SOMArts Cultural Center Feature in Asterisk Magazine

Underneath a US interstate freeway in San Francisco’s South of Market District, on the border of Potrero Hill and Downtown San Francisco, one will not only find quite an industrious area, but a place tucked away from the busy street that encapsulates the vibrancy and pulse of the San Francisco culture and arts community. The SOMArts Cultural Center’s location is apropos considering its ambitious yet successful representation of an incredibly diverse community. The entrance is adorned by rock sculptures and benches reserved for cigarette breaks or art talk when the galleries are filled with people on opening night of any exhibition. With theatrical productions to large scale art installations, the center garners much of its attention through representations of the community, cultures, and sub-cultures that call the Bay Area-San Francisco home. Executive Director, Lex Leifeit, reflects on the balance the center must strike between showcasing traditional and cultural aspects of its diverse population with experimental and contemporary interpretations of the very traditions that create the community, The word traditional is tricky. Each culture has its own traditions. When people talk about traditional art in the art world, they’re often looking at it from a western perspective.

One of the most radical things SOMArts has done since it’s earliest beginnings that is more prevalent now in the field is to combine risk-taking contemporary art with specific cultural traditions. The beating heart of that approach within our organization is the annual Dia de los Muertos exhibition co-curated by Rene Yañez and Rio Yañez. ~ Lex Leifleit, SOMArts Cultural Center, Executive Director

As a community center, SOMArts provides below market value space for interested organizations looking to produce a show or install an exhibition. From visual artists to writers to educators, the center draws patrons and supporters from a multitude of disciplines through several annual events that include Feast of Words and 100 Performances for the Hole (originally conceived by Curator and Gallery Director Justin Hoover). The center also includes a lot of critical discussion through its Commons Curatorial Residency providing curators the opportunity to create an exhibition that encourages the community to engage and learn about art and artists’ practices that may not be readily accessible. Such a residency makes this discussion and dialogue available. Another aspect of the community engagement includes the SOMArts Interactive Video Channel, which fosters community engagement between SOMArts staff, artists, curators, and art lovers.

Originally posted to Asterisk 

Who said beauty doesn’t matter? Similar to art, beauty’s ubiquitous and enigmatic nature is ever-present in our visual landscape. It is not just on billboards, in magazines, or the growing number of photographs we see of others (i.e., seeing our own ‘beautiful’ friends on social networking sites as we all re-define self-portraiture in this digital age) but even deep seeded in our histories, you will find how standards of beauty have been created. Our histories reside in our bodies. It is obvious in the way in which we care for ourselves.

The Pagbabalik Project created an excellent performance piece comprised with rich stories and experiences of women within the Filipino culture. They looked at the cross sections of American and Filipino history, post-colonialism, and standards of beauty and how each are inter-related. After viewing this ‘work in progress’, it definitely goes beyond the Filipino community and steps into more universal themes such as acceptance, equanimity, tolerance, and a desire to learn about the self as well as other.

My only criticism at this point: Looking at standards of beauty with the LGBTQ community (but during the talk back session of the opening weekend performance, this is an element of the entire project that has yet to be incorporated), which I was very excited to learn. I also heard the collective is interested in seeing how such issues are depicted in the Visual Arts (across genres). I foresee some amazing art coming out of The Pagbabalik Project!

Although I’m a San Francisco Native, I LOVE Oakland immensely and believe the Support Oakland Artists organization has set up a great web site to survey the community and create services and increase resources to the art community.