San Francisco’s Newest Art Center & Nonprofit Success Story
A big, incredible, art and cultural center opened this year in San Francisco and it will host a vibrant exhibit and opening party on March 25th, displaying its wonderful new facilities, multi-artist collaborations along with live music, live art, live poetry, and lots of delicious food trucks as well.
The 4-story historic Dempster building at 447 Minna has been redone and repurposed, revitalized from its heyday as a Hearst-era print shop, the charming brick facades and the “LETS GO GIANTS” block letters remain, but the interior of the building is reborn as an affordable, state-of-the-art facility for working artists to paint, play, perform, and exhibit in.
447 Minna now has a new theater on the ground floor called The Black Box, where the SF Neo-futurists are currently performing Friday & Saturday nights. The Neo-Futurists are a collective of wildly prolific writers, directors, and performers who create inclusive, accessible theater for all ages through their unique brand of non-illusory storytelling. and The Black Box is equipped with state of art audio and visual recording equipment.
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It has a dance studio where the non-profit contemporary dance organization PUSH Dance is now a resident, PUSH examines issues of identity and intersecting cultures through performance, embracing new media and technology to create multidisciplinary works that address race, gender, history, and the digital divide. Their new home opening early 2023 will provide a BIPOC sanctuary for artists, choreographers, community partners, audiences, and students.
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The center also provides space for the Women’s Audio Mission, which has been providing hands-on training, work experience, career counseling, and job placement to over 4,000 women/girls/gender-expansive individuals every year in creative technology for music, radio, film, television, and the internet.
Welcome to Women’s Audio Mission
Now you may be wondering how this all became possible, in a city like San Francisco where the real estate is as expensive as in Manhattan, and the red tape is just as thick. That’s where the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) comes into play, an organization that recognizes the value of protecting spaces for working artists in the Bay Area. CAST believes deeply in a long-held San Franciscan ideal; that Creatives, artists, and art are essential to keeping San Francisco a vibrant, diverse, beautiful, and exceptional place to live.
We all know that when an area in a city is affordable, the artists move in, make it exciting, cool, interesting, and then eventually everyone with money wants to live there…the artists are then priced-out of the neighborhood they beautified. It’s a tale as old as any city.
That’s why CAST plays the long game, they plant the seeds for arts organizations to own their own buildings. Like in the case of Counterpulse in SF’s Theater District, CAST helped create a tenant-buyback arrangement at 0% interest, with a $5M grant via the Oakland-based Kenneth Rainin Foundation. Seven years later the long-loved CounterPulse owns it’s own gorgeous theater, forever.
“At a time when commercial rents were soaring and pockets of San Francisco were being transformed, CounterPulse was an ideal arts partner to pilot our first real estate projects. Our goal is to create permanent spaces for arts and culture to endure, so to see CounterPulse accomplish what they have these last seven years and reach this moment is thrilling.”
– Moy Eng, CAST CEO
CAST has a simple mission, to create stable physical spaces for arts and cultural organizations to facilitate equitable urban transformation, but in areas as expensive as the Bay this mission has a complicated road to success. CAST’s fearless leader and CEO, Moy Eng has worked as a grantmaker and senior executive in arts and culture for more than 3 decades, and leading CAST since 2014. Under her leadership CAST has helped to protect SF’s legendary Luggage Store Gallery in Mid-Market and the Geneva Car Barn & Powerhouse in Excelsior, and the future is even more ambitious.
CAST’s models for creating permanent, affordable spaces for artists were so innovative and effective that they’re being used in other cities to protect the arts all over the world. We had the pleasure of asking Moy Eng about CAST’s current and future projects…
BAS: Why is Counterpulse such a success story for local arts?
Moy Eng: CounterPulse is the culmination of CAST’s original vision: a successful completion of a lease-to-own model with a contemporary arts organization. CounterPulse pioneered a new pathway to ownership with CAST when we purchased a run-down former adult theater in the Tenderloin. Over a period of seven years, we leased the space to CounterPulse while renovations were completed and they fundraised to acquire the building themselves. Now, CounterPulse owns a state-of-the-art, custom-built space including a theater, rehearsal rooms, offices, and even a guest apartment. For a mid-sized arts organization to achieve this at a time when rising real estate costs have unfortunately driven many culture makers to leave gives us hope that this is a model that can be replicated at scale.
