San Francisco is banking on art to help the city’s economic recovery, with community art events frequently touted as a way to revive neighborhoods still limping from the pandemic.
The city would do well to follow the lead of Lauro Gonzalez and his organization Artyhood, which was founded during the pandemic to create opportunities for local artists and musicians to showcase, sell and perform their work.
He has become the go-to person that neighborhoods call upon to infuse color and culture into their commercial corridors, while bringing new foot traffic for local merchants.
Originally from Mexico, Gonzalez spent most of his career in marketing and communications and found himself wanting to use his skills to promote artists. When the pandemic hit and the mood in the city began to turn inward, he saw an opportunity to use art as a way to bring people together.
He started by hosting a semi-regular event called ArtScape in late 2020 as part of the Sunset Mercantile Farmer’s Market.
“I did everything from head to toe. I was sweeping the floor, contacting the artists, building the website and designing the ads,” Gonzalez said. “But at the time, that was basically the only way to entertain us, because it was outside and in the middle of the day.”
Shortly after, he was contacted by the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association and the Castro Merchants Association to produce similar events taking advantage of shared space permits provided by the municipal authorities.
Gonzalez now curates the bimonthly Valencia Street Art Corridor and the monthly Castro Art Mart. Each week, Artyhood events feature local painters, artisans, musicians and comedians – and during last year’s holiday season – a sexy elf contest.
“I especially appreciate his ability to create a fun environment for families with children, introducing them to the dynamic world of LGBTQ artists,” said Dave Karraker, president of the Castro Merchants Association.
To limit competition, Artyhood vendors do not serve food or alcohol and invite existing vendors to collaborate with artists by providing sidewalk or park space for workshops and performances.
The group is paid for by local trades associations which are aided by city funds, such as an $11.4 million grant scheme launched by Mayor London Breed and the Office of Economic Workforce Development and dedicated in part to l organization of new festivals.
Jonah Buffa, president of the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association, said Artyhood was key to livening up the streets and supporting existing businesses during the pandemic.
“Activating the street of Valencia with art and music has kept the street a destination through the tough times of the past two years,” Buffa said.
Artists themselves are required to hold a valid vendor license and pay $40-75 to attend the event, which helps pay performing musicians and covers marketing and promotion costs.
San Francisco artist CJ Haven said attending Artyhood events gave him a sense of community that he lacked as someone who launched his art career during the pandemic.
“The events have opened many doors for me in terms of networking, commissions and potential clients,” Haven said.
Gonzalez is also working with the SF Council of District Merchants Associations, which includes 34 separate merchant associations, to create Art Walk SF. The program, which launched in May in Outer Richmond, hosts monthly arts and music events in a different neighborhood. The next three months have planned Art Walk SF events in the Outer Sunset, Excelsior, and Bayview, respectively.
If officials want to continue seeding those gatherings, Gonzalez recommended increased funding and streamlining permits to contain costs, which he says can reach $50,000.
Ultimately, however, he hopes Artyhood’s momentum will continue as neighborhoods and residents continue to see the potential to bring people together through art.
“At the end of the day, it makes me happy to empower artists, we’re trying to create a sense of community, but also a sense of pride in people living their lives as creative people,” Gonzalez said.