Barry McGee (Photo by Cheryl Dunn, via Huck)

Barry McGee Headlines the Launch of New SoMa Street Arts Project Sites Unseen

San Francisco's SoMa has long had a vibrant arts scene, with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Contemporary Jewish, Museum, and the SF Museum of Modern Art anchoring the neighborhood amid a constellation of smaller museums and independent galleries. With the opening of the expanded and architecturally marvelous SFMOMA, as well as the promise of more public artworks coming to Transbay Center—all resting beneath the nighttime twinkle of Leo Villareal's Bay Lights—the 'hood is shaking up the art world on the international level. Now, the area's arts boom continues with the launch of Sites Unseen, a nonprofit project aimed at bringing surprise and delight to pavements less pounded—SoMa's many but oft-overlooked alleyways.



In an effort to make art not just more accessible to the public but also a part of our city's daily fabric, Sites Unseen, sponsored by the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District, will bring art installations and performance pieces to the underused alleys surrounding Yerba Buena, including Annie, Clementina, Jessie East, Lapu Lapu, Minna, Natoma, and Shipley Streets. The project is an expansion of the award-winning Yerba Buena Street Life Plan, which outlined a vision for redefining public space in the area.


Sites Unseen will make its debut on Sunday, October 9th with its first installation—several colorful pieces by the Bay Area's own renowned graffiti artist and painter Barry McGee—on the exterior of the Moscone Center Garage. If this seems like an unlikely location to display the works of an artist who has been celebrated in the halls of SFMOMA and Venice Biennale, well, that's the point: Sites Unseen, according to its website, hopes to amplify "the potential for discovery and new experiences off the proverbial beaten path."


Sunday's launch event will be open to Bay Area art lovers of all ages, and will also feature temporary participatory programming by two local artists: Remekon O'Arwisters, a social artist and founder of Crochet Jam; and Leah Rosenberg, the pastry chef/artist whose works are brightening up such SF restaurants as The Progress and State Bird Provisions. Rosenberg's project will be something of a culinary performance piece, with servers "carrying colorful cakes that will echo McGee's artwork," she explains. Los Angeles-based artist collective Fallen Fruit—known for its Public Fruit Jams and Nocturnal Fruit Forages—will also participate in the day's festivities.

Leah Rosenberg's artful pastries.(Courtesy of the Artist)

Sites Unseen's total programming will be unveiled in four phases through 2018, and will include permanent and temporary installations from local and international artists, including the New York–based African American visual artist Hank Willis Thomas, who works primarily with themes related to race, identity, history, and popular culture (his art has been shown at the Oakland Museum of California).


"The alleys provide a platform for both local and national artists at all career stages to showcase work within the curatorial framework," said Sites Unseen cofounder and SF Arts Commissioner Dorka Keehn in a statement. "We want to help shape these public spaces as destinations for sustained collaborative discourse, innovation, and discovery for everyone, and offer opportunities for exciting performances and happenings that will bring people to the alleys again and again."


Post-launch, look for an upcoming installation by Rosenberg on Natoma Street; a series of plaques, by Bay Area "native/captive" Jenny Odell, that unearth hidden narratives of the neighborhood; and, next year, a large community meal in Lapu Lapu Street by SF artist Hunter Franks. // Sites Unseen launches with a special public event on Sunday, Oct. 9, 3-6pm at Moscone Center Garage, 255 Third St. (SoMa), sitesunseen.org.

A billboard artwork by Hank Willis Thomas, whose work will appear at Sites Unseen in 2017.(Courtesy of Sites Unseen)