Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Arts & Culture
Published on October 11, 2016
Creative Arts Space 'ELL' Debuts This Friday On Commercial StreetJason Campbell and artist Kelly Tunstell, who will be exhibiting at ELL's inaugural show opening Friday. (Photos: Lisa Amand/Hoodline)

Gallerists Jason Campbell and Rafael Vizcaino are hustling to finish the wooden floors, board-form concrete walls and other low-key decorative elements at new art space ELL in preparation for this Friday's opening party for its inaugural exhibition at 670 Commercial St.

When Vizcaino opened the intimate Chapel Hill Coffee Co. one and a half years ago, right next door, the narrow street wasn’t quite as charming as it is now.

But three new storefronts have markedly improved the appearance of this alley-sized byway, located near the Transamerica Pyramid. “We’re the nexus of three vibrant neighborhoods. Jackson Square, Chinatown and Financial District—each with its own unique character and motivation. It is this symbiosis that inspires and drives our curatorial effort,” states ELL’s website.

As such, Campbell wants to ensure that each area’s character and history is preserved and celebrated. “We’re many things. It’s hard to define the neighborhood,” he says.

Jason Campbell and Rafael Vizcaino.

In fact, ELL's first show, “Wish You Were Here!,” is a colorful riff on the city’s kitschy appeal to tourists. Three artists known as Day Dreamers Limited will show an array of creations, including T-shirts, 3-D prints and pressed pennies.

“Wish You Were Here!” includes work by Kelly Tunstall, Ferris Plock and Howard Cao (known as Form & Fiction) and will be on display through the end of 2016. Exploring “the nostalgia of tourist traps and souvenir shops,” Tunstall promises the show will be unconventional and interactive, with vending machines and other surprises.

Campbell, 27, an architect and photographer who also teaches at UC Berkeley, deflects credit for the design of the “cross-disciplinary, flex-use platform” that when finished, will boast a 720-square-foot space that can be divided into two by a pivoting wall. Ideally, the rentable section (for private events and other uses) will provide a revenue stream for the artistic section, which will be set aside for exhibits, readings, music and dance performances, and maybe even a pop-up eatery (Chapel Hill boasts a small kitchen). 

Campbell supports all kinds of media and loves to inspire dialogue, brainstorming with people from surrounding offices, old friends and kindred spirits. “It’s all about collaboration,” he said.

A crowdfunding campaign and continuing donations have helped the gallery come to fruition.

While Tunstall and Campbell have only positive things to say about the Minnesota Project, which has consolidated a number of renowned and up-and-coming galleries into three Dogpatch warehouses, they’re excited to go against the tide, launching a new arts venue and gathering place for emerging artists in the center of San Francisco.

“Art is alive in the city, and we’re going to make sure it stays [that way],” said Campbell.