HERE | NOW: Notes from Emergence

I wrote the following as notes to prepare for a keynote discussion at Emergence, an annual convening organized by Emerging Arts Professionals San Francisco/Bay Area, which was held at The Women’s Building on June 2, 2014. The theme of the free-to-attend keynote was State of the Network: Tactics Towards Action. The opinions are my own.—Lex 

Panelists: Michelle Mansour, Executive Director, Root Division;  Lex Leifheit, Executive Director,SOMArtsRamekon O’Arwisters, Social Practice Artist – Facilitated by Melonie and Melorra GreenAfrican American Arts and Culture Complex

SOMArts (South of Market Arts, Resources, Technology and Services) turns 35 this August. Right now, we are perceived as a thriving mid-sized organization in San Francisco. We have studio spaces including a print studio and darkroom that are used by working artists. We provide fiscal sponsorship, professional development and technical support in the form of stages, wheelchair lifts and pa systems for festivals such as the Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival in Oakland and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Easter Celebration. We provide deeply discounted space for 10 or more classes each week including martial arts, photography for people who are low-income and homeless, and after-school classes for teens.

Many people know SOMArts for its exhibitions and artistic partnerships. Between 50 and 60 organizations and artists produce their exhibitions, events and other activities annually at SOMArts and they range from fully-produced stage performances such as Man Dance Company’s Harvey Milk-inspired NutcrakOr ballet, to bicycle art fundraisers and Xicano graduation ceremonies, to the Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits third annual powwow.

Like many of you I’ve been closely following the news about organizations contracting, moving, and—in a few cases—embarking on ambitious capital campaigns. The role that SOMArts has played in the Bay Area arts ecosystem has shifted over the years in direct response to the needs of artists and organizations. For many years SOMArts was best known for our staging and support services, the organization was founded with the name “Friends of Support Services for the Arts”.

Six years ago, following several years of a support-services-mostly model, we owed $50,000 to individuals and organizations, and $20,000 to the bank. CONTINUE READING ]

Genevieve Quick on Hidden Cities ]

Even in a progressive city like San Francisco, thoughtfully written arts coverage is rare for small and mid-size organizations. Which is why I was so thrilled to read Genevieve Quick’s review of Hidden Cities, the recent exhibition at SOMArts curated by Pireeni Sundaralingham. Quick’s review astutely examines the curatorial decisions and approach that made the exhibition interesting.

Furthermore, she calls out the value of SOMArts’ Commons Curatorial Residency Program, saying:

“SOMArts provides a rare opportunity for emerging curators to tackle really ambitious projects. While small artist-run spaces have been creating strong small shows, the city needs more mid-sized exhibition spaces for local artists and curators to thrive. In the wake of many gallery closures and relocations, San Francisco artists and arts organizations are reassessing and remodeling our approaches in these economically challenging times.”

Click here to read this great review by an artist I’ve long admired.

Good Weekend

I love this photo Dan snapped after an early morning beach walk. I’m happy. Ewan’s relaxed. The pale grey stucco of the house echoes the marine layer haze of our neighborhood. On this particular morning I started our morning walk in one mood and ended in another, much better, frame of mind. The image is a reminder of how much I love my family and also of how a short routine at the beginning of the day can make a world of difference in one’s mental well being.

This Friday, it’s sunny and there are dozens of surfers on the beach. We’re heading to a McSweeney’s picnic and are looking forward to a long weekend filled with art, nature, friends and good food. I hope to finish Zadie Smith’s NW. I also have some reading and writing to do in preparation for the Arts Dinner-Vention, so I’m thinking about leadership, and place, and working with a community. I’m excited to hear what the other guests have to say and thinking about how to choose my own words since there is limited time and I must choose carefully.

This week my cousin Hannah sent me a quote by Lao Tzu that has stayed with her during her year in Tanzania with the Peace Corps. I have heard it before but not in a while and was glad to be reminded of it:

Go to the people.

Live with them.

Learn from them.

Love them.

Start with what they know.

Build with what they have.

With the best leaders,

When the work is done,

The task accomplished,

The people will say

“We have done this ourselves”

-Lao Tzu

 

August: In Progress

SOMArts exteriorOver the past six months this blog has taken a back seat to some ambitious new initiatives at SOMArts, and to the everyday joys of being a mom. However, there is so much good stuff happening this August, I feel compelled to share:

  • Thanks to a $97k grant by Museums Connect, SOMArts is embarking on a creative and cultural exchange with youth in San Francisco and Kuala Lumpur, a new partnership with the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia.
  • Our most recent exhibition, Electronic Pacific generated some thoughtful press including this interview with artist Jenny Odell where she shares her approach to making people aware of the world around them, and the influence of place on her work.
  • The first artist meeting for the annual Dia de los Muertos exhibition took place last Tuesday. Fifty people gathered to share their ideas on the theme Imagining Time, Gathering Memory, which is dedicated to people whose lives have been affected by cancer.

The past few months have been challenging and the usual hallmarks of summer—warm nights, lazy mornings, a slightly slower pace—have been in short supply. Despite a serious lack of sleep and an endless to-do list, I am more grateful than I’ve ever been to be here, now, and am trying to make the most of every moment.

I snapped the pic above early one morning when I was the first person to arrive at SOMArts. A rare calm moment!

Lucrative Work-For-Free Opportunity ]

I keep coming back to this essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

A Few Thoughts About ‘Lean In’

Seven weeks after I had my son Ewan in late January, Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” was published. I originally thought I’d be able to catch up on a lot of reading during maternity leave—now I know better. Between sleepless nights and 6+ hours of nursing each day, baths and pediatrician appointments and finding childcare for when I return to work, there is not as much free time as I had hoped.

And yet … the discussion  and emotions around”Lean In” were so intense I felt I had to read it. I downloaded the audiobook and finished it in two days while breastfeeding.

Because I listened to the audiobook, it’s hard to write a proper review with detailed quotes and excerpts. Which doesn’t matter, because I have a newborn and can only type with one hand these days, and because my main takeaway is Read. The. Book. The content of “Lean In” is far superior to the commentary, and more entertaining. Just do it. It’s only 6 and a half hours long as an mp3 and is very well suited to the medium.

Here’s my one-hand-typing review of the book: CONTINUE READING ]

The 63-Person Cultural Mafia ]

Gretchen Schrafft rounds up a who’s who of artists, administrators, funders, philanthropists for San Francisco Magazine. How many do you know?

Interesting Article: The Education of Tony Marx ]

New York Times writer Jacob Bernstein provides a glimpse inside the leadership of the NY Public library. Acknowledges the challenge of fundraising to the rich (local celebrities! sexy architecture!) while prioritizing the needs and values of artists (access to research books), and alludes to how this dichotomy and inevitable choices influence staff attitudes.