Features & Columns
San Jose, SJSU Partnership
Revives Hammer Theatre
Last week in downtown San Jose, the C2SV conference intertwined with a nexus of activity that blurred the boundaries between arts, design and urban planning, along with the ever-evolving ways in which San Jose State University (SJSU) and the city government are getting back together again.
First, the SoFA Design Crawl brought out at least a few hundred SJSU students to South First Street. In addition, regulars and non-regulars got a unique chance to see several design businesses like Whipsaw, Decca Design and Elemental8 all showcase their current projects. Everyone walks by these buildings, yet no one knows about the innovation transpiring inside them, so it was a fantastic idea for everyone involved. Entirely new demographics of people came to the SoFA District, which made the First Fridays art walk and street market even more rocking. One of downtown's many underachieving aspects is that SJSU students rarely constitute an overwhelming presence, but this is gradually changing.
Over at the California Theater, C2SV brought together interesting people from a variety of tech-centric professions. One particular panel featured Michele Madansky, Hillary Mickell and Lisen Stromberg discussing gender bias in Silicon Valley. They detailed a plethora of scenarios to which men are completely oblivious. For example, through their research, the group discovered that single women with two or more kids usually become more productive and efficient at work, due to their experience juggling so much while the kids are growing up—as opposed to single men who have fewer responsibilities. They also discovered that men aren't just the dominating workforce in engineering. They also disproportionately rule the advertising industry when it comes to directorial positions.
In another panel, Antonio García Martínez, author of Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley, reconstituted a discussion we don't hear often enough: that Silicon Valley used to be a place where hippies, potheads, nudists, hackers, occultists, dropouts and renegade engineers all built shit together and plotted a better future for humanity. Now Silicon Valley seems to be a place where entitled millennials design phone apps just to deliver their own potato chips at 3am.
Being that San Jose boasts the world's largest Vietnamese population of any one city outside Vietnam, it was rocking to see keynote speaker and Uber CTO Thuan Pham talk with Quinn Tran, currently CEO of GlobALL Connect and recently CEO of the American Red Cross of Silicon Valley. Both are former Vietnamese refugees who said watching American cartoons helped them learn English after they arrived in the U.S. Tran specifically cited Tom and Jerry as an influence. Both spoke to how miserable their lives would have been had they listened to their mothers' advice and opted for a safe, conventional career.
Unfortunately, the California Theatre was a ridiculous venue in which to stage this event. Next year it should be in the Hammer Theatre to amplify the participation of SJSU students, faculty, staff, and/or future technologists, artists and innovators. I can imagine SJSU-centric panel sessions and concerts in addition to all the downtown venues. It would be a natural collaboration.
Which brings us to the Hammer Theatre Center itself, formerly the San Jose Repertory Theater, which officially returned to public life last week. On Thursday, a private VIP reception unfolded on the roof to announce a partnership between SJSU and the city to help revive the empty building. The College of Humanities and the Arts will be the prime movers. No one yet knows what will happen, but everyone recalls the cynicism back when the joint Martin Luther King, Jr. library was first conceived and how those against the idea have long since been proven wrong.
All in all, the party seemed symbolic: Humanities and Arts academia, young and old, mingled with city bureaucrats, young and old. Twenty years ago, the city and SJSU disregarded each other and rarely operated on the same page. Now, following the return of City Hall to downtown and the joint library project, Hammer 2.0 can be understood as yet another stage in the evolution of SJSU's partnership with the city. I just hope everyone can afford to live here in the future.