Like San Francisco itself, the city's gallery scene is changing. There is reason for optimism.
The San Francisco gallery scene is evolving. The region’s tech boom, the city’s younger, more moneyed inhabitants and its shifting neighborhoods create momentum for invention. Some changes — such as the surge in rents in Union Square’s long-standing gallery buildings and the decrease in foot traffic — have been painful. Others, such as the founding of Minnesota Street Project and the birth of new, alternative galleries, have brought optimism and innovation to the gallery world.
Over the past seven years, 28 of the 65 member galleries in the San Francisco Art Dealers Association have closed or moved their storefronts, some more than once. In the gallery world, it is as though a large puzzle has been thrown into the air, the pieces dropping back down and configuring themselves in new ways. When it opened in 2016, Minnesota Street Project gave galleries a new place to land. Through below-market rents and shared amenities, the Project has given both blue chip and experimental galleries a new, unique opportunity. Has it worked? We asked the gallerists themselves.
Rena Bransten Gallery
Rena Bransten entered the gallery business in 1974, exhibiting primarily California artists. Since then, Rena Bransten Gallery has expanded its focus to include contemporary painting, sculpture and photography by national and international artists. The Gallery provides a platform to emerging and established artists including Dawoud Bey, Hung Liu, Vik Muniz and Lava Thomas.
How has the local gallery scene changed since you opened 35 years ago?
Rena: The art world and the Rena Bransten Gallery have gone through many changes since I opened, and business has also changed, a result of the internet, art fairs, auctions and globalization. The cost of urban real estate has had a deleterious effect and has caused galleries to shut down or distribute over a wider geographic area. This is where I must acknowledge the courage and vision of Deborah and Andy Rappaport in establishing a physical nexus in the face of economic pressures.
Does Minnesota Street Project encourage innovation?
Rena: Yes, the Rappaports’ entrepreneurial nature offers a “yes” environment – one where anything is possible. Onsite there is a team of professionals to assist with promotion and gallery design. There is a notion of experimentation and incubation for our artists and our selves. As they continually tinker with the Project model, recently starting a non-profit arm, so do the galleries find the freedom to explore other models of exhibition.
How does the building’s design affect its inhabitants?
Rena: There was a specific intentionality in the design of the Minnesota Street Project. Jensen Architects, articulating the Rappaports’ ideas, created a handsome atrium with stairs one can sit on at the eastern end of the building, permitting flexible use space for lectures and performances, adaptable to future needs, and offering open gathering spaces to encourage conversation and build community. The ability to rent the space to nonprofits for their fundraisers and galas brings new people, ideas and institutions into conversation with the galleries and the San Francisco Arts Education Project, another tenant at the Project.
Themes + Projects was primarily a photography gallery when it moved from 49 Geary to 1275 Minnesota Street in 2016. The gallery, co-owned and directed by Mark Pinsukanjana and Bryan Yedinak, now curates six exhibitions annually in mediums ranging from painting and photography to ceramics by both local and international artists.
How has your business changed since your move to Minnesota Street Project?
Mark: Minnesota Street has been amazing! We are extremely fortunate to have been invited as one of the charter members. This opportunity has allowed us to expand our gallery’s exposure to collectors and curators not just locally, but globally.
Has the move been good for business?
Mark: Yes, our business has increased since we’ve been here. The building is a wonderful community of permanent galleries, visiting exhibitions and pop-ups from all over the world. This building has quickly become an art destination in San Francisco, a definite stop for those visiting SFMOMA and the Fine Arts Museums.
First Saturdays are usually packed at Minnesota Street Project. What brings people in?
Bryan: The First Saturday openings at Minnesota Street are part of how this place gets its “coolness factor.” The galleries all stay open to the public until 8PM. It becomes a nice gathering of people of all ages. Also, the building itself is a beautifully designed space that becomes very energized.
How do you recommend new visitors experience the Project?
Mark: Arrive between 11am and 5pm Tuesday through Saturday. Take your time walking through the galleries on both floors, seeing the diversity of all the galleries and listening to whatever artwork speaks to you. Then take a break for lunch, coffee or a drink in the on-site restaurant, Besharam. After lunch, take a short walk to 1150 25th Street to see three more galleries, including the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts.
Altman Siegel is a contemporary art gallery showing emerging to mid-career, museum level artists. Claudia Altman-Siegel founded the gallery in 2009 and more than doubled its size when she moved from Union Square to 1150 25th Street in 2016.
How has your business changed since your move to Minnesota Street Project?
Claudia: The clientele has remained basically the same, but everything has gotten bigger since the space is so much bigger. I moved from 1,800 to almost 5,000 sq ft. The shows have gotten bigger and more ambitious, the numbers of works moving through the space has grown, and I have added another employee.
Claudia: The move has only improved things. One thing we were worried about was foot traffic in
Dogpatch, but there is consistent foot traffic and the people who come are dedicated art viewers.
Has Minnesota Street Project encouraged you to innovate?
Claudia: Yes. This is due mostly to the freedom and
size of my space. The gallery has big proportions, so we can do installations that are much more ambitious.
My old space was in an office building, which had
quite strict rules. At Minnesota Street Project, the sky is the limit. For our next show we are even putting a sound piece outside and moving out of the space
into the parking lot.
What role do you think the Project plays in the Bay Area arts ecosystem?
Claudia: Minnesota Street has created a destination for art when there wasn’t one before. They brought together galleries, artist and art handlers in one
neighborhood, which has created a fluid and
collegial arts ecosystem.
In 2016, philanthropists Deborah and Andy Rappaport opened Minnesota Street as a space for galleries, an arts education nonprofit and a restaurant. Now the Project includes three buildings, 37 artist studios, office space, a new foundation and a successful art services/storage business that helps fund the Project.
Deborah Rappaport, Co-founder of Minnesota Street Project:
After three and half years, how close are you and (co-founder) Andy to achieving your goals for Minnesota Street Project?
Deborah: Our goal when we started was to provide stable and affordable space for galleries, artists, and nonprofits. We have met that goal with regards to our current tenants, and we are always exploring new ways to continue that work.
What are some of the Project’s most significant successes?
Deborah: One success that we are proudest of is development of the careers of artists in our studio program. With access to affordable space, shared tools and equipment, and the proximity to other artists, many of our artists have seen significant growth in their careers. In the same vein, we are proud that we have been able to provide previously existing and new galleries with the opportunities to continue and expand their programs.
Has the new business model worked?
Deborah: The business model is working well. We keep increasing our investments every time we get close to covering costs, but it’s our choice to continue investing in the mission and the future. And some of the cash-positive components, in particular the Project's Art Services, are exceeding our expectations by several fold.
To what extent does demand for gallery and studio space at Minnesota Street Project outpace supply?
Deborah: We frequently hear from artists and gallerists who are looking for space. Our spaces are fully rented, which is good news on one hand but difficult on the other. We could easily double the number of artists and galleries at Minnesota Street Project if we had the room.
What’s next? Will there be a Minnesota Street Project II?
Deborah: We have been working with like-minded people in the Bay Area and beyond who want to adapt what we have done to either build more of what we have built or to use the model to address other, similar models.
Petra Schumann is Executive
Director of the San Francisco Art
Dealers Association - sfada.com
→ Minnesota Street Project
1275 Minnesota Street, San Francisco, CA 94107
Exterior photo by Phil Bond Photography
Claudia Siegel. Photo courtesy of Altman Siegel