Today I sat down with Ivan Vera, the Community Arts Program Manager at Hospitality House, for an interview to be featured in the Mid-Market Art Project's upcoming publication. This local non-profit organization was founded in 1967, and began as a place for members of the Tenderloin community to come together with a common area to live and create. Today, Hospitality House is located on Leavenworth St, although the building is undergoing construction for wheel-chair accessibility. Subsequently, the Community Arts Program is now renting storefront space just below the Luggage Store Gallery on Market St, fused together in a working partnership of creation and exhibition.
I arrived soon after the day's opening at 10:30 A.M., where just a few constituents were preparing their supplies. Ivan greeted me at the front door, introduced his sole staff of two, and urged me to look around the space. Surrounding the artists' shelves and numerous tables, a retrospective show that wraps through the exterior display windows onto the interior walls reveals the changing trends and themes of artwork produced by community members through the last 43 years.
Artwork from various years of Hospitality House's artists
For the interview, Ivan and I discussed the current trends in urban redevelopment or "revitalization", as he termed it, in the Mid-Market and surrounding Tenderloin and South of Market areas. He was most excited about the opportunity for engagement that the arts provided and the influx of traffic carried along by innovative tech resources in neighborhoods that he believes have seen too much vacancy. More on these subjects will be included in the publication's release.
Outside of the publication interview, he also delved into the recent history of the Hospitality House, which uses one of the earliest "harm-reduction" models of sponsorship in San Francisco. Under this model, community members with mental health issues or substance addictions can find a place to sleep, seek treatment, and also have the opportunity to create artwork in a safe and accessible environment that encourages them to learn from their peers. "Artwork is about sharing", Ivan says; and through the Community Arts Program, artists can not only share amongst themselves, but also with the larger neighborhood. They often receive sponsorships from local businesses and have the chance to show their work in curated exhibitions through other organizations like the Luggage Store.
Ivan admitted that while the Tenderloin location of the Hospitality House art center is being refurbished, he does hope that they might continue to inhabit the Luggage Store's space. The Market Street location provides more exposure for the works created, passers-by linger for more time for viewing, local businesses are more aware of what the program does, and proceeds from artwork sales have more than tripled...all of which goes back to the artists who created them. With this desire to support their artists and their open door policy, they rely heavily on government funding which has often led to struggle as politics shift. Luckily, the increased awareness of how vital the arts are to community building has allowed them to open another similar location in South of Market in 2008. With the goal of supporting a healthier and more creative neighborhood, Ivan was optomistic about the future of the organization and the community as a whole: "we are here".
Ivan Vera, Community Arts Program Manager at Hospitality House