After two years of development, Gray Area Foundation for the Arts has settled permanently in its new home at the Mission District’s historic Grand Theater and has opened its doors to artists, techies and neighborhood residents.
With the current real estate market quickly pushing cultural and nonprofit organizations out of San Francisco, Gray Area hopes their revitalization of the theater and the “experimental initiatives” it plans to house will foster cross-medium art collaborations and civic engagement.
Josette Melchor, executive director and founder of Gray Area, envisioned the nonprofit organization when she moved to San Francisco and experienced the noticeable gap between the tech industry and the Bay Area community. Already dismayed by the lack of venues for new media and tech-based artwork, she founded Gray Area in 2008, reimagining the art gallery as an active space where techies, artists, and the community innovate together.
Melchor explains that when it comes to digital art and content, the gallery model doesn’t really work.
“We want to have as many viewers looking at our work and experiencing our work as possible,” she says. That’s why we don’t have a gallery. We think that it’s sort of a model that needs to be reimagined.”
Last year, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Gray Area $100,000 to develop an immersive theater for experiential surround cinema with Recombinant Media Labs. This allowed them to secure a 10-year lease for the 10,000-square-foot Grand Theater building. Originally opened in the 1940s as an 870-seat single screen cinema, the theater housed a porn arcade after the 70s and has been home to a discount dollar store for the last decade.
The building’s renovations include an open space for 50 shared and 25 private desks used by members of Gray Area’s Cultural Incubator program. Incubator membership draws creatives across disciplines and is open to the public at $200 per month for first come first serve desk space, access to conference rooms and meeting areas, and free access to performances and lectures.
The Grand Theater now houses civic and creative endeavors developed by Gray Area and its Cultural Incubator’s ongoing cultural programs, or what they call “experimental initiatives.” Among these initiatives are CreativeCode.io and Teen Creative Code Scholarship, educational programs that teach coding skills for creative expression.
Other initiatives include large-scale experimental projects that enhance the way locals experience and interact with the city. One of these is Data Canvas, a project aimed at inspiring community dialogue around urban issues with data sets communicated through interactive street displays.
As an art and performance space, Gray Area hosts diverse public programs ranging from film screenings, music sets, art viewings, and symposiums.
Visit the new space on November 14th from 7-9PM for a screening of Ways of Something, a remake of John Berger’s BBC documentary Ways of Seeing (1972). This event is part of Chatrooms, a series of one-night-only events focusing on contemporary new media art.