Lights, Engagement, Action!

By Catherine Barry

Civic Joy Fund Program is Helping San Francisco Rebound, One Block at a Time

Never doubt that a small group 
of thoughtful, committed citizens 
can change the world;
indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.                     
                       ~ Margaret Mead

Sometimes, all we need is music. Well, of course we do know it’ll take more than that to slough off the murk that embroils San Francisco. How about, then, adding to that major physical improvements on several city blocks? Or rallying hundreds of San Francisco residents to help with cleanups, tree planting, graffiti removal, mural painting? In addition to providing more than 70 free concerts over the summer, the recently formed non-profit Civic Joy Fund’s citywide programs include all of the above, offering a strong case for more optimism than recent articles such as “What it’s like to live in a city that no longer believes its problems can be fixed” would lead us to think.

Turns out the city is filled with believers. Let’s start by looking at the two philanthropists who believe enough in the recovery of the city that they have found a way to inject joy back into our collective veins by way of a $2m initiative of the Civic Space Foundation.

Daniel Lurie and Manny Yekutiel

Manny Yekutiel, owner of Manny’s, a Mission-district café, bar, restaurant and social gathering space, likes to watch things grow. He tells a story about how a stranger placed seeds in an empty planter box outside his building and regularly tended the flowers as they grew for all to enjoy. It made him think seriously about the difference even one person can make in a neighborhood.

Manny thought that lighting up Valencia Street during the dark days of pandemic emergence might help regrow businesses, and he was right. Seeing the transformative effect on the neighborhoods, he managed to raise $750,000 to do the same thing in 12 different locations.

“There’s something about people in San Francisco, maybe it’s something in the water, but there are so many examples of people who bring wonderment and joy to our neighborhoods. We want to grow and support civic engagement, and help get things done,” Manny tells SF/Arts.

Daniel Lurie also knows a thing or two about getting things done. The philanthropist and founder/former CEO of Tipping Point, a non-profit focused on alleviating poverty and combating homelessness, helped the Civic Joy Fund find its financial feet. He was apparently so impressed with the effect of Yekutiel’s “Light the City” project that he helped expand that model’s reach through the Civic Joy Fund.

“We all know that our city is hurting and in crisis,” Lurie tells SF/Arts. “It’s an incredible joy to see how we can lift up and support our artists and musicians to help our neighborhoods come alive again.”

As well as garnering support from hometown corporations and individuals — including Levi Strauss & Co, Gap, Visa, Joby Pritzker, and Julia & Kevin Hartz — Lurie rolls up his sleeves and actively participates in cleanups and restoration projects at weekends with his family and friends. His buddies have come together this summer to celebrate birthdays and occasions by gathering and cleaning up neighborhoods in need of care.

"We have the opportunity to create a better future for all, by taking bold action, working together and recreating a city that is more equitable, prosperous, and joyful than ever before,” says Lurie, who, as we publish, is allegedly planning to launch a bid for San Francisco Mayor in 2024.

Pictured: SWISS (@swiss_get_it); lil' helper; SpaceWalker (@spacewalker92). Photos by Hunter Boucher

Providing a much-needed economic shot in the arm for shops, restaurants and bars, the Civic Joy Fund and partner Noise Pop’s Summer of Music half way through the season and is driving music-lovers to several SF corridors including Valencia Street, The Castro, Clement Street, Polk Street, Chinatown, Divisadero Street, Haight Street, The Bayview, and Cortland Avenue on Saturday afternoons. Hundreds of paid musicians playing around the city at the same time (there's a sign-up below, musicians!)

“As a San Francisco-based organization that has been dedicated to supporting and promoting the local arts scene for over 30 years, we couldn't be more thrilled to see these new opportunities for our city's talented musicians to showcase their creativity and transform the streets with the power of their beautiful music,” says Founder of Noise Pop, Kevin Arnold. 

Artist Fernanda Martinez standing next to a utility box she painted as part of Paint the City. Photo by Alexandra Liss

In partnership with Paint the Void Civic Joy pays local artists to paint pieces of public art in 10 commercial districts across the city.

 "As a public art curator and producer, I'm always thrilled to see initiatives like this supporting local artists,” says Meredith Winner, co-founder of Building 180 and Paint the Void.

Complimentary to several city efforts to invigorate neighborhoods, Civic Joy does not use public money. As well as private funding, the initiative relies on citizens coming together. Both Yekutiel and Lurie stress that volunteers are not just needed, but vital.

“This is not the not first time San Francisco has needed its citizens to come together,” says Yekutiel, “I’ve seen it with my own eyes” It’s so beautiful to see San Franciscans of all ages, come together, some on their hands and knees to weed gardens at Indian Basin, some picking up other peoples’ trash, others helping at homes for LGBTQIA+ seniors. They are doing it because they love the city and haven’t given up.”

So, let's get out there and help brighten the narrative around this beleaguered city! For more information, visit Civic Space Foundation

The Five Projects of the Civic Joy Fund are:

Summer of Music: Paying musicians to play every Saturday on commercial streets in nine neighborhoods this Summer. Musicians sign up here

Adopt-A-Block: Investing $100,000 each on four blocks around the City to help with physical improvements.

The Civic Joy Corps: A big monthly first Saturdays volunteer project that brings 100 San Franciscans together to do good. Sign up to join here.

Clean Up the City: Organizing 10 weekly neighborhood trash pick ups followed by communal meals. Sign up here

Paint The City: In partnership with Paint the Void, Civic Joy Fund will pay local artists to paint pieces of public art in 10 commercial districts across San Francisco. Sign up here

Main image: Tucker Owen @tuckerowen

Catherine Barry
Catherine Barry
Editor at SF/Arts
Editor at SF/Arts
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