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The Best Non-Profits Art Spaces in San Francisco
by Leora Lutz

Like other industries, the art world should come under the scrunity of fair and equitable business practices. With so much privatization in the gallery and museum world, it's as good a time as any for consumers of culture to question where funds come from—and where profits are going. This summer, we're seeking out the best not-for-profit and community conscious art spaces in the most commercial cities on the global art circuit. As part of our mission to give art a social slant, the third stop in our series exploring these venues is San Francisco. Be sure to check out our Los Angeles and New York City guides as well.

In the last couple of years there has been a rash of displacement and evictions in San Francisco due to the real estate boom. Art non-profits have been particularly impacted by the recent shifts that by and large push out those who cannot afford to pay the exorbitant market share rates, which are in excess of $19,000 per month or more. In October 2014, the city of San Francisco announced a Displacement Mitigation Program to help assist organizations that were displaced by the rising real estate greed. In April, 2015, sixteen arts and culture nonprofits were slated to receive public funding. One organization, ArtSpan responsible for the annual fall SF Open Studios was able to secure a building for displaced artists (deadline now closed). However, there are places that have been able to relocate, re-envision their programming, or continue without this assistance. Here are a small handful of such spaces in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Aggregate Space

Aggregate Space, Installation view, Cringe works on video group show, Still image of Rachel Yurkovich's 5 Second Rule. Photo: Aaron Rosenstreich


In 2010, Sarah Willis and Conrad Meyers began occupying a large warehouse space on the eastern edge of West Oakland near downtown. Completely self-funded by working a variety of jobs between them and with the help of volunteers, the space was the true labor of love, but with a decided focus. They opened in November 2011, and since that time they have showcased over 200 Bay Area visual artists. The initial build-out of the space and the show installations always happened on nights and weekends,  after Willis and Myers returned home from their other jobs, and with the trust of artists to hang professional installations on their own. Cavernous high ceilings, a big adjacent woodshop with roll up doors, an office loft, studio spaces, kitchen, exhibition area, and small movie theatre make Aggregate Space a dynamic and inclusive multi-media establishment for creative thinking, gathering, and making. In addition to thoughtful and engaging visual exhibitions, they have hosted artist residencies, movie nights, poetry readings, video series, lectures, and performances.

This past July they completed the process to gain 501C3 status and to become a non-profit establishment. Meyers explained that the transition was really straightforward and was a logical fit for the next stage in the gallery, because they have always been a donation-based, all volunteer organization from the beginning. The initial process for writing the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws happened over Christmas vacation and was then brought to their board of peers and trusted individuals for review. By May, and approximately $500 later, they were on their way to the next phase. On such a humble scale, there are tremendous financial benefits for Willis as the main beneficiary of the space, in addition to the expanded ability to generate funds from other sources such as grants.


Creative Growth

Jules Maeght looks at works by Dan Miller, Dan Miller paints nearby. Photo: Arnaud Gaertner. Courtesy of Creative Growth


Since 1974, Creative Growth has been giving artists with developmental, mental, and physical disabilities a place to hone their creative skills and exhibit their work. The space is located in a large, historic brick building near Oakland’s burgeoning downtown art scene at 355 24th Street. They have a large open space studio and a gallery that displays visual art, sculpture, and gift items made by the clients who take workshops at the center. Over 140 artists work in media including drawing, painting, ceramics, textiles, printmaking, wood, photography, and video. Working in group settings in the large studio, the artists foster social relationships amongst peers as well as work closely with a professional artist staff to create compelling works that are recognized both regionally and internationally.

The institution is a prolific and active establishment, exceeding the outreach and exposure that most commercial galleries can achieve. In this summer and fall alone, there are four exhibitions featuring Creative Growth artists at outside venues, in addition to the rigorous in-house exhibition schedule. Several Creative Growth artists are showing at two well-known San Francisco Galleries: Park Life at 3049 22nd Street (until September 6) and Storefront Lab (September 26–November 6); and two artists are included in museum shows: Judith Scott’s frenetically detailed and contemplative thread-wrapped sculptures at the Zuckerman Museum of Art in Georgia, and John Martin’s humorous drawings at Contemporary Art Museum, Raleigh, North Carolina. If that’s not enough, Creative Growth has a showroom in Paris and participates in numerous national and international art fairs, including the D’Dessin Paris Contemporary Drawing Fair, and has artists represented in European galleries.

Opening on September 10 at the Oakland gallery, Creative Growth asked Parisian printmaker (and SF gallery owner) Jules Maeght to work with Maureen Clay, Dan Miller and Carlos Fernandez on a limited edition series titled Geometrics. The artists created the works in the Oakland studio, which were then printed as lithographs at ARTE-Maeght studio in Paris. It would appear that Creative Growth is not only remaining viable in the economic flux, but also expanding and remaining an active participant in the larger art scheme of things.


Intersection of the Arts

 Intersection for the Arts performance, Theater: Campo Santo, Tree City Legends, Tiayo Na and Juan Amador, 2012


Beginning in 1965, Intersection for the Arts’ mission was to provide art engagement and education to disenfranchised youth in the Tenderloin, as well as offering a safe-haven for conscientious objectors of the Vietnam War.  For fifty years the organization stayed true to its mission while evolving with the changes and growth of the Bay Area art scene at large. Now located at 925 Mission Street in the South of Market district of San Francisco, it is about to open a whole season of new programming after going somewhat dark for a while. In 2014, the SF non-profit art world was shocked when Intersection for the Arts went through structural and administrative turmoil, firing long-time employees and pairing down before regrouping with a smaller staff.

