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SF to increase women’s representation in public art, building and street names

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A statue of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former mayor of San Francisco, can be found at City Hall. City officials are working to increase the representation of women in city statues, and in the names of buildings, streets and parks. (Joshua Sabatini/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco plans to boost the number of women represented in public artwork as well as in other areas, like the names of streets and parks. The effort is being kicked off with a planned statue of the late poet Dr. Maya Angelou within two years.

Under legislation introduced by Supervisor Catherine Stefani The City would install by December 2020 a statue of Angelou at the Main Library.

The legislation, which was approved Wednesday by the Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, sets a goal for The City to increase the percentage of women represented in works of art to 30 percent, as well as in the names of buildings, streets and parks.

City departments would need to regularly report on their efforts toward reaching that goal.

The legislation also establishes the Women’s Recognition Public Art Fund, which would accept private donations for the commissioning of public art depicting historically significant women and maintaining the the works. The fund could help pay for the Angelou statue.

The full board is expected to approve the legislation Tuesday.

Once approved, the Arts Commission will ask artists to apply to complete the Angelou public artwork, which is expected to cost about $400,000 plus a $100,000 maintenance endowment, according to Arts Commission spokesperson Kate Patterson-Murphy.

Angelou, who died in 2014, was an author and civil rights leader who grew up in the Fillmore District. She also became the first African-American female street car conductor in San Francisco..

“The Maya Angelou statue is a first step to accomplishing full representation of women in our city,” Stefani said. “When we see streets, public buildings and works of art we will finally see the women who have impacted the world.”

There are currently two of 87 sculptural monuments depicting nonfictional women, one of former mayor and current US Senator Dianne Feinstein in City Hall and the other of Florence Nightingale outside of Laguna Honda Hospital.

The legislation covers public works of art, buildings on city-owned properties and street names.

Elizabeth Newman, with the Department on the Status of Women, praised the legislation as “ an important effort to rectify the under-representation of women’s contributions to society and to also encourage women’s leadership in the future.”

“This is really important because art that recognizes historical people very often is recognizing white men,” Newman said.

Newman said she expected the monitoring of the effort will yield results. She said when The City started to track the number of women appointed to commissions and boards their representation increased.

“Women’s representation on Commissions and Boards in 2017 is 49 percent, equal to the female population in San Francisco,” according to the Status of Women’s most recent report.

The report notes that “Asian, Latinx/Hispanic, and multiracial individuals are underrepresented on Commissions and Boards.”

Under the proposal, departments like Public Works, Arts Commission and the Recreation and Park Department will have to list by October 1, 2019 on their websites all streets, buildings and building rooms, parks, plaques and public art named after or depicting historical figures.

The Department of the Status of Women will issue its first report by December 31, 2019, on the proportion of women recognized in each of these categories, followed by an updated report a year later.

“I am actually hoping we can get to 50 percent,” Stefani said.

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