235 Broderick Street doesn't stand out on its block, nestled between Oak and Page. Aside from the overflowing wisteria, it's just another charming old Victorian on a block of similar buildings. But in addition to its 116 years, there's something that makes this house a little unusual. Walk up the steps, past the purple flowers, and you'll find a new kind of artist commune, launched only two months ago.
The Growlery is the project of Jean Chadbourne, a former high school math teacher. Her inspiration to launch a creative arts collective comes from multiple sources—the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the David Ireland House, and a particularly generous woman she met while backpacking in Transylvania.
With her intellectual and spiritual vision, she purchased 235 Broderick for the project last year. On January 1st, artists began moving in.
The three-story, six-bedroom house (plus basement) is a blank canvas. Recently renovated, its high ceilings and numerous rooms offers a unique opportunity for those who need seclusion and space to work.
As for The Growlery's name, it originated in Charles Dickens' Bleak House. A "growlery" is a refuge and retreat in one's own home. The fact that it has a Victorian origin (like the house), and was removed from the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011 (as many artists are being removed from San Francisco) made it seem like a perfect fit.
Artists in residence are selected for one- to three-month stints. For now, The Growlery is invitation-only—in part because there simply isn't time at the moment to get an application and review program off the ground.
But in the meantime, Chadbourne has also begun reaching out to other artist residencies across the city that don't have housing—such as Autodesk's—and offering to house their artists while they work.
Michael Kershnar (who's also behind a new Lower Haight mural we wrote about earlier this month) is one of the first artists to move in, and a big help to the Growlery vision. Although highly successful in his work as an artist, he left San Francisco in 2011 to explore residencies throughout the world. After living and working in Paris, Copenhagen and all around Europe, Kershnar had his fair share of experience working at art residencies and helping them get off the ground.
"I see the house as a project as well," Chadbourne explained, and as artists spread out and claim their corners, the blank slate of the Growlery is slowly coming to life. A photography exhibition by Joe Brook hangs in what would be the living and dining rooms. A collage of different artists' work is arranged underneath the stairs, while a basement room overflows with pieces of a handmade book project in process. Painted murals hide beneath plants and around corners.
While The Growlery certainly offers a genuine artist-in-residence experience, Chadbourne is the first to say it's not a solution to San Francisco's housing crisis and the exodus of artists from the area. "Five spare bedrooms won't fix that," she said. "Change is always going to be hard. But instead of being swept up by the tsunami, I want to learn how to surf it."
When asked what she'd like to have accomplished with The Growlery five years down the line, Chadbourne's answer is abstract. "When you teach a 15-year-old how to solve polynomials, they're not grateful in the moment," she said. "But years later, they might be. I want artists to leave here having grown, and to look back on this time as important."
The next exhibition at The Growlery will take place on April 16th, featuring the work of resident photographer Anna Landa, as well as Nate Page, Harvey Opgennorth, and Alexandra Leyre Mein. We'll bring you more information on this event as it gets closer—stay tuned.
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