Their Incubator program that fiscally sponsors smaller organizations such as independent theater, improv groups, multicultural music and performance, and youth programs remains intact. Incubator participants include The Prelinger Library, SFAQ Projects, the Conservatory of Dance, and more. In August Intersection started a first Mondays program in conjunction with Zoo Labs, a music and art residency program based in Oakland, called UnderDog Mondays, a mixer for artists and creative people to convene, share and connect. For the September fall season, two concurrent exhibitions will revisit Intersections' original mission: Ain’t Nothing Tender in collaboration with the Boys & Girls Clubs of SF, Tenderloin Clubhouse, and Patricia Warren’s The Portrait Project: Into the Light, featuring portraits from her work providing formal framed portraits to residents of the Tenderloin, South of Market, Mission, and Bayview neighborhoods of San Francisco. Both shows run from September 2–28.

As the organization approaches its 50th anniversary, The Intersection Archive Show, curated by Lexa Walsh will run from October 7–November 22. Other programming includes Precarious Vision Nights held throughout the city at different locations, 50/50 Poetry Nights, each also continuing the 1965 legacy of providing a home or meeting place for poets and artists to discuss and share their craft and societal concerns. There will also be an opera by Iranian libretto Niloufar Talebi and theater by Mugwumpin.


The Lab

The Lab, competitive dance-off performance, Saturday, February 21, 2015. TURFIN AGAINST THE WORLD II: All Styles Dance Battle. Courtesy of The Lab


The Bay Area has a thriving experimental music scene, and The Lab has been an integral part of showcasing and supporting visual artists, performance, and multimedia artists since 1984. But by early 2014 the space and the programming was due for an overhaul. After years of ambitious, but sporadic programming and lack of proper maintenance, the location and the vision of the Lab was in a state of disrepair and paddling in tremendous debt. In August 2014, The Lab appointed Dena Beard, former Assistant Curator at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive as its new Executive Director. Through generous donations of money, materials, and labor, the historic brick building was transformed to its original identity as a depression era union meeting hall. The audience space expanded as well, attracting a whole new population that was ready for alternative forms of art geared more toward experiences and perception, rather than formal visual art displays or easily digestible and mainstream content.

To keep the space ahead of the curve, Beard is introducing unconventional approaches for fundraising, internet exposure, and even administration. For example, to raise funds they held a 24-hour telethon, with live broadcasting of performances and talks in front of a live studio audience. The spectacle introduced The Lab’s new iteration as a space of energy, community, and resourcefulness. As a concept in exposure, a surveillance camera is being installed with a live feed, providing not only a voyeuristic view into the workings of the space—the gesture and object itself questions ideas of transparency, yet surveillance is also present. Ideas like these are humorous, yet also conceptually poignant when it comes to thinking about the hard work that running a space entails. Other exciting projects include Salon Dinners and a generous residency program for three artists, complete with $25,000 and access to the space and its resources. With Beard as its sole full-time employee, The Lab seeks to dismantle traditional platforms of non-profit businesses that have often resulted in lack of responsibility and a decline of funding due to high administrative overheard. It will be interesting to see how these new approaches and risks will influence other spaces with such vibrancy that the Bay Area deserves.


The Luggage Store & The Tenderloin National Forest

The Tenderloin National Forest, Installation view of lush plants and mural by Brett Cook/Dizney, 2015.
Courtesy of The Luggage Store and The Tenderloin National Forest


Founded by Laurie Lazer and Darryl Smith, the two are responsible for the Luggage Store Gallery located at 1007 Market Street in San Francisco, which also has two annex locations: The 509 Cultural Center at 509 Ellis Street and the Tenderloin National Forest (TNF) at Cohen Alley, adjacent to the Ellis location, all situated in the Tenderloin neighborhood in the heart of San Francisco’s downtown. The Tenderloin is notorious for its surrounding drug-riddled street life, where the urban scene is in a constant state of chaos ranging from the plentitude of homeless residents to vice and violence on an ongoing basis. The TNF (named in 2009) and the Luggage Store are a refuge nestled in the sprawl of high rise buildings in the most densely populated part of city where over 35,000 people live within a 5-block radius. They also recently occupied an additional project space at 457 Haight Street.

The Luggage Store Gallery has been hosting exhibitions since its inception as an artist collective in 1987, which received its 501C3 status in 1989. The space boasts a history of hundreds of multi-disciplinary projects since its inception, including readings, music, video, public programming, and visual art. Projects have included Keepsake, an art exchange with Brenna Ivanhoe (recent Cal Arts Graduate); Mending Library by Michael Swaine of Futurefarmers; work from new media environmental artist David Gurman, and Wander and Wayfare, highlighting female mural artists from Rochaart.

In 1989, Smith and Lazer began occupying Cohen Alley, cleaning out the urban detritus and making a hospitable and clean space for the community and residents whose windows overlooked the once filthy and unsafe space. In 2000 they planted a large Redwood tree, later adding more trees and plants, including Japanese Maple and Cherry, which are surrounded by murals, seating areas, hand-laid brick and tile paths designed by artist Rigo 23, and a wood burning stove to hold community cook-outs. Nearby Tenderloin Art Museum (not related to the Luggage Store Gallery or Tenderloin National Forest) at 398 Eddy Street is also a noteworthy location to learn about the history of the area. Through the economic turmoil and the city's real estate uncertainty, the Luggage Store and the Tenderloin National Forest continue to grow and expand.


Other noted nonprofit art organizations doing great things in the Bay Area are: African American Art and Culture Complex; Brava! Theater for Women in the Arts; Kearny Street Workshop; Southern Exposure; Root Division; SOMArts; Gallería de la Raza; Queer Cultural Center and SF Camerawork.


Leora Lutz


(Image at top: Creative Growth. Photo: Lateef McLeod)

Posted by Leora Lutz on 9/1 | tags: artist project spaces non-profit art spaces not-for-profit art spaces San Francisco non-profits

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