San Francisco continues to fall short of a goal to have at least 30 percent of historic figures depicted or recognized in the public realm be women, according to a new city report.
Overall representation in city property has not increased from around 12 percent since the goal, which covers public art and city facilities, parks and streets, was set in 2018, according to the “Representation of Women in City Property” report recently issued by the Department on the Status of Women.
Perhaps most glaring is the lack of statues. There remain just two figurative statues of nonfictional women in San Francisco, a bust of Dianne Feinstein inside City Hall and a statue of Florence Nightingale, the creator of modern-day nursing, outside of Laguna Honda Hospital.
An effort to install a statue of the late poet Maya Angelou outside of the Main Library by Dec. 31, 2020, as called for in the same legislation that established the 30 percent goal, was not met in the wake of a controversial artist selection process.
But the Arts Commission is “currently finalizing our contract with the artist Lava Thomas” to complete the Angelou sculpture, Arts Commission spokesperson Rachelle Axel told the San Francisco Examiner Friday. Axel estimated it would be installed in the fall of 2022.
In all, the report found there are 968 representations or depictions of historic figures on city property but only 120 were women while 845 were men. There were three transgender and non-binary individuals, including one transgender woman and one transgender man.
“These numbers still reflect city and a society that does not acknowledge or value the contributions of women as often as it does for men,” said Kimberly Ellis, the recently appointed head of the Department on the Status of Women. “San Francisco needs an additional 26 pieces of public art depicting or representing women, 200 streets, four more buildings, and 16 parks named after women to reach The City’s goal of at least 30 percent women.”
The goal of at least 30 percent representation is not an arbitrary data point. The report said, “Studies suggest that 30 percent is the proportion at which critical mass is reached so that a member of an underrepresented community is no longer seen as a token but can influence organizational culture and decision-making.”
“The impact on women and girls of watching the historic and glass shattering moment of Kamala Harris’ swearing in as vice president this week shows how important representation is,” Ellis said. “As our young people walk through this city, what they see and who they see not only informs their ideas about what is possible for them, but also tells them whose story, whose work matters. We must show them that they matter.”
The public art category includes permanently sited works of sculptural monuments, memorials, benches, gates or plaques, of which there were 166 works depicting or recognizing historic persons, but 81 percent, or 134, were men, and 19 percent, or 31, women. One work honors a non-binary person.
Most of the representation of historic women in the public art category is through 24 plaques around The City. In addition to the two figurative statues of nonfiction women, there are five symbolic depictions that name a historic woman or group of women including the Comfort Women memorial, the report said.
The Arts Commission, which contracts with artists to create artwork for public spaces and buildings and oversees the Civic Art Collection including historic monuments, said it is committed to “contributing to The City’s goals of increased representation of women in the public realm.”
Axel said, “All of the historic monuments in The City (just under 100 statues) were not city-run artist commissions but gifts to The City by outside groups, and most were gifted in the 19th century.”
“The Arts Commission, in partnership with the Human Rights Commission and the Recreation and Parks Department, is about to embark on a community engagement process — the Monuments and Memorials Advisory Committee — to establish criteria and guidelines for how to handle The City’s collection of historic monument and how we consider monuments in the future,” she said.
The worst performing category was street names. The report found that out of 600 streets named after historic persons, 93 percent, or 557, are named for men and just 7 percent, or 43, are named for women.
Bayview-Hunters Point has 12 streets named after women, the most of any neighborhood. Ten are named after “racially diverse activists who sought to make Bayview-Hunters Point a better place,” the report said, including “the ‘Big 5,’ a group of local African American women advocates from the 1960s: Julia Commer, Osceola Washington, Elouise Westbrook, Bertha Freeman and Beatrice Dunbar.”
Lake Merced, near San Francisco State University, has the second highest number of streets named after historic women, with four of the seven named after members of the Juan Bautista de Anza expedition to San Francisco during 1775-76, including his wife, Juana Cardenas.
At least two additional streets are being proposed to be named after women. As previously reported by the Examiner, the San Francisco Giants’ Mission Rock waterfront development plans to include two streets named after late poet Maya Angelou and female baseball player Toni Stone, which the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee is voting on Monday.
When it comes to the naming of city-owned buildings and facilities, the scores are better. Sixty-four are named after men and 24 named after women, 27 percent. Only four more buildings would need to be named after women to achieve the goal in this category.
But there is one highlighted issue in this category when it comes to government employee facilities, which have 14 named after men and none after women.
“This lack of representation of women in city facilities could set an unwelcoming tone, as many of these facilities house sectors of public employment which are overwhelmingly comprised of men, such as public transportation, sanitary engineering, construction and first responders,” the report said.
When it comes to the 114 parks and open space named after historical figures, including playgrounds and tennis courts, men comprised 80 percent of the namings and women 20 percent. Sixteen more spaces would need to be named after women to hit the 30 percent goal.
The report noted that “seven of the 11 parks named after women are two acres or less.”
The Recreation and Park Department said in a statement to the Examiner that “the lack of female representation is something we’re committed to correcting.”
“Women’s accomplishments must be celebrated and honored in public spaces, just as men’s have been recognized throughout history,” Rec and Park spokesperson Tamara Aparton said. “We will work with our parks community and city officials to continue to right this wrong.”
The department’s report, which relies on data provided by various other city departments, is required biennially through legislation adopted in 2018, which set the 30 percent goal. An initial report was issued in 2019 to set a baseline.
“We should be closer to the 30 percent goal, and perhaps meeting it in some categories, in the 2022 report,” Ellis said.