Curatorial Projects > Culture Catalyst (2018)

Culture Catalyst: Celebrating the Art and Legacy of the Neighborhood Arts Program

A group exhibition featuring work by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Nancy Cato, Enrique Chagoya, Lenore Chinn, Veronica De Jesus, Orlando de la Garza, Katie Dorame, Juan R. Fuentes, Katie Gilmartin, Aron Kantor, Viêt Lê, Yolanda López, MACRO WAVES, Elizabeth "Oscar" Maynard, Geri Montano, Jane Norling, Joe Ramos, Eustinove P. Smith, Eugene E. White, René Yañez, and works from Bayview Opera House Youth Artists, The Cultural Conservancy, and Queer Ancestors Project

Produced with the support of San Francisco’s city-owned cultural centers: African American Art & Culture Complex, Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center, Bayview Opera House, Inc., Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, Queer Cultural Center, and SOMArts Cultural Center

Co-curated with Jaime Cortez

April 27 - June 9, 2018
San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery
San Francisco, CA

By 1967, artists, cultural workers, and activists had been demanding for years that the City support not only major arts institutions such as the symphony, ballet, and opera, but also the presentation of arts in San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods. Culture Catalyst celebrates the Neighborhood Arts Program (N.A.P.), the groundbreaking program born of this movement. Included in this exhibition are works by over 20 contemporary artists who represent the N.A.P.’s ongoing legacy and a celebration of the history of the N.A.P. with a display of hundreds of vibrant posters and flyers for neighborhood exhibitions, performances, screenings, literary events, and art classes supported by the N.A.P. in the 70s and 80s. As large as it is, the poster display gives but a small taste of the extraordinary artistic vibrancy the program unleashed and supported.

Initially funded by the City (through the San Francisco Arts Commission), the Zellerbach Family Fund, and the Rosenberg Foundation, the N.A.P. provided a wide range of free or very affordable support services (costume bank, scenery bank, printing and design services, audio visual equipment and technicians, portable stages and stage trucks, affordable arts and crafts supplies at SCRAP, and more) to anyone putting on neighborhood arts programs. The program was vibrant and became even more so in 1974, when it began hiring artists to work in neighborhoods with dollars from the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), a federal program designed to train workers and provide them with public service jobs. At its peak in the mid-70s, the program employed over 120 artists creating and presenting work in neighborhoods citywide, and gave tens of thousands of San Franciscans access to arts classes and presentations in their neighborhoods. For working artists, participation in the N.A.P. was pivotal. According to exhibition artist Lenore Chinn, “As a San Francisco native and artist, I gained entry into the local arts scene through the Neighborhood Arts Program. Later, I exhibited at the City’s neighborhood Cultural Centers. There I connected with a community of artists, where resources were shared and creative ideas could be incubated."

By the late 70s, the political and economic climate had changed, and budget cuts diminished the program. Although the N.A.P. no longer exists, its impact and legacy still resonate. For example, San Francisco’s six city-owned Cultural Centers were born out of tireless advocacy from neighborhood activists with support from the N.A.P. The contributions of the African American Art & Culture Complex, Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center, Bayview Opera House, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, Queer Cultural Center, and SOMArts are represented by the work of artists closely associated with these vibrant centers.

We have been thrilled to organize an exhibition that engages three generations of artists, with input from extraordinary veteran arts administrators and cultural workers. Our biggest challenge has been time. We were invited to work on this project only a couple of months ago, and have been operating at a breakneck pace to learn some of the program’s history, talk to a sampling of historic players in the N.A.P., and organize the work that you see in the exhibition. It has been humbling to learn of the great passion, vision, resourcefulness, and leadership of people involved in the N.A.P.. The program not only employed hundreds of artists, but brought art to hundreds of thousands of people of all ages throughout the neighborhoods of San Francisco. Given our timeframe, we simply could not organize a truly comprehensive historic and artistic survey of this important and impactful program. Nevertheless, we hope that Culture Catalyst helps us all imagine how the city, artists, community activists, and art-loving citizens can continue to support arts access for every San Franciscan.