Almost to the day today, I arrived in San Francisco in 1997 with two suitcases (one full of camping gear) and a vague idea of what I wanted to accomplish in the City by the Bay. The words that kept bouncing around in my head were: diversity, creativity, and adventure. I had no idea there as a dot com boom and that the vacancy rate was under 1%. I didn’t even know what a vacancy rate was! I did know that I wanted to be part of something amazing, and if possible, somehow create amazing cultural bits that others enjoyed.
In 1998, I started volunteering for CELLspace, which at the time was a funky underground artist warehouse with folks who had a similar vision that the one I was chewing on. Years later, I tried to move on and open my time and life up to other amazing projects. So CELL got put on the backburner, until 2008. That was a crucial year for CELL, now a nonprofit with paid employees. While on the road touring for the book and for the Conscious Carnival, word started getting back to me that CELL was financially imploding. I wasn’t surprised.
Then I got a call from Jane and Tony Verma, two long-time Metal Shop artists, asking me to help them curate a stencil exhibit on the facade of CELL. Things were bad at the time and CELL’s doors were shut (all the employees and most of management were very far away from the space) due to no one being there to maintain and run things. But the Metal Shop was still holding their cluster together. The Metal Shop designed and built an amazing metal window-covering mural, complete with space in the bottom for showing art. They had reached out to a few artists in Stencil Nation, but needed more. Stencilada was born, and thus began my final run of volunteering for CELL.
On September 1 of this year, I’ll officially step away from what I’ve grown to call the Bryant Street Mural Project (with some Florida St. murals thrown in). Most of CELL’s block was sold to a developer named Nick Podell. It is going to eventually be torn down for market-rate apartments (rent will probably be around $3,000 month). Right now, a few artists still maintain the space as a for-profit Inner Mission. A few months ago, some murals were tagged, including SPIE’s 1996 “All Our Relations” and the stencil mural I made with Josh MacPhee and Claude Moller. Every time I go down there to deal with the murals, my heart breaks a little more. I can barely go to the Mission let along Bryant St. at 18th. So I’m done! I need to step away and see what else fills up the space.
In typical fashion these days, I wanted to have one last mural hurrah. The bboys and bgirls who have been jamming at CELL since 1998 are having a big final battle at the space Aug. 30. I thought it’d be great to have the walls get painted and some of the murals get displayed. Looks like the excitement and energy aren’t there. Only a few artists have said they’d paint. The recent mural tagging meant that many of the murals came down and are now secretly and safely stored. I’ll still be there, but I’m not expecting much painting on the walls.
So, farewell CELL; farewell Bryant St. Mural Project. What an amazing pile of cool awesomeness we’ve shared together.
For more on the murals, I was documenting the changes at cellspace.org (which has also had its troubles staying online). I’m copying and pasting some here in case cellspace.org goes down one last time:
Since CELLspace began in 1996, murals and graffiti pieces have gone up on its exterior facade. Coordinated on and off over the years by volunteer workers, many of the panels have been facilitated while other parts of the walls have been painted in a more organic way. The walls reflect the nature of the Mission District by representing syles ranging from muralismo, graffiti, to street art. The longest-running piece is “All Our Relations”, painted around 1996 by artist Spie.
In 2008, CELL’s Metal Shop Collective built and installed an amazing metal window mural on the Bryant Street facade. This mural incorporates small areas where panels of art can be installed. Author and CELL volunteer Russell Howze stepped in in early 2009 to curate and organize the exhibit “Stencilada.” This stencil exhibit was placed on the panels as well as unused brick portions of the Bryant Street facade.
Feeling the momentum for more public art on CELL’s outdoor walls, Russell has continued to volunteer his time and help put art on the walls. With volunteer help, small donations, and personal enthusiasm, panels were constructed on the Florida Street exterior of CELL. Artists Jet Martinez, Cy Wagoner, and Henry Kitchen painted the panels and doors. Russell, Scott Williams, and Lily Black painted a stencil piece in the small exit alcove.
On the Bryant Street facade, new works were organized by Russell and created by Meggs, Regan Ha-Ha Tamanui, Cuba, Tito na Rua, Rips, Toro and Dia. In 2012 Russell also organized an interior mural by Paz de la Calzada, which included a smaller wheat-pasted piece outsie on the Bryant Street wall. The graffiti portions of the walls have a life of their own. Cuba and DNO run one set of garage doors. More recently, a horizontal brick portion of Bryant Street has been repainted.
This page is a living document for sharing the murals at CELLspace, and the photos linked on here show the process as well as archeology of the contstantly changing exterior walls of CELL. Most of the content is from 2009-2012).
Like most public art, the walls constantly change at CELLspace. The current organizers have spent the last year facilitaing these changes with hopes that it will inspire the community that walks the block, comes to CELLspace for classes and events, and travel to the Mission District from around the world to see its famous murals. The organizers also hope that this churning energy will inspire those who work, create, and play inside the walls of our community arts center.
- In April 2012, DIA refreshed his mural panel at the entrance to ACT’s prop shop.
- In Spring of 2012, Paz de la Calzada drew a strand mural on the cuved wall of the Main Space. She also wheat pasted a similarly-themed work to the exterior wall next to the still-running TIE memorial on the ACT side of the Bryant St. facade.
- Here is a link for the photo album of the in-progress murals of the Florida Street Mural Project
- Here is a post focusing on the creation and completion of a Florida St. mural by the Black Sheep Arts Collective.
- Here is a link for the photo album of the completed (April, 2010) gorilla mural by Scott Williams, Russell Howze, and Lily Black
- Two cellspace.org blog posts (#1, #2) covered some of the March 2009 Stencilada exhibit under the Metal Mural on Bryant St. This link to www.stencilarchive.org shows the process for a few of the panels, as well as stencils put up after the event by Adam5100. Burner added the final stencils of the show in May 2009.
- Here is a link or the photo album showing a 2003 mural evolving into a 2009 piece. In 2003, Negative Spaces co-curator Russell Howze celebrated stencil art by organizing a collaborative mural. Co-curator Stephen Lambert took submitted stencils, along with Scott Williams cut outs and a few random drop-in artists, and created a work over a crossed graff piece. After the show, Howze and artist Claude Moller modified the original mural with a large Zapata piece. Some time during 2008, a vandal tore a third of the masonite off the facade of CELLspace. As the mural lay neglected, Amanda Lynn added a lounging punk elf and Howze sprayed the word “DECAY” over the piece with a 30-year-old cut out from NY artist John Fekner. In order to keep the punk elf in the frame, Howze divided the panel and had local arist DIA paint a personal version of Lady Liberty in the Spring of 2009. With no budget and some discussion, artist Chris Benfield then reworked some old Negative Spaces elements into the other half of the panel, making Amanda Lynn’s punk “day dream” about art and revolution.
- In August 2009, DIA and TORO got to paint out the panel for the ACT workshop entrace at 2060 Bryant St. Playing on the artists’s names, they created “Dia del Toro” with very little budget and time.
- CUBA and DNO (TMC Crew) started spraying pieces on the bay doors of 2044 Bryant St. in August 2009. Since then, they have returned to paint new pieces two more times. Here is the page that will show the old and new works in what should be a constantly changing wall.