A MESSAGE TO THE DIY COMMUNITY FROM THE ORGANIZERS OF SAN JOSE ZINECON

Editor's Note:

Members of San José’s DIY community call attention to the values our city’s arts community is operating by and whose lead it is following, after multiple transgressions in bringing a large scale ZineCon to downtown. These experiences show us who is left out of the thriving cultural spaces San Jose’s arts leadership has imagined for itself. The homegrown community outlines uncompromising values that all artist spaces should abide by for a thriving arts culture to have any real value at all.

In January 2017, we began planning for San Jose ZineCon at Local Color, a new temporary space in Downtown San Jose described on its Facebook page as a haven for creatives, makers, artists, and thinkers. (The word haven, if you look it up in the dictionary, literally means a place of safety or refuge, and its synonyms include shelter, asylum, and sanctuary. Keep that in mind as you read through this statement.) Like other groups of San Jose organizers, we were dazzled by the prospect of holding a big gathering in their 20,000 square foot space: a gutted Ross Dress for Less store. We dreamed of hosting an event to boost the hard work of local zinesters and to introduce zinesters from afar to San Jose. Touted by a local journalist as a safe space for local people of any color and boasting temporary artist residencies for $50 a month, Local Color seemed like a promising venue for a group of DIY organizers to hold a community-based event. However, when we began working with Local Color Leadership, we found that their mission and their motives are sorely out of sync. They are also out of sync with our own ethics as members of the DIY community.

The upside is this: San Jose ZineCon was beautiful and accessible, with 100+ zinesters displaying, trading, donating, and selling their self-published work. Many attendees came through as well! With so much physical space, there was plenty of room for all. But behind the scenes we grappled with the consequences of working with a group whose actions we increasingly learned we couldn’t condone.

For us, the actions below are inexcusable and the bridge between San Jose ZineCon and Local Color is beyond charred.  Local Color was never a community space, it was a scrap some developers tossed to us. Our responsibility as artists and community organizers is to be transparent about our experiences and why we personally can no longer support or endorse Local Color in any way. We leave this information for you to take in and make up your own mind.

Local Color Views Itself as a Competitor in the San Jose Arts Community
One of our organizers, who was also a resident artist at Local Color, received an “official warning” from Local Color Leadership for using the Local Color Facebook to promote ZineCon-affiliated events taking place at other community venues. Local Color Leadership had not made resident artists aware of any social media policies, so this punitive measure came as a shock to us. We were blocked from using Local Color’s social media channels after this happened. We purposefully planned ZineCon events and/or tabled at existing events at multiple locations—Chromatic Cafe, Social Policy, the Billy DeFrank Center, and Space B at Boba Bar—because we wanted to shine light on some of the people and places making space for art across San Jose. From our perspective, sharing these events broadly promotes deeper connections between people and spaces in our community. Instead, Local Color Leadership accused us of using their channels for “personal gain” by posting “competing events.” Yes, competing.

Local Color Is Pro-Development
Without alerting us to their policies in advance, Local Color Leadership was upset with us for creating our own events page on Facebook (rather than going through their marketing channels), and making ZineCon flyers without their branding and the names of their sponsors. When we asked why naming the sponsors was necessary for a free, DIY event, Local Color Leadership said simply that sponsors are watching our every move and San Jose ZineCon organizers did not understand the revenue stream. Our DIY promotions were putting money they might get in jeopardy. This was a learning experience for us, and we took the opportunity to research the space and their sponsors. It turns out that the San Jose Downtown Association backs Local Color, whose directors include developers and business owners. In a report on their website detailing future plans for public art in downtown San Jose, they state that all their enhancements are aimed at improving the overall aesthetic of downtown and increasing business and property values. This is disconcerting in a city recently revealed to have the least affordable housing market in the US. Case in point, the space that Local Color inhabits is slated to be razed for luxury condominiums in mere months. Local Color’s Facebook page says they put the temporary in contemporary, but this is just a cutesy way of saying they are down with taking developers’ scraps. 

Local Color Uses Aggression to Get Their Way
A member of Local Color’s Leadership has resorted to aggressive and coercive behavior to try and get his way. ZineCon made more money through donations than we anticipated (~$400, to be precise), and we decided as a group to split the proceeds three ways: ⅓ would go to Local Color, and ⅔ would go to two community-based organizations working with queer youth and trans folks. Local Color’s Leadership did not communicate with us in advance about a space rental fee, nor did they attend a single planning meeting to learn more about the ethics and aims of our event. When one Local Color leader was dissatisfied with Local Color’s cut, he became irate with one of our organizers. At least five of us witnessed his outburst, watching in horror as he raised his voice, pounded the table, invaded her personal space, and pointed his fingers. The Executive Director was there to calm him down, and we are afraid of what might have happened if she wasn't. He threatened our organizer by accusing our tablers of conducting sales without permits (which we encouraged attendees to have in their back pockets just in case) and said our table rentals were also illegal. We are not sure why he presumed this, but we worry it is because we hired a small, POC-run business. While witnessing his behavior, one woman of color told organizers that he had shouted at her earlier that day and accused her of stealing Local Color’s tables. The tables belonged to her aunt, who loaned them to us for free to reduce the cost of table rentals. Each table was labeled with her surname in Sharpie.

