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Artists turn everyday objects gold to protest gentrification

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23-karat gold leaf manhole covers burnish disparity complaints

A gilded utility pole in the Mission, with murals and street art on nearby walls.
A gilded utility pole in the Mission, with murals and street art on nearby walls, located at 87 Sycamore Street.
Photo by Erik Schmitt

A pair of Bay Area artists have taken to turning bits and pieces of street fare into gold, a way to protest the Gilded Age sensibilities of modern Bay Area living.

Graphic designer and photographer Erik Schmitt paired with interactive developer Nick Bushman for a projects the duo dub, “Gilded Cities.”

The pieces themselves are simple: In nine Bay Area locales, the artists covered an everyday piece of street utility with 23-karat gold leaf, resulting in gilded manhole covers, drainpipes, and sewer access ports—”things associated with the basic necessities of life,” Schmitt explained in an email to Curbed SF.

And the artists’ intent isn’t hard to fathom here either, with the glittering addendum meant to suggest that “the San Francisco Bay Area has become an enclave for the rich—unattainable to all but the most privileged,” according to the artists’ statement.

Back in February, Schmitt protested vacant housing stock in the middle of a rental crisis by applying ironic nutrition labels to the sides of residential buildings.

Those notices didn’t last long, of course—probably less than 24 hours once building management caught wind—but the idea was to draw attention to the issue, however briefly.

Similarly, its not clear how long it will be until the various cities remove the gilding from their gas line covers and such. (Although if municipalities decide to leave some of them be it seems likely few locals would complain).

For those wanting to scope out the ornamented equipage while it lasts, the accompanying Gilded Cities site has a map marking each, including three in San Francisco.

806 Arkansas Street.
667 Howard Street.