500 Capp Street

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February 12, 2016
500 Capp Street

4 Alternative Art Spaces in San Francisco You Need to Visit

A nucleus of alternative art spaces in San Francisco—mostly in the Mission District—continue to energize the underground scene, keeping today’s experimental art community as weird and wonderful as ever. If you're looking for a deep, authentic art experience that’s well off the beaten track, head to one of these respected visual art destinations, which offer plenty of counterculture to explore beyond the (decidedly awesome but maybe you’ve already done it) street-mural tour.

The David Ireland House (500 Capp St. at 20th Street) 
500 Capp Street isn’t just the house where the late conceptual artist David Ireland lived for 30 years—it’s a work of art in itself. The internationally renowned artist embedded this century-old Victorian with site-specific installations, transforming it into an immersive experience that exemplifies the integration of art and life. Newly restored and now open to the public, the house offers changing exhibitions of Ireland’s sculpture, drawings and handmade furniture from its extensive collection and archives. It’s fascinating any time of day, but for a special treat book an evening tour when the home’s many eccentric lighting fixtures illuminate the high-gloss interior walls and live performance activates the art-filled spaces. 

How to get there: Easy walk from either 16th Street or 24th Street BART stations
Hours: By appointment only; tours led by local artists are available Wednesday through Saturday
Admission: General admission is $20; $15 for students and seniors; tickets go fast, so book well in advance.
Information: 415-986-1571

Southern Exposure (3030 20th St. at Alabama Street)
Founded in 1974 as one of San Francisco’s oldest artist collectives, Southern Exposure (SoEx) has grown to become the city’s leading alternative art space and is now among the most cutting-edge and successful artist-run nonprofits nationwide. This indie hub, located in gray warehouse on the corner of Alabama and 20th Streets, consistently turns out exceptional, risk-taking contemporary art in an accessible and intimate environment. Experimental art by emerging artists is a hallmark of its exhibition program. Plan your visit around an evening opening party, which never fails to draw the art community’s top scenesters and intelligentsia. 

How to get there: Short walk from 24th Street BART station
Hours: Vary from project to project, typically Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m., and by chance or appointment
Admission: Free
Information: 415-863-2141

Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (Gray Area Art & Technology Theater, 2665 Mission St., between 22nd and 23rd Streets)
Housed inside an old movie theater, this groundbreaking non-profit institution is devoted entirely to digital creativity and the overlap among art, technology and urban living. Programs lean toward audiovisual performance and projects that “catalyze a lasting art and technology presence in San Francisco, with an eye toward social responsibility.’ In addition to exhibitions, classes and workshops, Gray Area also functions as an incubator. A visit timed to the organization’s annual Gray Area Festival—a four-day jamboree for artists, visionaries and scientists—is a must for anyone interested in the fertile intersection of the Bay Area’s powerhouse tech and culture industries. 

How to get there:  Easy walk from either 16th Street or 24th Street BART stations
Hours: Vary from project to project
Admission: Varies from project to project
Information: 415-843-1423

San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries (War Memorial Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Ave. at McAllister)
If a tour of City Hall is on your agenda, be sure to head across the street to the San Francisco Arts Commission’s official public galleries, nestled in the ground floor of the War Memorial Veteran’s building. The historic structure, recently spiffed up with a renovation, is worth checking out alone. But it’s the newly expanded gallery spaces that have us swooning. They typically showcase several exhibitions and emphasize new commissions that reflect the region’s diversity and distinct perspective within the wider contemporary art landscape. Don’t leave the area without popping over to the gallery’s satellite venue, located just a block away at 155 Grove St., which features interesting site-specific window installations. 

How to get there: Two blocks from Civic Center BART station
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission: Free
Information: 415-252-2244

Photo: SF Arts Commission / 500 Capp Street Foundation

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