Dorka Keehn

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January 10, 2017
Dorka Keehn

How I See San Francisco: Artist Dorka Keehn

Dorka Keehn is a jack of all trades, the personification of what it means to be a San Franciscan, both in the ephemeral and perpetual sense. She is the Chief Muse of Keehn on Art, where she has collaborated with artist Brian Goggin on the iconic North Beach installation, Language of the Birds, and most recently Caruso's Dream in the SoMa neighborhood. Both are showcased extensively as a part of Illuminate SF. When Keehn's not creating art, she serves as chair of the Visual Arts Committee that commissions artwork pertaining to the Public Art Program, and reviews and approves all art in the Civic Art Collection and the Art Commission Gallery. On top of all of that, Keehn co-founded Sites Unseen, a project where she is partnering to bring dynamic arts programming to seven underused alleys in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena neighborhood in the form of permanent and temporary artworks, performances, screenings, and other happenings. This is how she sees San Francisco.

Describe your perfect day in San Francisco.
I'm not an early riser and like to leisurely wake up and read The New York Times (I’m still a New Yorker at heart) in bed. Then I'd go to Eddie’s Cafe with friends for brunch. It’s a great little greasy spoon and Helen, the owner, has a huge collection of coffee mugs. She always seems to pick the right one for each person. Depending on the weather, we’d go for a walk along the beach at Crissy Field or to yoga at Astayoga, one of the few ashtanga yoga studios in the city. If I was feeling really decadent, I would book an appointment at Imperial Spa for a scrub down and massage. You leave there feeling reborn. After a little nap, I’d head out to a couple of art openings. The new Minnesota Street Project is a fantastic new venue for galleries. Finally, dinner. There are too many good restaurant options to list, but Piccino is a tasty place to end up if you do go to the Dogpatch neighborhood.

What should every visitor to San Francisco do at least once?
Take a walk through the Presidio and see Andy Goldsworthy's three site-specific installations. They all make use of trees felled as part of the Presidio’s reforestation and park management efforts: the monumental yet ephemeral Spire (2008), the sinuous Wood Line (2011), and the imposing, architectural Tree Fall (2013). While Spire articulates the space into which trees grow, and Wood Line investigates the evolving relationship a tree has with the ground, Tree Fall explores what occurs below ground.

What’s your favorite place to take a photo or read a book?
Anywhere you can see the Bay Lights, the 25,000 LED light installation by Leo Villareal on the Bay Bridge. I also love going to City Lights Bookstore to sit in a corner with a couple of books of poetry and then going out to the corner and visiting the artwork Language of the Birds, which honors writers and poets who have lived and worked in North Beach.

Where do you indulge your artistic side in San Francisco?
I am fortunate to work in the arts and engage with artists almost every day. My niche expertise is in large scale public art. I enjoy brainstorming with artists that I’m commissioning, helping them to think big and to use new materials, as well as how to fabricate and install often complex projects. My clients are developers and architects, so I like opening up their world to the arts and the possibilities for commissioning artwork that can transform not only their building but also the neighborhood and the city. I also feel incredibly fortunate to have been appointed by the Mayor to Chair of the SF Arts Commission Visual Arts Committee, which commissions all the public art for the city including the airport. However, my greatest joy is when I get to collaborate with my art partner Brian Goggin on our own public art. 

What’s your favorite event that happens in San Francisco?
The Day of the Dead procession which ends up at the altars in Garfield Park. If you’re going to go, participate and dress up!

Where and what would you choose for your last meal in San Francisco?
One of my favorite older restaurants--and one of the few that was opened late when I first moved to San Francisco 25 years ago--was Bix. The ambiance, food and drinks are still great after all these years. I would have champagne, oysters and steak tartare. 

Which restaurant is still on your list to dine at in San Francisco?
I’ve yet to make it to Black Cat or the new Tartine.

Who do you follow to keep up with San Francisco news?
San Francisco Business Journal

Any last final advice for travelers in San Francisco?
Check out the new Barry McGee six-part mural on the Moscone Center garage, which is part of Sites Unseen (, a project to activate alleys with public art in the Yerba Buena neighborhood. Take a little extra time at the airport to walk around and experience the great art commissioned by the SF Arts Commission through our city’s 2% tax for the arts and also the wonderful exhibits by the curatorial team at SFO. It’s the only airport in the country with an accredited museum!


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