Local Art, Music and Tech Collective 20Mission Transforms The Village For A Night

It’s not easy being an artist in San Francisco and (arguably less) a business entrepreneur in this unpredictable and tech-centric economy. Ideas can be short lived, competition fierce and the possibility of failure high. Yet, there are some spaces where creative types find success and inspiration through camaraderie and collaboration.

20Mission began as a temporary solution to the city’s increasingly unaffordable housing market. Leased in 2011 by an early Bitcoin investor, it housed 41 rooms and a lot of potential. It also gave one of its first residents, Ben Greenberg, a transplant from Indiana and founder of Glowy Shit, a site that sells neon decorations and flow toys, a space to both live and work at relatively low cost.

Since then, Greenberg has seen 20Mission’s now 45-person housing structure, which could just as easily have morphed into a rowdy college dorm, transform into something much greater. It’s become a co-living community of like-minded creators who are forging more meaningful personal and professional connections by working together, building art together and even just making dinner together.

When you live with this many people for awhile it doesn’t feel strange – it feels strange going home and not having something going on.

20Mission defines itself as a “startup community” with an emphasis on technology and entrepreneurship, but its residents aren’t just programmers and engineers – there are also artists, restaurant workers and designers, to name a few. “I think it’s a good solution to the problem of limited space,” Greenberg said. “When you live with this many people for awhile it doesn’t feel strange – it feels strange going home and not having something going on.”

And that ‘something’ is sometimes just a really awesome party.

"Indra's Net" an installation piece by artist Peter Tjeerdsman

“Indra’s Net” an installation piece by artist Peter Tjeerdsman

This past Saturday, 20Mission hosted its first large-scale event, “Too Big for Our House (Party)”, for the first time outside its home base in the Mission District. Over the course of several hours, it packed over 1,400 party goers into The Village, a 17,000-square-foot event space in Mid-Market.

Its three-story space, with exposed brick walls, two bars and multiple winding staircases, was a logical progression for 20Mission’s growth. Its occasional parties had always relied on just enough people to pack in its communal spaces and gather on its roof deck to see bands play. Except, the last time 20Mission threw a party, more than 800 people showed up and formed a staggeringly long line that snaked down the block.

The Village spot gave 20Mission organizers a chance to build out spaces with different identities, host more musical performances, as well as interactive art and vendors. Each floor had a different feel: an electrifying green glow bounced off the main stage playing rock and house, while LED hoop dancers and light projections filled the room; the basement level pumped heavy electronic bass next to a red-lit bar and stripper pole; and the top floor was reserved for a silent disco where blue headphones danced around a shrouded pillow dome.

Inside the pillow dome, one of the party's chill zones

Inside the pillow dome, one of the party’s chill zones

The only well-lit space featured jewelry vendors, live painters, elixir peddling bartenders, a massage table and a game room where Anticlockwise art collective housed “Shatterwall”, an interactive game where people threw balls at gargoyles and avoided a giant, evil-looking rabbit. Along the walls were three-dimensional butterflies and rainbow-colored lips, painted by street artist Fnnch, best known for his iconic honey bears seen throughout the Mission.

Currently, 20Mission parties are invite-only – you have to know one of the residents or artists to get an event code that lets you access tickets. Costs can range anywhere from $15 to $40, depending on the party and how early they’re purchased. While 20Mission has always used party funds to make improvements to its space, “Too Big” is the first time its organizers, Greenberg and co-organizer Andrew Ward, will use profits as charitable donations to support ALS research.

Conrad Schuman, a vocalist for electro/rock band, Beautiful Machines, is somewhat of a poster child for the musical acts that have slowly assembled around 20Mission; they started playing an early 20Mission party and have since watched it expand by the hundreds.

Even with its numbers growing, Schuman said there is a sense of intimacy and shared community that has kept the band coming back. “Its way more fun playing at this kind of place because people are already there to have a good time, they aren’t just there watching – there’s definitely an awesome energy that’s there.”

It’s intentional that 20Mission has expanded to throw parties that aren’t just about dancing; it recognizes how interactive experiences have the power to enhance that dynamic in deeper ways.

Rich Trapani (Rich DDT), an electronic artist and co-founder of LoveTech, which produces interactive design and music events, also sees parties like “Too Big” as opportunities to encourage artistic expression and facilitate new ideas – especially in spaces where you might find more of a “tech crowd.”

“It’s good to have an opportunity to showcase new experiences to people that may be unfamiliar with it,” he said. “There’s a chance for real creative development with the broadening of artistic horizons.”

While The Village, formerly a Pearl Arts & Crafts supply store, provides a massive canvas for innovation, it can be limiting in some ways: artists cannot paint directly on the walls (such as was possible at 20Mission) and daily rental costs can float somewhere over $6K. Despite this, it gives a number of artists the space to display their work to larger audiences and takes care of some of the logistics that creative living spaces would otherwise have to handle personally.

Fire Arts at The Convent

Fire Arts at The Convent

Trapani, who currently lives at The Convent, a 21-room creative living community and former nunnery in the Sacred Heart Church complex, said the challenges he’s faced organizing events, both personally and professionally, could have been made easier with more infrastructure. “It allows us to focus on curating the content and worry less about the structure,” he said. “There is also a trajectory created when events like this become more organized and they are able to materialize into something much greater – like the next big music and arts festival.”

Greenberg recognizes that the exclusive nature of the 20Mission parties might deter more diverse party goers from taking part in “Too Big”, but up until now the growth of 20Mission was somewhat unexpected. Eventually, Greenberg said, he’d like everyone to be able to go to a 20Mission party (even someone flying into San Francisco all the way from Oklahoma). “I’m just taking it one step at a time to see what the next step is,” he said.

Until then, stay tuned for the next 20Mission event, “Return of the (Haunted) House Party,” happening this coming Halloween.