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The Cultural Mafia

With maybe one exception (OK, New York, you win), no city offers quite the mix of world-class, cutting-edge, and passionately gonzo culture that San Francisco does. We have superstars, inventors of new art forms, indie theater champs, and, naturally, the country’s first transgender dance company. But who, exactly, are the leaders of this tight-knit, crazy-quilt scene? We canvassed dozens of film capos, theater consiglieri, and foot soldiers of literature, dance, art, and music to come up with this list of the 63 most influential impresarios, mentors, fundraisers, and visionaries.

Sean Dorsey

Gregg Perloff

Robert Mailer Anderson and Nicola Miner

Michael Tilson Thomas

Jeffrey Fraenkel

Sylvia Lindsey

Deborah Cullinan

MID-MARKET REVIVALISTS

Laurie Lazer and Darryl Smith
COFOUNDERS OF THE LUGGAGE STORE GALLERY
They’re pioneers in the mid-Market revival, with projects like the Tenderloin National Forest; the transformation of derelict Cohen Alley into a green space framed by murals and populated with performances; and Trailhead, an espresso bar, jeansmanufacturing workshop, and indoor green space tucked into one corner of the Renoir Hotel.

Joshua Simon and Leiasa Beckham
DIRECTOR OF REAL ESTATE CONSULTING AND REAL ESTATE CONSULTANT AT NORTHERN CALIFORNIA COMMUNITY LOAN FUND
"We love white elephants," says Simon, referring to the unconventional spaces—some of which don’t even show up in a traditional real estate search—that he and Beckham have come up with for many mid-Market arts groups, including Trailhead, SF Camerawork, the S.F. Film Collective, and many more.

Ellen Richard
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE AMERICAN CONSERVATORY THEATER
Richard is the one who snagged the old Strand Theatre, on Market Street, to fulfill Carey Perloff’s dream of a place to showcase the work of A.C.T.’s MFA students. She also started the Costume Shop, which currently plays host to a rotating lineup of performances by small innovative theaters such as Campo Santo, Magic Theatre, and S.F. Recovery Theatre.

Shelley Trott
SENIOR PROGRAM OFFICER FOR ARTS AT KENNETH RAININ FOUNDATION
In the foundation’s mere four years of existence, Trott has awarded nearly $700,000 to more than 20 arts-related programs in mid-Market. Currently, she is trying to come up with ways to help arts organizations deal with the area’s sharply rising rents.

Deborah Cullinan
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF INTERSECTION FOR THE ARTS
From Intersection’s new home inside the Chronicle building, Cullinan has forged an alliance with the 5M Project—the development effort dedicated to transforming the four-acre space between Fifth, Mission, and Howard streets—and has already begun rolling out programming.

Amy Cohen and Ellyn Parker
DIRECTOR OF NEIGHBORHOOD ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND PROJECT MANAGER IN THE OFFICE OF ECONOMIC AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
No one in city government has been more instrumental than Cohen in keeping the Central Market Partnership (the official name for the public-private initiative to revitalize the area) on track. And Parker is her right-hand woman where the arts are concerned: She spends most of her time facilitating projects like 24 Days of Central Market Arts and other guerrilla arts activities in and around U.N. Plaza.

Elvin Padilla Jr.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE TENDERLOIN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PROJECT
As powerful a community organizer as you’re likely to find, Padilla is an important line of communication between city hall and the people, businesses, and organizations in the area that are otherwise "kind of invisible," he says. His ability to forge partnerships has brought key players like the Kenneth Rainin and San Francisco foundations into the mix.

Originally published in the December 2012 issue of San Francisco.

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