Arts and CultureSan Francisco

Massive Art Compound Coming To San Francisco

What You Need to Know about the Minnesota Street Project

We use the word “community” a lot in San Francisco. If we look at the arts community here in particular, with all the recent gallery closures, studio evictions and migrations of artists to other locales, I start to wonder if we really know what community means anymore. And whose fault is it? It could be lack of government funding, a decline in popular interest among the citizens of our golden city, or the most often-heard complaint: the tech industry.

Are you, like I am, incredibly tired of hearing everyone complain? Deborah and Andy Rappaport apparently got fed up with the bad news leaking out from every artistic pore of this city and decided to create the Minnesota Street Project.

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Rendering courtesy of Minnesota Street Project

I admit, I was suspicious. No, they are not a non-profit; but non-profits take ages to get going and the Rappaports wanted to hit the ground running and make decisions faster. Yes, they are in talks to collaborate with large tech companies; but are we not going to give these companies the opportunity to create initiatives that serve the larger populace and spend some of that tasty investment money on creative minds? Yes, there are a number of established galleries involved; but they’ve also made real and concrete choices to include small galleries, international institutions, student involvement, and actual struggling artists.

All of this was explained to me when I went to visit the site with Brion Nuda Rosch, director of the Artist Studio Program, Francesca Sonara, marketing manager, and Barbara Zamost, who handles PR for the Minnesota Street Project. We started at 1240 Minnesota, the new site of the private artist studios.

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Rather than the isolated monk-like cells of other studios, these are built on a campus model for increased communication and collaboration with artists to make, show, and document their works. Over 100 applications for a spot in the building have been submitted before the December 14th deadline, with more coming in daily. With space for artists at a premium in San Francisco, the interest is high. In fact, Chris Sollars was onsite while we toured, already making art in the unfinished space of the warehouse.

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Across the street at 1275 Minnesota, we donned hard hats and walked the airy construction of the gallery building. Soon to house 11 permanent and 3 rotating galleries and institutions, the white walls are in harmony with their industrial origins, an important feature for Jensen Architects, who are constructing both buildings. There will also be a restaurant and bar on the ground floor so none of your friends have a good excuse to miss your invitations to attend a stampede of opening exhibition nights, 49 Geary-style.

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Soon, these fully functional spaces (including a kitchen and showers at the back of the building like some manna from heaven for installers) will feature not only local art of every scale and type, but art from outside the Bay Area to create new conversations. These conversations are vital to the city, according to Cléa Massiani, co-director of Bass & Reiner, a small gallery which saw a very short-lived existence in the Mission last year before a massive rent hike forced them to close: “we will get the opportunity to benefit our neighbors and provide good energy with our traction…to interact with people and ideas we would otherwise never have been able to meet. We started the gallery as a way to give back to the community but this project is on a bigger scale, to grow and become more solid.”

Likewise, Aaron Harbour and Jackie Im of Et al. see the Minnesota Street Project as a way to expand as they open their second gallery, Et al. etc.: “Being in a building full of very different galleries will expose our exhibitions to a whole new set of eyes (including those less inclined to delve into a dry cleaner basement). We also are very excited to work with a variety of new collaborators, artists, publishers, and curators/gallerists who will each bring their own particular perspective, style, and process to the table.”

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But why do it at all? Why create a large-scale public art compound that houses not only artists and galleries but art services like handling, shipping, and storage?

Francesca stated that “San Francisco has always been a worldly city, full of smart but un-pretentious people” who might sometimes feel isolated from a larger concept of what an “art community” is or needs to be. Instead, she, like the Rappaports and their staff at Minnesota Street Project and all the artists and gallerists involved, wants to create an environment of accessibility and welcome. How else can we all be a part of a tangible attempt to solve a long-existing problem here and abroad: what can we do to make the arts livable? To survive as a gallery or museum or painter or poet in a fluid economy is hard enough, to thrive is another beast altogether. As Aaron said, “it is the willingness to listen, to keep digging for the root of the problem which I think gives Minnesota Street Project a more than good chance of succeeding” and Clea’s understanding that “the Rappaports saw the evictions and artists leaving and so they became something like medieval art patrons creating a new ideology where everyone is essential”.

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Photo: Minnesota Street Project

Brion has experienced the heart of the matter especially, having moved to SF 16 years ago to create art and almost on his way out when he was offered the Studio directorship: “we need an infrastructure to support galleries at a market value that is attainable…this heads-down approach to what’s happening in the city and constant complaining is boring when we can inspire other kinds of cultures and get to work on a labor of love”. Francesca reminded us that art belongs to everyone, “from single moms to tech dudes” and that there’s “room for everybody when you’re all invested in changing things”.

The opening of the Minnesota Street Project in March 2016 couldn’t come at a better time, with the re-opening of SFMoMA and David Ireland’s house at 500 Capp St as well as the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and the countless wonderful, innovative projects and events created by artists and thinkers across the Bay Area that are sure to expand. I can’t tell you if we’re about to see the onset of an artistic revitalization in SF but I can tell you there are many people working their asses off trying.

It might behoove you to see what they’re doing in person and give proof to their sleepless nights.

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Candace Cui - Actual Unicorn

Candace Cui - Actual Unicorn

At age 2, I was getting run over by a bike in an alley in China. At age 8, I was avoiding man-o-wars on Tybee Island. At age 14, I was overdrinking sweet tea while running through the woods barefoot. At age 20, I was learning Art History and how to drop it low. At age 25, I was making fun of drum circles at Dolores. At every age, I am charming the fuck out of you. Just wait, it'll happen.