More than 10 years later, San Francisco voters may once again vote to turn Alcatraz Island into an arts center.
A ballot measure to turn the tourist attraction of prison tours into a “global peace and create art center” was filed for the November election this month. A similar measure failed in 2008, with just 28 percent of the vote.
The legal text is one simple, non-binding question asking to “support and facilitate the acquisition” of Alcatraz with the purpose of transforming it into an arts center. It makes no mention of what would come of the old prison but the Global Peace Foundation in 2008 called to replace it with a dome-shaped peace center based on a hexagram.
Though the land was promised to return to the Lakota under an 1868 treaty, the federal government owns and operates it under the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
It’s a tourist money-maker for its past as a federal prison complete with Al Capone but has, indeed, served as a vessel for the arts. In 2014, artist Ai Weiwei turned the old island prison into an exhibit on oppressive governments and the conditions they impose on dissidents like him and Edward Snowden.
Let’s not forget that Native American activists and students occupied the island in 1969-1971, seeking to turn it into a cultural center, Indian university, and museum. A few years later, they started the tradition of heading back to Alcatraz for Un-Thanksgiving and the Indigenous People Sunrise Ceremony, put together by the International Indian Treaty Council.
Wrangling the island from the federal government and fielding calls to put it to different uses would be a huge undertaking for the city and the ballot is non-binding. But if passed and implemented, projects like Weiwei’s could flourish on the rock called Alcatraz.