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Monday, June 1, 2015

The Midway Creative Complex Might Just Be Crazy Enough to Work

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2015 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge The Midway - PHOTO: BROCK BRAKE
  • Photo: Brock Brake
  • The Midway

Construction crews were still at work on The Midway just minutes before its grand partial-opening last Friday. The 40,000-square foot complex in the Dogpatch promises something for almost everyone, with art spaces, music venues, and much more. Hearing co-founder Jeff Whitmore’s enthusiastic explanation of the compound, it almost sounds too good and too expansive to be true. With scissor lifts and bags of insulation filling much of the unfinished space, the Midway opened some of its doors with a sprawling group exhibition, sound and multimedia performances in an cavernous unfinished room, and several musical acts.

Citing the alarming challenges facing artists in San Francisco, Whitmore says the visual arts programming is integral to the Midway. A 3,000-square foot gallery space was the only space completed for the opening; a second gallery is still under construction. The long narrow gallery, speckled with doors to the rest of the building, might pose a challenge for exhibition design, but it could be used well for showing large-scale works, especially sculpture. An exciting feature of the visual arts programming is a residency that will offer nine artists six months of free studio space including basic facilities, professional development opportunities, and an exhibition.

click to enlarge The Midway - PHOTO: BROCK BRAKE
  • Photo: Brock Brake
  • The Midway
Anchoring the Midway will be a music venue with a capacity of 2,000, along with a smaller 500-person space. (These numbers are tentative since permitting is still underway.) Nonetheless, Whitmore expects both venues, along with the rest of the complex, to open this summer. The main venue will have greater capacity than Public Works, Whitmore’s other multi-faceted performance space, as well as the Fillmore, Great American Music Hall, and the Independent; the Warfield just barely exceeds it.

The building will also offer office space for arts non-profits and tech companies, a cafe, several bars, and what Whitmore calls a “3D audio room” for immersive sound experiences. In case that isn’t enough, the owners are throwing in a “teaching kitchen” for demonstrations from star chefs and up-and-comers. It remains to be seen whether the Midway will be more than the sum of its parts and whether close quarters will engender collaboration and cross-pollination amongst artists and audiences. But if nothing else, the parts are valuable in and of themselves.

With only the hallway gallery completed, it is easy to be skeptical of this far-reaching concept. It sounds like a hair-brained wish list that would never come to fruition. But the kitchen's gas lines have been installed, the stage is built, and the studios even have drywall, unlike much of the building. Whitmore and his partners, Jordan Langer and Pete Glikshtern, have business acumen and have opened a number of successful ventures. This may be their most ambitious, but it might just be crazy enough to work.

The Midway, 900 Marin St.

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Matthew Harrison Tedford

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