Last time you walked by Ada Court, the alley between Hyde and Leavenworth on O'Farrell, did you notice a cluster of sketches taped to the side of 666 O'Farrell? If you tend to walk with a purpose or dropped by on an off day, there's a good chance you missed the collage that's been appearing and disappearing over the past few months.
A quick Google search of “Ada Alley” leads to adafuckngallery on Instagram. Click on enough photos, and you’ll learn that it’s a free public art gallery. But by whom? And why? Naturally, we had to dig a bit deeper. Here's what we learned.
Local artist Matt DeLight (pictured above) has been taping art to the wall at 666 O’Farrell for the past two years. The impulse came out of a problem many artists may be familiar with: He needed to do something with mountains of art he spent an hour or two on but didn’t plan to keep or sell.
“I’m kind of a packrat,” he said. “I’ve collected so much paper and art supplies in my life.”
So he grabbed some tape and began leaving his work in Ada Court. He didn't have a personal connection to any of the pieces, he said, but figured someone might like them. And as expected, the pieces seemed to evaporate.
Six months ago, DeLight decided to turn his random postings into a serious project. His girlfriend suggested creating an Instagram account, and that’s when he realized, “It’s not real until you take a photo of it. It becomes an artifact,” he said.
So adafuckngallery on Instagram was born.
He also realized that to make Ada Gallery "a thing" and attract other artists and visitors, he had to be consistent. So he began taping art to the wall daily. During the first couple of weeks, he often found pieces torn down, balled up and thrown on the alley floor, he said.
"It was like a message to me. No. It was like a message to miscellaneous artist: 'Fuck it'," he said.
While it was emotionally draining, he said he understood the reaction. When you're down on life, "beautiful things make you upset." But he also figured that if he kept it up, the people who objected to his project would get tired of it and move along.
Thanks to his perseverance and Instagram, an anonymous artist came to his defense, taping the sketch below to the wall one day after a number of drawings were destroyed.
Grateful, DeLight sent a message back.
Before this exchange, Tenderloin resident Carol Coroniti (@carocoroo) said she had been stopping by to check out the art, but wasn't sure if the anonymous artist wanted others to join in. With the unicorn as her green light, she began contributing regularly.
Just in time, too, because a few weeks later, DeLight was ready to move out of the Tenderloin. By then his neighbors knew he was behind the gallery, he said, and were worried the gallery would die with his departure. So he decided to make it clear that Ada Gallery was officially in the hands of the people.
While DeLight and Coroniti have never met (although DeLight thinks he saw Coroniti at Geary Club once), they're both working hard to turn Ada Gallery into a movement.
With his move across town, DeLight turned ADA into an acronym for "Always Doing Art" and is establishing new galleries around the city. You can now find ADA 2 on Central at Haight, ADA 3 on Castro at Henry and ADA 4 on Poplar at 24th. He's also trying to convince a friend to start a similar project in LA. His next project will be creating a map of all of the locations, continuing to encourage more artists to participate and potentially hosting a meetup so the 10 or so participating artists can finally meet one another.
Coroniti has successfully persuaded a friend to establish a gallery in Philadelphia, and is now the "unofficial, official spokesperson and curator" for the Tenderloin gallery (now called ADA Prime) as well as a "collector and maker of art." And, to her surprise, her neighborhood-themed work in ADA Prime has helped pull her into the Tenderloin's art scene. She has been invited to participate in a group show at The Loin next week, and is working on collaborating with the group of local artists behind the Tales of the Tenderloin zine on their next edition, due out this fall.
All of the ADA galleries are in public space and therefore open at all hours, and everyone is welcome to make and take art. On any given day in the Tenderloin, there's a good chance you'll catch a piece by one of the most regular contributors, including Chris Farris (@christfarris) of the Space Between Gallery at 1 Columbus Ave., Todd Kurnat (@inkletterman), @meatball_kitty_ and Coroniti of course. But if you show up to find an empty wall, just remember: first come, first served.