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Book review: Arts for the City

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San Francisco: Arts for the City: Civic Art and Urban Change, 1932-2012


Art is a reflection of a culture: its preoccupations, its blind spots, its ways of being in the world. San Francisco has long been thought of as a progressive, aware city that supports the arts. Yet it is also one of the most expensive cities to live in, making it a place where artists struggle to make a living with their work. This tension is ably reflected by San Francisco: Arts for the City: Civic Art and Urban Change, 1932-2012, a new book by Susan Wels, published by Heyday Books.

The San Francisco Arts Commission was founded in 1932, part of a new city charter that reorganized local government and streamlined city-wide initiatives. Over the years, it has been involved in projects including the building of Coit Tower, decades of art shows and musical concerts, and inaugurating the San Francisco International Film Festival, first held in 1957.

This lovely coffee table book documents not only the Arts Commission’s work, but the main currents of the arts in San Francisco during the last eighty years. Each period in history gets a chapter, with details of the Arts Commission’s work and major arts projects in the city. The focus is on visual art, particularly painting and sculpture, but music, dance, and ethnic and traditional arts are also touched upon.

Book details:

San Francisco: Arts for the City: Civic Art and Urban Change, 1932-2012

Susan Wels

Heyday Books, 2013



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