In the early 2000’s, a dot-com boom and escalating rents threatened the vibrant fabric of the Bay Area’s arts and culture community. As a working artist at the time, I witnessed the devasting impact on the lives and livelihoods of my peers. We struggled to imagine possible solutions to a growing displacement crisis. As arts spaces closed, I became acutely aware of the vulnerability of artists and arts organizations. At the time, I couldn’t have imagined how this experience would inform a groundbreaking idea.
Years later I joined the Kenneth Rainin Foundation as its Arts Program Officer and became part of a cross-sector collaboration to develop a long-term strategy to safeguard the arts. In 2013, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation launched a bold solution with a $5 million grant—the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST), the first of its kind real estate holding company for the arts and culture sector. This year we are celebrating a decade of CAST’s success in securing safe, affordable spaces for artists to work and thrive.
Creating A Community-Centered Real Estate Model
What has always inspired me about the Rainin Foundation is its willingness to take risks and to bring people together to find groundbreaking solutions, especially when the old ways aren’t working. In 2011, sensing another affordability and displacement crisis for the arts, the Foundation came together with public and private partners and experts who were willing to challenge the status quo. We wanted to devise a long-term, sustainable strategy to secure safe, affordable space for the arts in San Francisco’s prohibitively expensive real estate market. The Northern California Community Loan Fund (now Community Vision) played a critical role. We adapted their long-term experience in finance, real estate and community development to create an innovative model to preserve spaces for the arts and culture sector.
Together, we formulated what became the Rainin Arts Real Estate Strategy, which laid the groundwork for creating CAST. CAST began their efforts by purchasing buildings for two organizations—The Luggage Store Gallery and CounterPulse—that were facing displacement. The nonprofits would be secure in their buildings paying below-market lease rates with an option to purchase their buildings in seven to 10 years.
Over the past ten years, CAST has:
- Raised nearly $50 million in assets
- Acquired four buildings that they are stewarding as cultural centers
- Secured five more projects in the development pipeline
Over the next several years, CAST will:
- Have $200 million in assets
- Contribute 250,000 square feet of permanent, affordable arts real estate in the San Francisco Bay Area
It’s humbling to think that what started with a $30,000 grant to Community Vision has sparked so much progress. Ten years later, CAST has acquired four buildings that they are stewarding as cultural centers in perpetuity. They have raised nearly $50 million in assets and have more projects in development. Over the next several years, CAST will have $200 million in assets and have contributed 250,000 square feet of permanent, affordable arts real estate in the San Francisco Bay Area. That’s a huge return on investment.
Solutions That Support A Constellation Of Spaces
Led by CEO Moy Eng, CAST has exceeded our expectations. The organization has a committed board of directors and a strong team of experts in finance, real estate and community engagement. By collaborating with public and private partners, CAST is succeeding in creating an alternative real estate market of properties that are owned and stewarded by and with the Bay Area arts community.
CounterPulse bought their building this year, while the Luggage Store Gallery has secured a long-term affordable lease. Both buildings are deed-restricted for the arts in perpetuity. CAST holds a 55-year below-market-rate lease for the historic Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse, which is owned by the City of San Francisco. This community asset is now a vibrant education arts center and home to the Performing Arts Workshop.
Last year, CAST unveiled a new arts and cultural center at 447 Minna in San Francisco, which is home to PUSH Dance, Women’s Audio Mission, San Francisco Neo-Futurists and CAST. Brookfield Properties donated this historic building to CAST in 2018 as part of a community benefits agreement with the City of San Francisco.
In East Oakland, CAST and the Black Cultural Zone Collaborative have created an ambitious vision—Liberation Park Market Hall and Residences. The mixed-use development uses a cooperative ownership model and a long-term lease on a city owned property. The project will include 120 units of affordable housing, a cultural center, event space and workspace to incubate small businesses owned by East Oakland’s residents.
Building Cultural Vibrancy And Community Power
CAST’s proven track record and community-centered approach builds trusting relationships—with artists and communities, developers, property owners and public agencies. At the same time, CAST is bringing to life a constellation of affordable spaces created by, for and with the arts and culture community.
Branching out from San Francisco, CAST launched Keeping Space—Oakland in 2016 to provide grants, technical assistance and real estate readiness training to help Oakland arts and cultural organizations facing displacement. Through this process, CAST developed a better understanding of Oakland’s arts ecosystem and how to better act as a resource.
Their Dreaming Spaces initiative invites artists, cultural workers and creatives to participate in improving the quality of life for their local neighborhood. CAST used this process for the design of the new arts and cultural center at 447 Minna. The building offers flexible work, performance and exhibition spaces with short- and long-term rentals at below-market rates.
Reflecting On An Inspiring Journey
Foundations are uniquely positioned to take risks. CAST continues to be an exciting example of the Rainin Foundation’s leadership and smart risk-taking toward retaining strong, vibrant and diverse arts communities. By understanding the scale of the affordability crisis and bringing together experts to challenge the status quo, we now have a proven model to safeguard the future of creative spaces for Bay Area artists, organizations and cultural communities.
The real beauty is in the potential for this local model to adapt to global solutions. CAST has grown to become an internationally recognized real estate nonprofit and has inspired cities, such as Seattle, Austin, Vancouver and Sydney. The city of London adapted the CAST model to establish their Creative Land Trust to reduce cultural displacement. In the Bay Area and beyond, CAST is profoundly changing the dynamics by getting permanently affordable real estate into the hands of arts and cultural organizations.
“We all entertain thoughts of imagining the world as it could be. CAST reflects my hopes. It’s rare that a novel, cross-sector nonprofit successfully intervenes in an entrenched system to bend it toward those less resourced.”
This journey has been fascinating and rewarding for me. We all entertain thoughts of imagining the world as it could be. CAST reflects my hopes. It’s rare that a novel, cross-sector nonprofit successfully intervenes in an entrenched system to bend it toward those less resourced. It represents the culmination of many talented and creative people working together and investing their time and expertise to bring this idea to life. That’s inspiring to me. Ten years of people working together and accessing every available resource is worth celebrating. I’m excited about the future of CAST and how it will help Bay Area artists thrive.
Thank you to the many visionary and committed partners who helped turn this complex concept into a transformative solution in service of the Bay Area’s arts community.