DoReMi Emerges as San Francisco’s Newest Art District

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Rising Financial District rents, along with a focused effort to reinvigorate Southside San Francisco’s arts community, has led a large number of art galleries to locate in Dogpatch and Potrero Hill.  Catherine Clark, whose eponymously-named gallery had previously moved three times, was among the first to shift from Downtown to Utah Street. Shortly after arriving in 2013, Clark began hosting meetings with others in the art community.

“We were feeling a sort of depression and displacement in the City, as real estate prices got to the point that it was unaffordable to lots of people in all realms of the art scene,” Clark explained. The point of the gatherings, which often drew 50 people or more, was to seek “a positive solution to these economic challenges.”

The group initially decided to call the re-invigorated art zone “MiPoDo,” taking the first two letters of the Mission, Potrero Hill and Dogpatch. That morphed into the catchier “DoReMi.” “The name emerged to reflect a collective effort to show that San Francisco isn’t losing its art galleries, but just changing to a new location,” explained Clark. Significant chunks of Dogpatch and Potrero Hill are zoned for production, distribution and repair, a designation that allows for arts usage, with lower square footage costs than property zoned for multi-use because of less competition for the space.

Among the galleries now clustered at the Hill’s western edge is Brian Gross Fine Art, which shares a former door factory space with the Catherine Clark Gallery.  Gross had been located in Union Square and 45 Geary Street for 23 years before moving to Utah Street in 2013. The gallery’s spacious venue castes a minimalist feel to its contemporary art exhibitions, many of which feature Bay Area and Los Angeles artists. Clark’s gallery, which maintains a roster of 25 artists, pioneers new media art; past exhibitions have included software interaction with woven fiber optic thread and an Internet-driven display of movements in the Hayward Fault.  Catherine Clark is the City’s first commercial gallery with a dedicated media room, featuring a new screen video installation monthly.Another Utah Street resident, the Hosfelt Gallery, spent 15 years near the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art before expanding into its current 8,900 square foot space three years ago.  Its roster leans toward more established, contemporary, avant-garde artists, such as Patricia Piccinini, whose display earlier this summer consisted of peculiar creatures built from silicone, fiberglass, animal fur and human hair. Gallery owner Todd Hosfelt is an advocate of creatives who use technology as their medium, particularly as installations that interact with viewers, such as LED light installations and robotic sculptures.

A couple blocks away, at 311 and 315 Potrero Avenue, the Jack Fischer and George Lawson galleries both moved from 45 Geary Street. Fischer specializes in self-taught artists and those who are considered outsiders; their work defies conventional art history context.  Lawson deals with painters or artists who work in disciplines with conceptual ties to painting.

Another cluster of galleries can be found in Dogpatch.  Most prominently last spring the Minnesota Street Project opened after more than two years of planning.  Located at 1275 Minnesota Street in a former set design studio for Bill Graham Presents and the Grateful Dead, the site hosts 10 galleries, three additional spaces for short-term exhibits, and an afterschool program, the San Francisco Arts Education Project. Among the galleries are those that “have been part of the San Francisco fabric for many years,” according to Project director Julie Casemore. “There are also brand new galleries that have been formed because of the space.”

According to Casemore, venture capitalists and art connoisseurs Deborah and Andy Rappaport investigated several neighborhoods before settling on one they felt could grow into an art district.  To keep gallery rents down, they bought or leased several properties, and created a business model that, while not a nonprofit, is not based on earning a profit. Included in the project is 1240 Minnesota, which’ll soon house workspace for 37 artists, as well as a climate-controlled building at 1150 25th Street, which allows for storage of art collections, and which’ll house additional galleries by year’s end.

A few blocks away, the Museum of Craft and Design found a home at 2569 Third Street in 2013. MCD lost its lease at its Union Square location four years earlier, and had resorted to a series of popup installations.  According to MCD spokesperson Wendy Norris, the popups forced the museum to be innovative, and enabled it to engage with a wider public in ways the Union Square location didn’t allow. The new 8,500-square foot venue is double the size of the original; a little less than half the space is dedicated to exhibitions, with moveable walls. Workshop and programming areas use the remainder. The exhibits, which change every four to six months, range from conventional to unconventional artwork related to craft and design. “It can be everything from traditional artwork to utilitarian items,” explained Norris. “Some of the work harkens back to a time when people were making things.”

Not far away, at 833 22nd Street, that same dynamic can be witnessed at the Workshop Residence. The Workshop, which has hosted 39 emerging artists, local and international, since opening in 2011, produces goods on-site. The artists in residence work in the back of the space; merchandise is displayed and sold in front. The Workshop collaborates with artists in designing functional, practical crafts, which have included dog toys, doorstops, and clothing. Among the most unusual are items made of mushrooms grown into the desired shape, such as plant holders and even a chair. The Workshop also partners artists in residence with local artisans to complete projects. Like the Museum of Craft and Design, the Workshop’s creative manager, Lisa Ellsworth, indicated that Dogpatch is a good fit for the institution, having traditionally been a manufacturing base.

Art has been a part of the newly-designated DoReMi since the Hill attracted artists fleeing North Beach’s high rents in the 1950s.  One stalwart, the San Francisco Center for the Book, is celebrating its 20th year at 375 Rhode Island Street. The center, modeled after similar ones in New York City and Minneapolis, promotes both traditional and experimental book forms, and offers 400 workshops annually in letterpress printing, calligraphy and bookbinding.  Its exhibits challenge conventional ideas about what a book is, and can be experienced while hearing the sounds of students working with the adjacent printing presses. It’s an old world atmosphere, utilizing technology that was developed more than 600 years ago, dating back to Johannes Gutenberg.  The end result can be a handcrafted elegance that can’t be achieved with a few clicks of a mouse and a modern printer.

A few blocks away is the Wattis Institute of the Arts, part of the California College of the Arts. Founded in 1998, Wattis moved in 2013 from Eighth Street to 360 Kansas, a building renovated by Mark Jensen, who designed SFMOMA’s rooftop sculpture garden. The 5,000-square foot exhibition space shows work from contemporary artists from around the globe, often in solo shows.

One of the oldest artisan businesses in DoReMi can be found at 1001 Tennessee Street, where Ampersand International Arts hosts conceptual and commercial art in a variety of mediums, including pencil drawings, landscape paintings, and sculpture derived from sources as diverse as rusted copper or commercial furniture.  Ampersand opened its gallery in 1999; the building previously housed a custom drapery business, owned by the grandmother of gallery owner Theodora Mauro. The fact that the Mauros own the property allows them a reprieve from the rental market. Due to the live/work zoning restrictions, however, the gallery’s hours are limited.  Visitors who stand at the front door are likely to encounter a small dog, Yoko, to announce their presence.

Another veteran neighborhood gallery, the Romer Young Gallery, is tucked away at 1240 22nd Street. Romer Young features mid-career, national and international artists that challenge the observer through visual, performance art and large instillations.

Running through August is a pop-up gallery, B.A.D. Space, on 2360 Third Street, which features fine fabrics by Norwegian artist Pia MYrvoLD, primarily clothing, pillows, carpets and ottomans.