By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero, October, 2007

On March 19, 2007, a stellar coalition of Silicon Valley leaders brought to the City of San Jose “A Vision” for a vital, revamped downtown San Jose. And the San Jose City Council embraced it.


What says more about Silicon Valley than the Tech Museum, right accross Market Street from Cesar Chavez Park?

1stAct’s Vision includes a list of Big Deals and Small Wonders that are intended to make San Jose a “cool” place to live. Emphasis is placed on “Priority Public Spaces”: the Circle of Palms Plaza, San Antonio Plaza, Cesar Chavez Park and the First Street Corridor, including SoFA. Offering a list of “design principles” that include narrowing the streets for a more walk-able, pedestrian-oriented city, creating a sense of arrival and destination, showcasing Silicon Valley innovation and diversity, embracing families, students, young professionals and empty nesters – one could say it sounds pretty general and that San Jose has been trying to achieve all this (with little success) for a long time. However, in advocating for greater connectivity with San Jose State and other cultural districts, and for world-class architecture and iconic public art — we begin to get an inkling of how this might impact the visual arts community.


A mid-day crowd on a Friday, hears the San Francisco Symphony perform in Cesar Chavez Park, next to the Fairmont Hotel.

Many of 1stAct’s notions of how to stimulate a vibrant, creative center of Silicon Valley in downtown San Jose, revolve around commerce, entertainment, dining, housing and a much-needed cosmetic makeover of the city center. A significant amount of attention also goes to the arts, large and small, as important players in an ambience of energy, innovation and creativity that attracts business, thinkers, investors and more energy. This can only be good for the visual arts.


The Circle of Palms and the Museum of Art, are also by Cesar Chavez Park.

Specific proposals that could impact the visual arts are to invest in the arts and expand the Museum of Art, create a Cultural Heritage Museum, transform the SoFA district, generate more galleries in the SoFA district, more public art along the VTA transportation corridor, outdoor cafes and dining (bringing more people into the gallery-visiting ambience), greatly needed live/work units, and a Bart “Grand Central Station” on First and Santa Clara Street, (generating public art opportunities and greater accessibility of San Jose’s arts district to the greater Bay Area.)


A Grand Central Bart Station is envisioned for First and Santa Clara, where A.P. Giannini founded the first Bank of Amarica


The Paseo de San Antonio begins by Cesar Chavez Park and continues past the San Jose Repertory Theatre, on to San Jose State University.

I would like to add a couple of other things to the list that could greatly elevate the fortunes of San Jose’s visual arts – ideas that actually have been around for quite a while, as they were part of an arts master plan coming out of the Silicon Vallery Arts Council and the San Jose Arts Commission, in the Gonzales years. They are good ideas. Establish a couple of municipal galleries, creating places where San Jose artists can have solo exhibitions (that are so needed for the advancement of careers). Establish an academy of the arts high school, or a community school for the arts that offers courses for all ages. Such a school would create an ongoing energy around the arts at a grass roots level that would strengthen the arts for generations into the future, (and create teaching jobs for artists).


With good signage, the public would walk along the Paseo directly to galleries in the SJSU Art Building and performances in the Music Hall.

What ever happened to all those arts master plans adopted by the Arts Commission and presented to the City? Are we just day-dreaming about how great San Jose could be, in the face of a discouraging history and current financial woes that suggest an unfortunate outcome? I don’t think this is an illusion. Something is different this time around.

For one thing, the individuals that have put 1stAct together represent a coalition of forces that is unprecedented. Not only are they the directors of the arts organizations themselves, from small (Tamara Alvarez of MACLA) to large (Dan Keegan of the Museum of Art), but it includes the CEOs of Adobe, Bruce Chizen and Cisco Systems’ John Chambers, and the president of Stanford University, John Hennessy, and Don Kassing of San Jose State, Scott Knies of the Downtown Association, Kim Walesh of the Office of Economic Affairs, Bruce Davis of the Silicon Valley Arts Council, and many more respected community leaders and individual supporters of the arts. Ken Kay, an urban planner who brings significant experience to this endeavor, speaks persuasively for the pedestrian friendly future of San Jose. The Office of Cultural Affairs is already working with 1st Act to see what can happen, especially in the area of public art. Connie Martinez from the Children’s Discovery Museum is the dynamic voice that optimistically articulates the overall Vision of 1stAct.

Another level of commitment to the 1st Act Vision, occurred on March 19th, when City/RDA staff Joe Horwedel, John Weis and Paul Krutko spoke to the City Council in support of integrating the principles of 1stAct into plans for downtown revitalization. The Council asked relevant questions, but was prepared to vote in support. At this time, the City is acting formally to fold 1stAct’s Vision into a revised General Plan.

And, the Downtown Association’s proposal for a PBID (Property Based Improvement District) passed overwhelmingly. This means that the property owners within certain downtown boundaries have voted to tax themselves for the improved cleaning and enhancement of downtown with planters and such amenities.

Further, 1stAct has applied for and received 501(c)(3) (non-profit) status. Connie Martinez will leave the Children’s Discovery Museum to become the full-time Director of 1stAct. The organization has received a challenge grant from the John S. and James L Knight Foundation for $3.5 million over three years. This is an immensely important vote of confidence that should encourage private investment and grease the wheels of progress within city government to invest in San Jose’s transformation as well.


The SoFA district, beginning at First and San Carlos Street, targeted for a makeover before Zero One.

The first and most visible project of the 1stAct agenda is a demonstration project spiffing up the SOFA district – see article by Project Manager, Yasmine Farazian of Ken Kay Associates, in this issue of ARTSHIFT, San Jose. The first phase of the SoFA improvements, at San Carlos and First, will facilitate Zero One events on South First Street beginning in June, 2008. Included are streetscape redesign, temporary platforms and greenery that announce the entry to the district. Outdoor dining, banners, vendors and temporary art installations are the elements that will make the street more friendly, interesting and consistent with an arts district.


The ICA, Museum of Quilts and Textiles, MACLA and Gore Park will all see later changes in SoFA, as part of the Demonstration Project

Ultimately, the SoFA district can expect to see each block from Reed to San Carlos have its own streetscaping, improved parking, incentives for outdoor dining and schmoozing, and art-related amenities. There will be permanent and temporary public art, and an overall visual sensibility announcing SoFA as an arts district. OK, once we have built it, will they come – the commercial galleries, the collectors, the public, the money and fame? I’m a believer!

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