SOMArts' 'Making A Scene' Spotlights 50 Years Of Bay Area Alternative Art

San Francisco culture isn’t dead, says Roula Seikaly, one of the curators of SOMArts' latest exhibition, Making a Scene: 50 Years of Alternative Bay Area Spaces. “It may not resemble exactly what people want it to look like, but it’s not dead.”

Proving that theory, Making a Scene, which opens this Thursday in SOMArts' main gallery at 934 Brannan St., brings together 30 exhibiting artists and archival works from more than 20 Bay Area alternative art spaces. These collectives and individuals, who “shaped the country, city and region,” explore a variety of historical and contemporary themes in their work, including cultural, racial and sexual identity and digital culture.

Seikaly says that the exhibit comes at a moment of reflection for the region’s art community. It contemplates the climate Bay Area artists were responding to 40-50 years ago, alternative spaces, displacement and “how to keep our culture-bearers here.”

The exhibition pays homage to a variety of Bay Area artists "who didn't accept the status quo," says Seikaly, who notes that it has a "spirit of resistance" running through it. "I hope it bolsters a lot of people."

The featured alternative art spaces and artists include the collective Ant Farm, which became famous for  'Media Burn,' a 1975 performance in which it drove a modified 1959 Cadillac El Dorado Biarritz into a pyramid of flaming television screens at the Cow Palace.

Also featured: Emory Douglas, who shaped society's perception of the Black Panther Party as its Minister of Culture, and Sunshine Velasco, a local photographer who's captured recent moments where local young people have united “in response to numerous cases where black men's, women's, and transgender people’s lives were taken by police officers, security guards or vigilantes.”

'Media Burn.' (Photo: Autistry Studios / Flickr)

Thursday night's opening will also feature live performances by the EcoSexuals (a.k.a. Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens), who will explore “the places where sexology and ecology intersect in our culture," and Femina Potens, an arts organization that has been working to empower the city’s LGBTQI and Allied community for the past 15 years.

Madison Young, Femina Potens' artistic director and founder, said that while her organization was priced out of its space, it continues to curate exhibitions at spaces and events around the Bay Area. In keeping with the focus on learning from the region’s history and moving forward, Femina Potens' Thursday performance will depict the tending of a garden, with performance artists personifying elements like earth, water and fire to represent the community’s endurance, perseverance and new energy.

Given that the Bay Area’s entire 50-year history of alternative art couldn’t fit in one room, SOMArts is inviting the public to contribute to the project by recording their impressions of the exhibit and memories of alternative art spaces in a temporary Bay Area Video Coalition broadcast studio at the opening. They're also encouraging visitors to add content to the exhibition’s ongoing wiki, Collective Memory: Art & Activism.

Soul Nubian, one of 30 artists set to perform at the July 18th Night Light party. (Photo: Soul Nubian / Facebook)

In conjunction with Making a Scene, SOMArts is hosting Night Light, a multimedia garden party and fundraiser, on Saturday, July 18th (8:30pm-midnight). The event will cover the entire outdoor patio and event space, with 30 artists performing simultaneously throughout the event and another 60 in attendance. The works shown will explore applications of light, in addition to the various themes of Making a Scene.

“It’s definitely going to be a scene,” says SOMArts' interim director, Jess Young, noting that the organization's last garden party garnered 1,200 attendees.

The opening for Making a Scene: 50 Years of Alternative Bay Area Spaces runs from 6-9pm on Thursday, July 9th. Admission is free and open to the public. The exhibition is on view through August 20th; hours are Tuesday-Friday, 12-7pm, and Saturday, 12-5pm. Tickets ($12) to the Night Light garden party on Saturday, July 18th are available on Eventbrite.

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Somarts making a scene spotlights 50 years of bay area alternative art