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Tenderloin arts festival marks culmination of 2-year storytelling effort

Performance group Skywatchers will host its annual festival in the Tenderloin this weekend, with three days of free performances and art exhibits, along with a shared community meal.

Part of choreographer Anne Bluethenthal's ABD Productions, the organization, which just marked its eighth anniversary, aims to use the arts to inspire social change. Its work is inspired by the stories and experiences of an intergenerational group of Tenderloin residents, and often features them as performers as well. 

This year's event, Skywatchers Festival at the Table: Visions, marks the culmination of a two-year effort by Skywatchers to capture changes in the neighborhood, and highlight the community’s role in preserving it. A National Endowment For the Arts grant helped fund the project. 

The Skywatchers Ensemble is intergenerational, and largely made up of Tenderloin residents. | Photo: Deidre Visser

The festival will include three performances of Came Here to Live, a performance work featuring the Skywatchers Ensemble, comprised of Tenderloin residents, as well as ABD’s artists.

The original work, inspired by performers' life experiences, tackles tough topics like displacement and disfranchisement in the Tenderloin. Staged at the Kelly Cullen Community Center (220 Golden Gate Ave.), each performance will be followed by a community discussion about housing justice and building community in an evolving neighborhood.

As part of the festival, the Cullen Center will also host a multimedia exhibition of artwork created over the past two years by Tenderloin residents, open for an hour before each performance of Came Here To Live

The works on display will include large-scale photo portraits of community members rendered as the god or goddess of their imagination; a short documentary about the Hotel Iroquois, a single-room occupancy hotel where Skywatchers has held performances in partnership with residents; and an exhibition of 200 handmade banners memorializing those who died on the Tenderloin's streets in 2018.

Banners memorializing those who died on San Francisco's streets in 2018 will be on display. | Photo: Pax Ahimsa Gethen

On Saturday evening, Tenderloin residents, neighbors, and community supporters are invited to share a communal meal at the festival, sponsored by Imperfect Produce and Farming Hope, and prepared and served by the staff of GLIDE community church. The meal will offer attendees a seat “At the Table” to discuss the issues raised by the performance and art installation. 

The festival's schedule is as follows:

Friday, May 17

  • 5:30 - Opening reception
  • 7:00 - Performance of Came Here to Live

Saturday, May 18

  • 4:00 - Performance of Came Here to Live
  • 5:30 - Community meal & conversations

Sunday, May 19

  • 12:30 - Processional from GLIDE to 220 Golden Gate Ave.
  • 1:00 - Performance of Came Here to Live

All events are free and open to the public, and spaces can be reserved on ABD’s website.

In addition to ABD Productions and the meal sponsors, the festival is supported by dozens of other neighborhood partners and businesses, including the Luggage Store/509 Community Space, Larkin Street Youth Services, Faithful Fools Street Ministry, Tenderloin Museum, Cutting Ball Theaters, SafeHouse, CounterPulse, Coalition on Homelessness, the Hospitality House, Center City SRO, the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, the Tenderloin Community Benefit District, the Tenderloin People’s Congress, the California Arts Council, Mazza Foundation, and the San Francisco Arts Commission. 

Location
220 Golden Gate Avenue

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