Have your art and eat it too: SF's new creative collaborations are a feast for multiple senses.
Art and food make fine bedfellows at the Institute of Contemporary Art SF. (Nicholas Lea Bruno)

Have your art and eat it too: SF's new creative collaborations are a feast for multiple senses.


Innovation and creativity are hallmarks of San Francisco’s food and arts scenes.

But while the two genres have traditionally been presented independently, with food and art separated into distinct lanes, a new wave of collaboration is afoot.

In recent months, several of SF’s more dexterous creative centers, including the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA SF), St. Joseph’s Arts Society, and Four One Nine, have popped up with events that celebrate the two genres simultaneously. And there are plenty more to look forward to.

“I think there has always been a natural connection between the art and food worlds,” says Christine Koppes, curator and director of curatorial affairs at ICA SF. Held monthly on Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm, the innovative pocket-sized museum’s free chef pop-ups invite culinary artists to curate menus that add a distinctive complement to the exhibitions on display in ICA’s galleries.

Visitors encounter the visual art on their way in and out of the museum’s 901 Lounge, where a DJ and visual projections turn food service into a joyful affair. They can also join in on the night’s more extensive curator-led tour. At some events, even the visual artists themselves are present, like at the upcoming Petite Percebes pop-up on February 22nd, at which Jules Butt will be drawing live for the crowd.

Duck liver clams and other dishes from chef Ollie Walleck's Sister, Mother, Crone at The Midway.(Hardy Wilson)

Just a few blocks away from ICA, another institution is venturing into the visual-meets-edible-art sphere. The Midway, best known as a music venue, never intended to stop there. “Our plan has always been to be a creative center for the arts in San Francisco,” says Midway culinary director Chris Fry. “As we’ve grown and there have been some challenges, some highs and lows, the music business has become very mature. But we really want to get back to this idea that we’re a creative center and it’s really all about collaborative efforts."

This month, The Midway has begun flexing those synergistic muscles with Sister, Mother, Crone, a restaurant pop-up featuring the talents of the venue’s new executive chef, Ollie Walleck. The concept—Walleck’s take on the food, warmth, and comfort of a “new Midwestern” meal with dishes like duck liver clams with frites, steak with soppressata conserva, and milk and cookies semifreddo—nods to the chef’s familial roots and the passage of time. Immersive visual projections riff on the same themes, transforming the space into a magical work of art with imagery from castles, alchemy, and the paintings of surrealist Hieronomous Bosch.

In its first run, Sister, Mother, Crone is popping up for dinner every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at The Midway through March 9th, but the experiment has been so well received that they’re already making plans to bring it back again for the month of August, and on occasional weekends. The team is also considering transporting the concept, and others like it, to The Midway’s new art gallery—called simply San Francisco Gallery—across the street from the original venue.

Sister, Mother, Crone pops up at The Midway, 6pm to 10pm Thursdays through Saturdays, through March 9th.(Hardy Wilson)

“Not everybody has the ability to buy art, but coming down and being with friends in a weird, cool, immersive environment? That’s just a fun night out,” says Fry.

Koppes agrees that there’s something special about combining multiple artistic forms into a single collaboration. “Chefs and artists are major pillars of the creative fabric of the Bay Area, and I see our chef programs aligning and enriching the artistic program of the ICA,” she says. At upcoming events, they hope to continue to augment their programming even more with additional elements like performances and drop-in activities.

“With pop-ups there is this sense of something that’s ‘underground,’ something that you might not find at brick-and-mortar restaurants, which really aligns with parts of the SF art scene,” Koppes continues. “It’s a good fit for the ICA SF as an institution that aims to be adventurous in our programming. We’re nimble and thoughtful, so it makes sense that our food and beverage partners would be the same way.”

// ICA SF’s free, walk-in chef pop-ups are held once a month on Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm; other food and drink pop-ups take place Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 2pm (free), and the final Friday of every month from 6pm to 9pm (tix required); 901 Minnesota St. (Dogpatch), icasf.org.

Sister, Mother, Crone pops up Thursday through Saturday evenings from 6pm to 10pm now through March 9 at The Midway; 900 Marin St. (Bayview-Hunters Point), sistermothercrone.com.

A pop-up event at ICA SF's 901 Lounge.(Courtesy of ICA SF)

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