San Francisco artist and real estate firm join forces for unique solution to shuttered storefronts plaguing the city

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — San Francisco is full of empty storefronts. They infest all neighborhoods.

In the Mission District, a building at 780 Valencia sat empty for two years after Betabrand, the former tenant, left during the pandemic.

The real estate company that owned the property, Basking Investment Group, was tired of seeing it closed, so they turned to a local artist for help.

“Part of my business model is to activate space,” said Renee DeCarlo, who took the 6,000 square foot building and turned it into an art gallery.

The Drawing Room shows have themes. The first was about climate change, then the next featured female artists. Over 200 artists submitted works.

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The latest features art from San Francisco high school students.

“Most of these students don’t actually have art classes, so they did a lot of this work on their own and in their sketchbooks. ‘a way we hoped to create dialogue and connection,’ said DeCarlo, who got artwork from almost every school in town.

There are sculptures made by students from International High School, concept art from Mission High School, and self-portraits from several schools.

In total, the works of 250 high school students are exhibited in a former office space. They hang from almost any space imaginable.

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“It’s exciting to see how people enjoy watching it and how long they watch it and how long it takes them to figure it out,” said Chloe Sobelman, who created a self-portrait titled “When the Moon Cries.”

“It’s about having an adulterated self-image and being a teenager and having to mature and balance social life and the pandemic,” Sobelman said.

DeCarlo wants people who watch the show to learn more about what young people are thinking and what’s important in their lives right now.

“We really want kids to feel like art is essential. It’s what brings us together as humans and connects us,” adds DeCarlo, who also partners with the San Francisco Unified School District. to offer
seven internships for high school students over the summer.

They learn to build bookshelves, paint the walls and prepare a gallery for the next two art exhibitions which will focus on land use and the threat to reproductive rights.

“I learned how to organize space and make it a safe environment for other artists,” said Ito Han, an intern and rising senior from Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.

Running an art gallery is nothing new for DeCarlo. In 2018, she opened a small studio and gallery on 23rd Street in the Mission neighborhood but had to close it when her rent became too expensive.

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During the pandemic, she was able to temporarily occupy another space until the owner of 780 Valencia approached her.

Baskin Investment Group was desperate to reactivate the space, so in conjunction with property management 2B Living, they let Decarlo rent it out for $100 a month.

“This whole project is not made by the city. It’s made by a building owner, a property manager and a struggling business,” explained DeCarlo, who has since activated another closed storefront in the Inner Richmond. .

She uses the Clement Street space as her studio, but has also reserved space to exhibit works by other artists.

But, the future of the Valencia site is in doubt. His rent has gone up, even though it’s not at market level.

She actively raised a fundraiser to keep it open. DeCarlo said she had enough money to pay the rent until December.

“I don’t really want to give up. I want to see how long we can go on because it seems really necessary,” she added.

Despite the uncertainty, DeCarlo is encouraged by the possibilities of a partnership like this.

“We get an average of 50 to 200 people coming through the space every day,” she explained. “I encourage artists to enter into agreements with building owners who want their spaces to be rented.”

The Drawing Room solicits donations on its website through the nonprofit Intersection for the Arts to keep the gallery open.

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Laura J. Boyer