"Square foot for square foot, no venue in San Francisco has made a bigger impact over the past 15 years than the Red Poppy Art House. A storefront Mission District performance space and studio run on a shoestring budget, the venue has nurtured a fascinating array of hybrid artists"
What was to become the Red Poppy Art House was founded by Brown in 2003, originally under the name 'Porfilio Is', to serve as an intercultural and multidisciplinary “space of encounter,” a hub where multiple social-cultural groups could interconnect to experience one another and therefore potentiate one another’s endeavors while weaving a stronger social fabric of the arts into the local community. It began as a working artist studio that offered classes in painting and Argentine tango, a weekly jazz night, and curated exhibitions. Towards the end of that first year, the Poppy initiated the Mission Arts & Performance Project (MAPP), as a community-wide initiative with shared values. Since that time, the Poppy’s organization has been gradually evolving through the years in order to respond to the needs and opportunities presented by its surrounding community and the arts ecology at large. Central among them is how such a tiny space can continue to exist within a market-driven economy without having to “grow” or perish. Can one be small, meaningful, and effective, and still flourish?
From the Red Poppy Art House home page. . .
QUALITY OF LIVING & BEING
The Red Poppy Art House is a room on a corner in the Mission District of San Francisco, nestled between a myriad of communities. It is a place for slowness and the nuanced intermingling of ideas and activities generally termed “art.” In this little room, we present a vigorous performance program spanning multiple disciplines and embracing both traditional and contemporary forms. We also host artist residencies, a socially-engaged professional development track, and assist in curating space for the neighborhood-wide bimonthly MAPP happening (Mission Arts & Performance Project). Behind the scenes, we relish in the role of matchmaker, seeding new relationships wherever we can, among friends and strangers, artists, community members, people without communities, people from near and far, just about anyone that comes through the door. Our desire is to serve as a space of multiplicity, not defined by a singular culture or aesthetic, but as a well-spring of socially-engaged art and discourse that invites growth and transformation. If we had to name our dominant aesthetic, we would call it… “slow.”
Mission Arts & Performance Project
In October of 2003, I proposed an idea to a handful of artist friends to initiate a monthly non-permitted festival/happening among our artistic peers, using mostly residential spaces where we could present work without the constraints often required for formal presentation. The desire was to dream up a kind of organic “place making” cultural experience within our own neighborhood where art and performance would not be framed in any way by the market economy. At the time I also began to realize the power of small - thinking/working within contexts that felt more intimate to people. Among the group was friend and artist Adrian Arias who proposed thinking within the metaphor of an emotional map of the neighborhood, and within two months we launched the first Mission Arts Party (MAP) - connecting small space together.
That first experiment of the MAP involved just a few of us; my friend, neighbor, and fellow artist, Luis Vasquez Gomez, who curated his garage, while myself, assisted by artists Veronica Blanco and Martin Arslanian, curated the Red Poppy Art House and the basement of a local cafe, along with a garage by the owner. With just these four spaces, we found a beautiful success. I learned that diligence pays, and by 2005 our small group had grown into a loose collective of 18 artist/street-level curators that would meet weekly to plot out the next happening. For us, the MAP was not an event, but a community. We soon renamed the project the Mission Arts & Performance Project, and it has continued to grow and change ever since, serving as an incubator and launchpad for innumerable artists, projects, and relationships.
CONNECTION-RELATIONSHIP-TRANSFORMATION At the heart of the MAPP was a simple and honest desire for connection. Art can be a catalyst for transformation among individuals and communities, and a feeling of connection is a basic condition for such transformation. The MAPP became a place to go to feel and be connected; artist-to-artist, artist to community members, and community members to one another. My observation is that art is powerful, but the power of relationships goes far beyond and is capable of engendering ever more creative action. This mushroom effect of creativity and relationship stands in contrast to much of our contemporary contexts for experiencing art, where viewers and audiences are often alienated or othered from the art itself - i.e. there is art, and there is you, and there is between lies a gulf of separation. In this regard, it could be said that the MAPP was intended to play a far more archetypal role, more akin to the way the way that communities have gathered together (most often in a circle) across time immemorial, to experience something of the sublime both within and without and beyond the ordinary quotidian routines and struggles.
