As San Francisco sets its hopes for a post-COVID era, artists that provided the city a balm during the darkest days of the pandemic will be celebrated in the largest exhibit of its kind. “The City Canvas: A Paint the Void Retrospective” is the nation’s largest exhibit of plywood mural art featuring 49 of the actual works that transformed San Francisco’s boarded up storefronts during the pandemic. The exhibit is scheduled for a limited-run Jan. 22-23 and Jan. 27-30 at historic Pier 70 in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood.
“This exhibition is a celebration of the many artists who became essential workers on the front line of the pandemic, bringing hope and beauty to the city’s landscape during a dark time,” said Shannon Riley, executive director, Paint the Void, which launched the program and sponsors public art and creativity in everyday urban spaces. “Artists aren’t often thought of as essential workers, but they are. Even during the best of times, art in everyday urban spaces uplifts us and enhances our daily lives. During a crisis, it’s all the more important to celebrate our shared creativity, humanity, and resilience. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to share this work and honor Bay Area artists who stepped up to inspire us all.”
In March 2020, as San Francisco went into lock down, businesses across the city boarded up their windows fearing break-ins at unattended shops. Riley said the plywood facades were a stark sign of the uncertainty and anxiety gripping the city’s residents and a daily reminder of the loss of community. At the same time, artists were struggling to make ends meet with galleries shuttered and commissions and other employment opportunities on hold.
Building 180, a full-service art production and consulting agency based in San Francisco, heard the urgent need from the arts community and saw an opportunity to connect the dots. With their expertise in staging large public art installations, founders Riley and Meredith Winner, quickly raised funds and mobilized a city-wide effort to pair artists with local businesses, paying them to turn these blank plywood canvases into fantastical and inspirational murals. Paint the Void was born, and to date, more than 150 murals for 130 Bay Area businesses have been created.
The exhibit is presented by Building 180 and Paint the Void in partnership with Pier 70 and Brookfield Properties. The murals range from 4-43 feet long and up to 11.5 feet high. The exhibit is set amid the soaring space at Pier 70’s historic Building 12, a football field-sized industrial structure that once served as a WWII shipbuilding site and is newly restored as part of a 28-acre waterfront neighborhood under development by Brookfield Properties.
For many artists, Paint the Void provided new opportunities to showcase their work and provide community benefit.
“It became a platform for local artists to make San Francisco’s iconic streets vibrant again amidst the apocalyptic vibe, and it also showed how resilient, generous, and collaborative the art community was during the most depressing time in history,” said artist Cleng Sumagaysay, who created Paint the Void’s first work at Wild Feather in the Lower Haight neighborhood of a woman enveloped by nature with butterfly earrings and dandelion seeds blowing in the wind.
Reaction to the murals has been overwhelmingly positive. A survey by Paint the Void that focused on some of the murals on storefronts revealed that 88% of the respondents thought it improved neighborhood aesthetics, 80% said it gave them hope, and 78% thought the murals reflected the character of their neighborhoods.
Artist Emily Fromm said Paint the Void was, “…able to offer so many artists paid work when many other opportunities shut down, which has probably kept many artists in the area who may have left or furthered the careers of those working in the area.” Fromm’s mural reanimated an exterior and interior storefront in the Richmond District. Artist Max Ehrman, known as Eon75, said it brought the art community together at a badly needed time. “I never thought that during a time of isolation that this collaboration would be the catalyst for so many creative opportunities and peer relationships. It helped put my art career on track,” Ehrman said. He painted a series of murals restaurants in Hayes Valley that mixed nature and architectural design, including a vivid, colorful lion fish at Absinthe and flowers at Chez Maman.
One of Paint the Void’s challenges for the exhibit was finding a large enough space. Fortunately, restoration work at historic Building 12 was completed in December and Brookfield Properties thought it to be a perfect fit. Building 12’s raw, industrial façade, soaring ceilings and irregular roof line that once housed production and fabrication of steel plates for ships’ hulls will soon sustain its historic use as a focal point for a new generation of making and industry with an eclectic mix of maker spaces accessible to the public, local artisan retail, neighborhood serving retail, work space and event space. City Canvas is its debut use.
“Pier 70 is being built as a place that embodies San Francisco’s history while envisioning its future with creativity at the center. City Canvas is a beautiful example of imagination, inclusivity and resilience,” said Pier 70 Creative Director Macy Coburn. “Amid the anxieties and uncertainties of the pandemic, art is a tonic of hope, rejuvenation and belonging.”
A limited number of tickets are available at eventbrite with a suggested donation of $10. Safe entry protocols: Proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 and masks are required.
TogetherSF, San Francisco’s fastest-growing network of volunteers and community caretakers, is seeking volunteers to assist with event pre- and post-production, and to act as an event gallery guide while the exhibit is open to the public. Those interested in volunteering at the event can register online and may reach out to email@example.com with any questions.
Volunteer Registration site: https://tgthsf.us/32T6ZFE