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San Francisco art collective brings attention to city's declining Black population

black art collective san francisco
Posted at 5:54 PM, Mar 04, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO, California — The U.S. census teaches us the Black population has grown in this country since 2000. However, while numbers are up nationally, some cities are still feeling the decline in a diverse population from factors like gentrification.

Each piece of thread and sharp ceramic inside of Ramekon O'Arwisters art studio starts off as material, but that simplicity disappears when attached to a larger sculpture.

“Broken ceramics are a stand-in for my feelings of anger, bitterness, frustration about the permanence of white body supremacy," O'Arwisters said.

As a sculptor, O’Arwisters uses his art to send a bigger message about San Francisco’s dwindling Black population.

“For me it was a way of protesting because we’re going to raise the awareness because the other message isn’t entirely true," O’Arwisters said. “To see that in some ways the gentrification, the rising costs, the difficulty of getting jobs, and other things have eroded that.”

He is a member of the 3.9 Art Collective. They are a group seeking to reverse the decline by drawing attention to the historical and ongoing presence of Black artists and creative expression in its Black communities. 

“When my friends decided that it was time to pack up and leave that raised my radar. You couldn’t deny it. It’s happening," O’Arwisters said. “The idea of having events, discussions, art exhibitions around raising awareness about the decline of the Black population in San Francisco was paramount because the city prides itself on being diverse and being open-minded and being inclusive.”

This is not unique to San Francisco. The Black population is shrinking in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston as well. Minority communities are hit harder by gentrification. They have fewer options compared to their white counterparts. It’s the reality photographer S. Renèe Jones has had to fight to stay in San Francisco.

“Cause I have a large family and it’s not that we aren’t getting kicked out it’s that you don’t want to go if you’re family is here," Jones said.

Growing up, she watched family become homeless and friends painfully move away.

“I ended up homeless and as I was walking down the street on mission street I saw a sign in the window that basically said free photography," Jones said.

More than 20 years later she is still with this group and now the newest member of 3.9, using her photography as a medium to raise awareness.

“I think this is the kind of thing that Black people have done always. From the building of their own towns and things like that. Creating their own styles," Jones said.

The 3.9 Art Collective took its name from a newspaper article that predicted San Francisco’s Black population would fall to 3.9 percent. They’ve adopted that number as an act of resistance, and an effort to reverse it.

“The most powerful thing that art can do is to demand of artists to be courageous," O’Arwisters said.