Meet the Man Injecting Art and Culture Into San Francisco’s Commercial Corridors
San Francisco is banking on art to help the city’s economic recovery, with community art events frequently pitched as a way to revive neighborhoods still limping from the pandemic.
The city would do well to look at the example set by Lauro Gonzalez and his organization Artyhood, which was founded during the pandemic to create opportunities for local artists and musicians to showcase, sell and perform their work.
He’s become the go-to person that neighborhoods call on to inject color and culture into their commercial corridors, while also bringing in new foot traffic for local merchants.
Originally hailing from Mexico, Gonzalez spent most of his career in marketing and communications and found himself wanting to use his skill set to promote artists. When the pandemic hit and the mood in the city started to turn inward, he saw an opportunity to use art as an avenue to bring people together.
He started by organizing a semi-regular event called ArtScape in late 2020 as part of the Sunset Mercantile farmer’s market.
“I did everything basically from head to toe. I was sweeping the floor, reaching out to the artists, building the website, and designing the ads,” Gonzalez said. “But back then it was basically the only way we could have some entertainment. because it was outdoors and in the middle of the day.”
Soon after, he was contacted by the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association and the Castro Merchants Association to produce similar events by taking advantage of Shared Space permits provided by city officials.
Gonzalez now organizes the bimonthly Valencia Street Art Corridor and the monthly Castro Art Mart. On any given week, Artyhood’s events feature local painters, artisans, musicians, and comedians—and during last year’s holiday season—a sexy elf contest.
“I particularly appreciate his ability to create a fun environment for families with children, introducing them to the vibrant world of LGBTQ entertainers,” said Dave Karraker, the president of the Castro Merchants Association.
To limit competition, Artyhood vendors don’t serve food or alcohol and invite the existing merchants to collaborate with artists by providing sidewalk or parklet space for workshops and performances.
The group is paid by the local merchant associations who are aided by city funds, like a $11.4 million grant program launched by Mayor London Breed and the Office of Economic Workforce Development and dedicated in part to organizing new festivals.
Jonah Buffa, the president of Valencia Corridor Merchants Association, said Artyhood was critical to enlivening the street and supporting existing businesses during the pandemic.
“Activating Valencia street with art and music has kept the street a destination through the hard times of the past two years,” Buffa said.
Artists themselves are required to hold a valid seller’s permit and pay $40-75 to take part in the event, which helps pay the performing musicians and defrays the cost of marketing and promotion.
San Francisco artist CJ Haven said that participating in Artyhood events has provided a sense of community which she was missing as someone who launched her art career during the pandemic.
“The events have opened a lot of doors for me in terms of networking and potential commissions and customers,” Haven said.
Gonzalez is also working with the SF Council of District Merchants Associations—which includes 34 separate merchants associations— to create Art Walk SF. The program, which launched in May in the Outer Richmond, holds arts and music events in a different neighborhood every month. The next three months have scheduled Art Walk SF events in the Outer Sunset, the Excelsior and the Bayview, respectively.
If officials want to continue to seed these gatherings, Gonzalez recommended a boost to funding and streamlined permitting to limit costs, which he said can climb as high as $50,000.
Ultimately, though, he is hopeful that Artyhood’s momentum will continue as neighborhoods and residents continue to see the potential in bringing together people through art.
“At the end of the day it makes me happy to empower artists, we’re trying to build a sense of community, but also a sense of pride in people living their lives as creative people,” Gonzalez said.