The intersection of art and politics started in the Constitution with the First Amendment, which is about freedom of expression. From that idea, we embrace expression, and sometimes you have to be political about it in terms of artistry.
How do the arts and culture contribute to economy and social well-being? How is the history of art important to people in terms of their cultural well-being? For example, during colonial wars, when the Europeans were taking over large swaths of the African continent, they also claimed a lot of the cultural property of Africans. If you go to the British Museum, you see shelves of dolls, iconic instruments and masks that were taken wholesale from villages in Africa up and down the west coast. People were deprived of a part of their cultural heritage, and maybe in a way that made it easier to colonize them because you could then come in with your own system of education, values and language and replace all the things that were grounding people in their own culture and history.
I think if you applied that to our situation in San Francisco you would say, ‘Are we managing our cultural resources so that they can’t be taken away and are we using them? Are we celebrating our culture enough?’
People were starting to say, ‘We need to recover our past. We’ve been ripped off. We need to get some of these things back that are really important.’ The takeaway from that is: What do you owe for removing something more than a hundred years ago? Do you need to return that? And, on the other side, if you get it back, how do you reintegrate it into your society? How do you care for it? Do you have the cultural infrastructure in place—the museums, the thought leaders, the art historians—to really manage collections and can that information be transferred in an effective way?
Director of California Lawyers for the Arts