Jaime Cortez: Artist, Writer, Friend

I first met Jaime Cortez in a sunny Oakland backyard at a cuarentanera (you read right) rehearsal. A mutual friend of ours was planning her 40th birthday and, as quiceanera’s typically do, this involved several choreographed dance pieces. Jaime was a poised, sophisticated, soft-spoken chambelan. His ability to promenade around a giant cheese wedge, from which burst the guest of honor in full gown and tiara, was an act of beauty and grace. It stands to reason that it took me a while to place Jaime’s face on my first day at the Foundation. When I realized that this was the same person from the whimsical cheese-themed celebration, I knew I would be in good hands. And my hunch proved correct.

After a year and a half as Program Associate in the Arts and Culture department, The San Francisco Foundation bid farewell to Jaime in September. Since his start in 2006 as a Multicultural Fellow, the Foundation has been able to snag him two more times. So, when the staff gathered to send him off this time, the sentiment was more “see you later” than goodbye.

Before we parted ways, Erika and I sat down with Jaime to hear about how he got here, where he plans to head from here, and what memories from the Foundation he will bring with him.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a writer of short stories. I am also a visual artist, having exhibited at tiny little galleries and at museums. I teach art in whole bunch of different settings. Occasionally I’m a performer.

Can you talk about how this relates to your work at the Foundation?

TSFF’s Arts and Culture program gets a lot of applications. When I started in 2006, I was already looking at the applications with a certain breadth of knowledge about a lot of the organizations because I’d been there as an exhibiting artist, as a teacher, and often as an audience member. It’s very helpful to bring that hands-on, on-the-ground knowledge. Our purview at the Foundation is pretty expansive in covering these five counties and all of us in our program areas hold this balance in our minds, of the various grantees and nonprofits in our sector across those geographies.

What are you doing next?

I’ll be in jurying phase for a few weeks. I’m going to Los Angeles to jury an art award and then at the beginning of next month I’ll be jurying another literary award for Headland Center for the Arts.  After that, I’ll be working on a comic book project with San Francisco State University’s Family Acceptance Project, creating a comic book to assist parents of queer children who want their parents’ support.

Do you have any final thoughts about your time at the Foundation?

It’s interesting having coming through the Foundation for the third time around.  It’s interesting watching how things can change and really shift.  I think about the Foundation as organism that keeps constant or feels familiar, even through shifts, like moving into a new space and finding a new CEO.  Even though the Foundation has different program areas with leaders within each area and their own vision of things, it all needs to hold together. The San Francisco Foundation has a certain core and a certain ethic guided by its mission.  This has served the Foundation well as it moved through these changes, both internal, but also external, for example, holding strong during the recession in 2008.  The Foundation had to look to its core to chart a course when the economic picture changed.  It’s a good lesson for the organization but also for any individual.  You have to think, what is really at the core of you, that you refer back to when you are going through shifts and changes?  I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I go through my own transition.

What will you miss at Foundation?

I will miss the people, as the Foundation attracts great people.  I remember a small detail of my friendship with then Program Assistant, Nicole DuPont.  Our spaces were separated by a cubicle wall and I would just throw chocolates over the divider. I would hear her un-wrapping the little chocolates.  And she wouldn’t say anything and I wouldn’t say anything.  It was like feeding an animal.

A friendship that needs no words.

Editor’s note: This post is co-authored by Marta Martinez and Erika Gee of The San Francisco Foundation’s Arts & Culture Program.