflects on the challenges inherent in complex partnership and creative community-building that aims to instigate vibrancy in our neighborhoods.

ARTPLACE: As you reflect on your work to date, what unexpected challenges have you encountered?

CULLINAN: The most unexpected challenge has been the complexity inherent in developing radical partnerships across sectors and traditional silos. In fact, we came up with the idea for the “In other Words” exhibition because we realized that artists, social entrepreneurs, technology innovators, makers, planners, neighborhood residents and community activists all speak different languages. We use different words to define ourselves and our communities. We use different words to define success. In this way, words can be inclusive and they can be exclusive. Indeed, words have a significant role to play in the way in which we shape community spaces and our language can either limit or encourage opportunities to engage with people whose lives are significantly different from our own. For example, a young, single mom living in nearby affordable housing and running a day care business would not necessarily define herself as a social entrepreneur and would, perhaps, not see herself working in and accessing the resources in our 5M community. We think that artists have a significant role to play in illuminating shared language and vision for community spaces that break down silos and barriers and encourage creative problem solving and positive change.

ARTPLACE: Have you had any happy surprises in your work to date?

CULLINAN: The many happy surprises are the artists and community leaders who want to get on board a project that is complex and crazy because they believe that things can change and that we can be a central driver in that change.

ARTPLACE: Are there things you’ve learned in your work that others in the creative placemaking field can learn from?

CULLINAN: Relationship-building is complex and takes time. Developing new approaches that suggest different models for how art and inclusive community development can happen is scary but so necessary today. One of the great lessons is that we need each other – each other’s strengths, resources, and knowledge – in order to make real and lasting change. To this end, it is all about elegant, exquisite, and careful negotiation. We need to know who we are, what we have to offer, and what we need. Out of this can come collaboration that is utterly game-changing. Everything and nothing is the same for Intersection and that is a beautiful thing.