TEXT FROM THE RED POPPY WEBSITE: Launched in 2003, the Mission Arts & Performance Project (MAPP) is a homegrown bi-monthly, multidisciplinary, intercultural happening that takes place in the Mission District of San Francisco. On the first Saturday of every even month of the year, the MAPP transforms ordinary spaces, such as private garages, gardens, living rooms, studios, street corners, and small businesses into pop-up performance and exhibition sites for a day/night of intimate-scale artistic and cultural exchange among a kaleidoscope of individuals and communities.
While the MAPP was originally conceived, and incubated, at the Red Poppy Art House (then known as Porfilio Is) and included collaborating partners from the beginning, it grew to become its own autonomous festival/happening. Today, the MAPP is organized among homes in the Mission, not coordinated nor supervised by any formal organization. This was the intention from the outset, to see the MAPP take root within our local neighborhood and be adopted by its community of artists and residents. From our tiny performance space we once wondered, how might this intimate kind of cultural experience be expanded to something larger without losing its intimacy? The answer is found in the MAPP. Attend one of the happenings, and you’ll discover that while there are hundreds of people in attendance, the feeling of intimacy is everywhere. The MAPP takes the impersonal nature of urban living and transforms and humanizes it onto a space of relationships and friendly exchange.
It’s important to understand the original impulse out of which the MAPP grew from a group of artists, which was that we wanted to create an event for each other – to share and enjoy each other’s work in an informal and organic manner. But then, also, we wanted to open the door to the public to come and be a part of it – to invite friends and grow a community. And this is the difference – to not present a performance as ‘entertainment’ for the public. Rather, to craft a context and experience of sharing, where the line between ‘artist’ and ‘public’ blurs. This is why, as artists, we did it for no pay (something we’re normally not fond of), because we did it for each other – to create the kind of world in which we wanted to live, if only for one night every two months.
As the MAPP grew in participation, from artists of different aesthetics, different communities, and more locations, the spaces took on distinct characteristics, evolving the MAPP into a rich intersection of aesthetics and communities. From this intersectionality, we discovered that new relationships never ceased to emerge.
Organizationally, across the years, the MAPP decisively resisted formalization, choosing to remain as a volunteer-run, non-hierarchical experiment of community-engaged art happenings. Today, the MAPP has produced over 75 neighborhood-level arts festivals, involving many hundreds of artists and many thousands of attendees. It poignantly demonstrates how an array of individuals, from different cultural communities and artistic disciplines, can catalyze a multi-dimensional arts festival that does not rely on formal institutions, funding support, or commercial marketing. Most significantly, what makes it different from the art walks that are now so popular across the nation, is its activation of the private home (living rooms, garages, yards, studios) within a residential community, such that transform the private sphere into a networked quasi-public cultural commons for creative expression and discourse. It is our way of redeeming ourselves from the over-privatization and commodification of our lives and communities that so often leaves many of us feeling isolated or disconnected and returning a felt sense of community and collective sharing to the neighborhood and city of which we are a part.
Mission Stoop Fest
2013 - 2017
Mission Stoop Fest was conceived as another residential-based neighborhood arts experiment, similar to MAPP, but with an intention to bring greater focus to where and how artists and local community members lives can intersect within Mission District community of San Francisco. The 'where' became the stoop of local homes, and the 'how' was centered around bringing residents and artists together on a shared stoop to interweave stories and artistic performances.
Within urban communities, the front stoop represents a literal threshold between the public and private spheres and is a historic site of spontaneous community interaction and exchange. Before arriving to urban centers, it was often the porches of homes in smaller communities where neighbor interaction took place. Moving from the rural to the urban, the porch was transformed into the stoop. This unique public-private space has become increasingly significant and symbolic in our neighborhoods that are undergoing the rapid processes of gentrification, such that results in a breakdown of social fabric and the loss of communal/neighborhood memory. STOOP represents a heart-set invitation into a space of encounter – where past meets present, where the public meets the private, and where different communities intersect to discover the threads that link us together.
Mission Stoop Fest was produced with various iterations and locations over a period of three years. The success of STOOP was based largely on the quality of Stoop curators/organizers that accepted the invitation to participate. These were artists, organizers, culture workers, and local residents that had an understanding of the neighborhood history of the Mission District and the various struggles that have face its community. The were often individuals with strong networks of fellow artists whose participation they could call upon. You can check the Stoop Fest 2016 video credits for a list of stoop curators/organizers and participating artists.