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Minnesota Street Project: The Counter-Revolutionists' Gallery 

Wednesday, Mar 23 2016
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On the opening night of the San Francisco arts complex called Minnesota Street Project, co-founder Deborah Rappaport stood on the ground level of the building that houses two floors of art galleries, receiving congratulations from one art-goer after another. They all wanted to touch Rappaport's arm, hug her, or just acknowledge what she and her husband Andy Rappaport had done: Open a facility in the Dogpatch that houses 10 art galleries, two exhibition spaces, a media room, a restaurant, and more.

Named after the street it's on, Minnesota Street Project will soon include artist studios in one nearby building, and a storage and business facility in another. The March 18 nighttime opening of the galleries — attended by hundreds of people who waited in a long line that stretched for two blocks — heralded a new era in San Francisco's visual arts scene, which lacks a true epicenter. Rather, it's divided into three major areas: Downtown/SoMa, where SFMOMA, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Fraenkel Gallery, and other arts spaces have huddled together for years, but where rising rents have forced out many longtime galleries; the Dogpatch/Potrero area, where Minnesota Street Project joins Brian Gross Fine Art, Catharine Clark Gallery, Museum of Craft and Design, and other recent transplants; and the Richmond District's environs, where the de Young Museum and Legion of Honor have existed for many decades. Of the 10 galleries that occupy Minnesota Street Project, at least two — Rena Bransten Gallery and Nancy Toomey Fine Art — have taken refuge after leaving the Geary Street buildings (49 Geary, 77 Geary) where tech companies replaced gallery spaces.

The erosion of San Francisco's traditional gallery scene motivated Deborah and Andy Rappaport — who are well-known arts patrons — to create a complex that offers below-market rents in a welcoming, warehouse environment. Dozens of galleries wanted to move into the flagship building at 1275 Minnesota St., but the Rappaports had to limit the numbers. The lucky ones include Ever Gold [Projects], which is transitioning from its Tenderloin location at 441 O'Farrell St., a sketchy block with limited parking that scared away potential art-goers. Gallery director Andrew McClintock says that Minnesota Street Project is a godsend that gives the assembled galleries strength in numbers — and turns them into more of a compelling "destination."

"People are more willing to come here," says McClintock, 31. "I've been in the Tenderloin for seven years, and it's gotten progressively worse. And I think there's a broken vision of how to fix it. It's sad to see. Here, it feels like a community. It's a lot more supportive out here. There's room to think. I'm ecstatic to be here."

Ever Gold [Projects]' first exhibition at Minnesota Street Project features the West Coast debut of Ghanaian artist Serge Attukwei Clottey, whose repurposing of Ghanaian water jugs — made from plastic originally exported from the United States and Europe — is a biting political commentary on globalism and on Ghana's water struggles, which has made access to clean water problematic and expensive for millions of Ghanaians. Several of Clottey's tapestries, including American Lottery, were sold even before the March 18 opening, when scores of people crowded into Ever Gold [Projects]' ground-floor gallery and corralled both Clottey and McClintock to ask about Clottey's exhibit, "Hand to Mouth." In Ghana, the plastic from the jugs, many of which originally stored cooking oil, can contaminate the water after a few days.

"I wanted to create awareness about how this plastic is killing us, and from an artistic process, cut and get rid of them, and send them back to where they came from," Clottey says. "It's an interesting experience for me [in San Francisco], because these are pieces that I created in Ghana, where I display them mostly in public spaces, and I was curious about how people would react to the work here. So far, it has been a really good response."

For many people in attendance, the March 18 opening of Minnesota Street Project's galleries felt like a tipping point – when, finally, the momentum had shifted, and a cadre of San Francisco galleries, and the artists they champion, were getting the support they needed, rather than ultimatums and skyrocketing rents. But the Minnesota Street Project is not, by itself, an antidote to the real-estate forces that are continuing to upend San Francisco's visual arts community.

"We're not trying to be anyone's antidote," Rappaport says. "We're just trying to provide a space for galleries that want to be in this sort of an environment — it's a little bit more communal — and are willing to take this risk with us, and to try something new and different. We could only accommodate a limited number. Unfortunately, we can't solve the entire real estate problem in San Francisco."

Still, while San Francisco is continuing to convulse into a city of real-estate haves and have-nots, the Minnesota Street Project is the latest emblem of a kind of counter-revolution — a project in which those with the money and power to do something actually do. And Deborah Rappaport, a board member of the Headlands Center for the Arts and of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), and Andy Rappaport, who's a retired venture capitalist, did it just in time, according to the galleries that migrated to 1275 Minnesota Street.

"It's going to be a great thing for the city, and for the gallery to grow," says McClintock, who also publishes and edits SFAQ, the arts quarterly he founded. "The most important thing is that it's building a community and a destination."

Deborah and Andy Rappaport decided to act two years ago, after speaking with gallery owner Catharine Clark about the upheaval that was happening around San Francisco's Geary galleries. Two years later, exhausted and happy at the same time, Deborah Rappaport says that their vision of a new arts complex coalesced after they researched all possible real estate options and after they spoke with "as many gallerists as we could, to see what they needed."

"It's been almost two years to the day since we first had the idea for this," Rappaport said a half-hour after the doors opened on March 18. "And my feeling right now is one of complete, overwhelming joy. It's still a little unreal that it's here and it's done."

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Jonathan Curiel

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