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The Plot Thins 

Yes, SF Weekly has been secretly trying to rid the city of artists. It's working pretty well, don't you think?

Wednesday, Jan 17 2001
It was only a matter of time before someone outed us. I only wish we'd been exposed by an investigative journal more prestigious than a neighborhood supplement to the Los Angeles Times. Whatever. The jig is up; the word is out; our cover is blown.

We, the cell-members of the SF Weekly Artist Eradication Project, have for the past year been methodically purging San Francisco of its artistic types, scaring the pants off them with tales of high-rent-dead-art-scene doom, causing them to flee.

The Westside Weekly picked up on this fact in a feature story published last week, in which staff sleuth Ted Shaffrey explained how, thanks to the dot-com boom and high artist-pad rents, "San Francisco is experiencing a bohemian brain drain like never before."

All drains find a sewer; our artists are streaming to Los Angeles.

The blame, according to artists interviewed by Shaffrey, lies partly with people like myself.

"Every six months, you'll see a piece in [one of the alternative weeklies] about how creative people are leaving," according to quotes ascribed to Martine Trelaum, an "S.F. designer" looking for an apartment in L.A. "It's almost like they're encouraging it."

And, well, y'know, like, that's been our most triumphantly bitchin' plan all along.

SF Weekly music writers, for their part, have told and retold tales of high-rent doom in which nightclubs are being forced to close, musicians to skedaddle.

We've written column after news feature after journalistic essay arguing that the odd stew of San Francisco progressivism is anathema to the arts. It seems the message is finally seeping through. Bohemians are taking to the hills. The Hollywood Hills, that is. Swimmin' pools. Movie stars.(1)

"I wondered where all those motherfucking mimes were coming from," explains Rick Barrs, editor of New Times Los Angeles, our sister paper in L.A. "You're starting to see more and more of them along the Santa Monica Promenade and at the Venice Boardwalk. They're very irritating. Then you've got these guys doing sand sculptures of naked girls with big tits. And there's a guy who fishes in a trash can with a money box next to it. Jugglers are everywhere."

So they are, Rick. So they are.

As with any martial victory, it's important to honor our heroes. At the front was our leader, SF Weekly editor and Artist Eradication Project coordinator John Mecklin: "It was subliminal in the ads. That was part of it; some of it was out-and-out sabotage. In the club ads, where they show what dates the bands play, we scrambled those days like an omelet, so nobody could see the music on the day they should," says Mecklin. "That does two good things -- it gets those damned musicians out of there, and it cuts down on the overpopulation of clubs. There's just way too many music clubs. You can't go a mile or two in this town without seeing a music club."

It would be wrong not to thank Laurel Wellman, the phony name we put at the end of the Dog Bites column, another thread in our fabric of lies and deceit.

"I used to constantly mock anyone who was sincere about anything," says "Wellman." "I used irony as a weapon against anyone whose work was heartfelt."

As a result, "The mood in San Francisco today is a far cry from the spirit of the "Summer of Love' long ago," the Westside Weekly reported.

Which, when you think about it, is kind of too bad. I mean, everybody likes Love, right? Suddenly plagued with doubts about what we'd done, I called Martine Trelaum, the "artist" who is moving to L.A. and blames alternative weeklies for the move.

"Hmm. I definitely didn't say that. Perhaps it was my boyfriend. He interviewed both of us," Trelaum said helpfully when I called.

"No. That's certainly not what I said," said Terence Arjo, also helpful, when told about the story, which had described him as an "industrial designer and artist." According to Arjo, he told Shaffrey that the reporter might be able to obtain information about an artist they had been discussing by searching the Web site of San Francisco's alternative weeklies. He said nothing about blaming the weeklies for a supposed emigration of artists.

SF Weekly: "But you are an artist, aren't you?"

Arjo: "No. That's wrong, too."

SFW: "Not even a little bit? Do you play the harmonica or something?"

Arjo: "No. I'm not an artist at all."

SFW: "You're moving to L.A., no?"

Arjo: "Well, we're thinking about it."

Still, I thought I'd phone Bert Green, proprietor of the just-opened Circle Elephant Art Gallery on Hollywood Boulevard. According to the Westside Weekly article, former S.F. resident Green forsook opening a gallery in the Mission District and moved to L.A.

Green: "They completely distorted what I said. They said things about me that I did not say. I actually never had any intention of opening a gallery in San Francisco. I left S.F. because I'd been there eight years and I wanted a change. It had nothing to do with dot-coms, with high rents, or any of that."

We'd only made it through half the sources in the Westside Weekly's trend story, and things weren't looking good -- for me especially. I'd just written a column saying SF Weekly had hatched a plot driving S.F. artists to L.A., and my main piece of journalistic evidence was appearing thinner than week-old newsprint.

This is all not surprising, I suppose. San Franciscans have been griping -- and media have been reporting the gripes -- about "changes" driving away the "cool people" since the first "change" afflicted the first S.F. "cool person" 123 years ago.

Since then, San Francisco has enjoyed a natural "churn," where "cool people" in places like Kamloops, B.C., or Muldraugh, Ky., fantasize about living their own version of the dreamy hijinks they hear go on in groovy San Francisco. They come, get a job, live the life, find an apartment, fight with their roommates, and buy used clothing in the Haight. But in time they become dissatisfied. Somehow, while they weren't looking, the city lost its soul, they complain. Some of them leave. And other "cool" people arrive from Muldraugh to take the emigrants' place. This cosmic rhythm sways as regularly as the tides here, where the turnover rate is higher than most any city in the West. During the past couple of years, though, people have taken this rather seriously, ever since the creation of a graphical interface to the Internet.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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