It is distressing to know that this member of Local Color Leadership serves on the City of San Jose's Arts Commission and represents District 3 which envelops Downtown San Jose. Per the City's website, this council assesses cultural needs of San Jose and helps develop arts policy, program and budget recommendations for approval by the City Council, including recommendations for annual cultural grants and public art.

Local Color Puts Profit Ahead of Our Community’s Needs
The first ZineCon event was at Local Color: a sit-in/write-in for activists who could not march in Inauguration Day protests due to mobility limitations. It was a small, free Friday afternoon gathering, but deeply necessary for a population often left out of protest spaces. Our gathering flanked another Local Color event: a Conscious Music Night with a $20 cover charge. As set up began for that second event, our guests were made to feel unwelcome. Local Color Leadership pushed them out prematurely, citing a need to clear space. The massive venue held plenty of room for both events to exist side-by-side without conflict. When two women of color came by to volunteer at our Sit-In between other protests, Local Color’s Leadership told them that they could not enter the venue without paying the other event’s steep cover charge. When one of our organizers met with Local Color Leadership to dialogue about this incident, the Executive Director told her that our concerns were too political, and that Local Color needed to remain a neutral space or else they’d risk losing their sponsors.

Local Color Sides with Law Enforcement
We first were made aware of this problem when we had to fight Local Color’s Leadership on a $150 line item they placed on the ZineCon budget. They wanted us to hire a security guard for our DIY event, rather than rely on the community to support one another if any issues arose. To their credit, when one of our organizers approached them to voice our concerns, Local Color allowed us to forgo security. As we predicted, no issues came up during ZineCon that organizers and attendees couldn't solve through our own intervention. Unfortunately, this issue came up again when Local Color Leadership filed a police report against one of our organizers based on a comment on a friend's personal Facebook page. They misconstrued her comment as an “arson threat” and sent a screenshot to the police. We wish Local Color Leadership had reached out to us in the spirit of dialogue, as we had done previously to discuss several of the issues we describe in this statement (i.e., the security requirement, the inauguration protest, degendering the bathrooms, and more). Had they paid us the same courtesy, they'd have known that the Facebook comment (while expressing legitimate anger) was a joking reference to a meme. Instead, they endangered the life of a queer woman of color who does important community work in San Jose.

Local Color Blocked Our Attempts to Make Restrooms Safe for All
We believe that access to a safe, clean restroom is a basic human right, especially in a space that lauds itself as a haven for creatives, makers, artists, and thinkers. One Zinecon organizer attempted almost daily to degender the restrooms at Local Color by replacing the signs and making free tampons and pads available in both restrooms. Local Color Leadership tossed our signs, as well as the tampons and pads we put in the “Men’s Room.” Recently Local Color Leadership outfitted the restrooms with key codes. When a ZineCon organizer inquired, Local Color Leadership said they were tired of cleaning up after homeless people. This hostility towards our community’s homeless population was further evidenced when one member of Local Color Leadership laughed at the expense of an injured woman who may have been homeless. When one of our organizers asked where Local Color Leadership kept their first aid kit, he refused to make it available to the injured woman stating No, don’t invite her in.

We Need Spaces!
The takeaway for us is that San Jose artists and writers NEED SPACE, and we shouldn’t have to compromise our values to hold necessary events in our own hometown.

  • WE NEED SPACES led by individuals who see themselves as collaborators, rather than competitors, coercers, gatekeepers, or overseers. They should view themselves as part of a vast constellation of individuals and organizations doing crucial work to keep the endangered arts alive in San Jose. This means boosting the visibility of artists and organizers doing great and often thankless jobs here (in our homes! out of pocket!), not just being responsive to funders' demands.
  • WE NEED SPACES that are consciously ANTI-DEVELOPMENT and other forces encroaching on the wellbeing of many of San Jose's residents.
  • WE NEED SPACES that look out for the needs of youth, people of color, women, femme folks, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, dis/abled folks, and neuroatypical folks. This means prioritizing accessibility. This means more free, all ages events!
  • WE NEED SPACES whose leaders are transparent about their expectations of organizers when it comes to money, promotional activities, and related policies.
  • WE NEED SPACES whose leaders are transparent about how philanthropy works and what it means to seek funding from sources with potentially shady practices. What are the risks and rewards? When is it worth it, if ever?
  • WE NEED SPACES that are not run by cop callers. Instead, their leaders should call upon community members who are equipped to deal with interventions or de-escalate situations if needed.
  • WE NEED SPACES that are conscious of San Jose’s history and their place in it.
  • WE NEED SPACES that are invested in long-term support and community building.
  • WE NEED SPACES that reflect San Jose’s culture and its people with roots here, rather than cater to transplants and create events as “attractions.”
  • WE NEED SPACES that are not so ready to pounce and turn down “unwanted/unattractive” people—i.e., homeless folks, people with mental health issues, transient youth—but rather make efforts to communicate and offer resources.

 



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