Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, presenter member, San Francisco, CA

Incorporated in 1986, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) has grown to include two landmark buildings housing galleries, a “Forum” convertible presentation/performance space, and screening room spaces. YBCA continues revolutionizing how the world engages with contemporary art and ideas under the direction of Executive Director Kenneth Foster and Director of the Performing Arts Marc Bamuthi Joseph.

1.    Describe your organization’s mission and its work in 3 adjectives. Please explain the adjectives you selected.

Engaging. Risk-taking. Democratic.

Not to be confused for an institutional wallflower, YBCA is relentless and unapologetic in its engagement of the social context. We do not present in the passive voice, but aspire to meet our audiences where they are: challenging them and ourselves to grow to new places by using a myriad of art forms as evolutionary vehicles. To do this work requires us to enlist artists that willfully break norms of discipline, demographic orientation, and presentation.

Correspondingly, we don’t just present “risk takers,” we pride ourselves on being the site of the risk itself, an environment where one-time happenings push our artists and our communities to new edges. That said we are accountable to a constituency that has chosen to live in one of the most politically progressive urban area in America. Through the varied palette of art forms, educational modules, and community engagement exercises housed on our campus, policies are able to play out in a number of ways.

2.    What inspires the work of your organization and why?

We are inspired first and foremost by great artists. We believe in the gifted among us who respond to personal aspiration through creative intellect and waking dream. We’re inspired to use our facilities to show our community multi-colored worlds they didn’t know were possible and to ground them, sometimes agonizingly so, in the sandpaper sound of crumbling infrastructure.

3.    What accomplishment from the past year is your organization most proud of and eager to share with Dance/USA’s membership and the field at large?

We have just launched an incredible new membership program called YBCA:You which we believe will be innovative in the way constituents access the content in our building. YBCA “youers” pay a subscription fee of $15 per month which gives them admission to events, meet-ups and social hours, art coaches, and ways to network with other “youers.”

The key here is both the level of engagement on the institutional side and the incredible financial deal on the users side. We couldn’t be prouder of configuring membership as an ongoing invitation to experience the art we love.

4.    Where do you see dance in the future and how does your organization fit within that vision?

As museums begin to curate dance in visual arts biennials, there will begin to be a shift in critical perception and the economics of time based art. Perhaps choreographers will confront the question of ideological value in new ways, wondering why, for example, Merce Cunningham’s company might fold with his demise, but his archive of costumes lies in a priceless hermetic seal at the Walker Arts Center.

In the future, dance will be a measuring instrument for the value of the human body itself. YBCA brings artists together who decidedly make such bold leaps of anti-conventional logic, and so even if a dance is never “worth” as much as a painting, we provide a place for artists to daringly and honestly ask: Why Not?

5.    As an organization, what do you hope your dance legacy to be?

At the turn of the 21st century, YBCA is a viable, comfortable, accessible, and illuminating place to see contemporary dance in the city of San Francisco. We must remember that many of our classical forms were once radical to the touch, to the ear, and to witness. What would Beethoven have done if he had an iPod? What would Nijinski have made if he could have posted his process on YouTube? Our legacy lives in the present future, as an institution that was financially salient enough in the midst of economic recession to shepherd radical dance towards its place of classic perch.