BAS: Why is an affordable rental model for art institutions just as important as a path to building ownership?
Moy: An affordable rental model for a cultural organization is important for those who have decided or are not able to move forward with building ownership. It’s providing a pathway to stability, space-wise, without the massive commitment of time, resources, and capital that are required to purchase a building. For a lot of groups, buying an entire building, and taking on all of the related property management and financial commitments, simply doesn’t make sense. Sharing resources by hosting multiple community groups under one roof at 447 Minna (or metaphorical roof, if the event is outdoors!) is a great way for arts groups to have space that is practical and affordable, as well as to bring people together.
Moy Eng on 447 Minna: A New Home For CAST
BAS: Obviously, low-income housing is a huge problem in the Bay Area, there are rumors CAST has invested in a large lot in East Oakland that will provide affordable housing and commercial space for working artists, care to comment? OR -What is CAST investing in next?
Moy: The rumors are true! We are excited to be collaborating with Black Cultural Zone on Liberation Park, a development in East Oakland of 120 affordable housing units, including 8 artist live/work units and a 30,000 sq ft commercial building envisioned as an Afrocentric cultural hub, including a culinary and retail hall with performance/event space and offices for artists and entrepreneurs.
We have several additional projects in development in San Francisco and Oakland that we’ll be announcing soon. . So…stay tuned!
BAS: Have you seen the model CAST used for Counterpulse used in other cities?
Moy: This model is being replicated at the aforementioned Black Cultural Zone’s Liberation Park Market Hall in East Oakland, as well as in San Jose, where CAST is an investor in the expansion of Mexican Heritage Plaza’s School of Arts and Culture. Other cities inspired to create CAST-like ventures include London, Austin, Denver, Sydney, and Seattle.
BAS: Should there be a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting fine arts in San Francisco? It seems to us that art non-profits whether it’s performance art or visual art struggle to find the time and resources to market themselves and attract viewers and visitors, which in the end is a huge part of why the art gets made in the first place!
Moy: That is a great idea. Perhaps there might be an arts service organization that could play such a centralized promotional and marketing role – with real-time and digitalized resources. For instance, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) has their Artist Power Center, a digital platform that is all about centralizing shared opportunities, artist resources, and events. As part of our efforts to support our arts partners, CAST also makes it a point to highlight individual artists and organizations on social media.
BAS: How can the City of San Francisco do better to help working artists?
Moy: Quite simply, by providing more money for working artists and culture makers, and by creating more affordable housing and workspaces for them at a significant scale. Arts and culture are the fourth-largest economic driver of San Francisco; it’s only fitting to lift up and support this diverse and vibrant sector in a significant way.
BAS: Why is having a healthy art scene important to a city?
Moy: Arts and culture are essential for vibrant communities and neighborhoods, and not just for tourism and economic development (though of course those are very important as well!). Creative expression provides an outlet for the emotions that make us human; it helps us understand who we are and make sense and meaning of the world around us. It has the power to bring us together to connect and communicate with each other, helping us to build meaningful connections that honor and celebrate our commonalities and differences. And culture touches every part of our lives, reflecting the lived experiences, rituals, and imaginations of people in our communities and our neighborhoods, past and present. A healthy art scene has far-reaching benefits for a city, impacting its cultural, economic, and social well-being. When we invest in arts and culture, we all gain from the energy and soul of thriving communities.
BAS: Should we get excited about The Tarot exhibit and the big opening party March 25th?!
(Public Opening: March 25, 2023 | 12pm – 4pm (big day party with live bands, food trucks & along with dozens of artists doing live painting, readings and performance art!)
Moy: Tarot in Pandemic and Revolution is a multi-media commentary of the times we have lived and are living in – COVID, questions of public health safety, political turmoil and violence, and the related questions raised about what is essential to each of us, such as beauty, family, our community, a sense of belonging. We will get a rare opportunity to witness and participate in a beautiful public reflection of this turbulent yet hopeful time.
447 Minna grand opening party!
Find inspiration and resolve in this immersive art event through the worlds of tarot and social justice, curated by artist Adrian Arias.
Public Opening: March 25, 2023 | 12pm – 4pm (big day party with live bands, food trucks & dozens of artists doing live painting, readings and performance art!
Author signings and titles from Nomadic Press, publisher of the tarot deck