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City Seeks To Beautify Turk and Taylor with Outdoor Art

Turk and Taylor art installation

Turk Street between Mason and Taylor will be the site of an outdoor art installation by a city-commissioned artist chosen in early 2016. The area is currently a hotbed of crime. (Photo by Ted Andersen)


By Isabel Gottlieb

The city of San Francisco is enlisting the help of local businesses to transform one of the Tenderloin’s most notoriously crime-ridden blocks with art.

The new project aims to bring an outdoor public art installation to Turk Street between Mason and Taylor. The installation may be integrated into construction scaffolding as work begins on 950 Market Street, a mixed-use residential and hotel building on Turk Street. It will stay up for at least two years.

The Turk and Taylor block has long been known as a hotbed of crime. A 2011 study by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which provides support to homeless adults in the neighborhood, and Central City SRO Collaborative, which represents residents of single-room occupancies, found that violent crime on the block was 35 times higher than in the rest of San Francisco, and eight times higher than the rest of the Tenderloin.

“There’s been a really massive investment in human resources and city resources in trying to turn that block around,” said Juan Carlos Cancino, a project manager at the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development who focuses on programs for the Turk and Taylor zone.

The art installation is the latest attempt to improve the area. In recent years the city has stepped up police presence on the block, banned street parking to discourage drug dealers and pushed for commercial development in the area. The city is also investing in a project to increase street lighting through the Tenderloin.

The project organizers are hoping the art installation will draw foot traffic and turn Turk Street into a thoroughfare from Market Street into the Tenderloin, especially as commercial activity in the area increases. Several new restaurants and bars are opening around the Turk and Taylor intersection, and the 950 Market building will feature a hotel entrance on Turk Street that “encourages guests to explore the Tenderloin neighborhood,” according to the building’s website.

“You look up Turk into the Tenderloin, and it seems like a really natural gateway or invitation into the neighborhood,” Cancino said.


City officials want the outdoor art installation to bolster foot traffic from Market Street into the Tenderloin. (photo: Ted Andersen)

Tiffany Apczynski, director of public affairs at Zendesk, said the art will also serve an aesthetic purpose, helping to “offset the stress” of construction on the block, like loud noise and heavy machinery activity. The software company is a member of the Mid-Market Business Association, which is helping drive fundraising and awareness for the project.

The installation project began earlier this year, when the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development asked for proposals for a project that would increase foot traffic and beautify the block. The office, part of the San Francisco city government, drives neighborhood improvement by attracting and encouraging commercial activity.

The city supplied initial funding of $25,000 and the Mid-Market Business Association, which has 10 local member businesses including Zendesk, Silicon Valley Bank, Benchmark Capital, SHN Theatre and WeWork, matched the sum.

“It generated our interest because it’s where we’re located, where we work, where some of us live,” Apczynski said.

The Central Market Community Benefit District, a nonprofit that represents the interests of property owners in the Central Market area, will run the project. The group is working with consultants to choose the artist and involving community residents in the project.

The project doesn’t have a set budget. A fundraising event at SHN on December 2 netted $9,000, and the group’s organizers hope to raise more. “The more money we can help the city raise, it just means the bigger and more sophisticated the project can be,” Apczynski said.

CMCBD has named two art consultants to the project, and will work with them to choose an artist by early next year.

Cancino said the city wanted to project to be “representative of the neighborhood, folks who live on the block and in the [single room occupancies] and other residential facilities.”

As more technology businesses move into the Market Street area with their mostly young, affluent employees, the demographics of the neighborhood are changing. The organizers said they are thinking about this new audience as well.

“It’s a meeting of these two worlds, the new and old,” Cancino said. “I think the hope is inviting a lot of new people into the neighborhood as well, to see it as a vital urban neighborhood.”

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