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Sitting on the dock of the Bay this fall, you can feel the creative tide turning. In San Francisco's waterfront Dogpatch neighborhood, old port warehouses are suddenly overflowing with a new wave of art. The major force of nature at work here is artist Jeffrey Gibson, who has wrapped a massive warehouse inside and out with boundary-breaking art for the new Institute for Contemporary Arts San Francisco (ICASF), which opened October 1.
The ICASF, a nonprofit, commissioned Gibson to cover their brand-new, factory-sized Dogpatch space with hundreds of video-art installations for its inaugural exhibition on the planet's hottest topic: This Burning World. Gibson's past installations have invoked the creative power of queer communities and evoked the All Nations Powwows of his Chocktaw and Cherokee heritage – but ICASF's open-ended commissions make room for sudden breakthroughs on urgent topics. Instead of collecting art that mostly sits in storage like other museums, ICASF is committed to funding experimental, non-permanent exhibits that start timely conversations.
A still from This Burning World, the inaugural exhibition at the ICASF © Jeffrey Gibson for the ICASF
You're free to explore the artwork at ICASF, because there's no admission fee or VIP-influencer guest list here. This non-commercial, non-celebrity model might seem strange – especially in San Francisco, where artists and techies have competed for space and attention since the Gold Rush. But old rivals are now creative co-conspirators in Dogpatch, where venture-capitalist arts patrons Deborah and Andy Rappaport opened Minnesota Street Project five years ago to house subsidized artists' studios and galleries. Today Minnesota Street Project shares ideals, ideas and funders (including Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger) with ICASF and other neighborhood nonprofits – and Dogpatch has never looked more surreally Instagrammable.
Even travelers familiar with San Francisco will discover a strange new world in Dogpatch, where art is being installed between futuristic tech startups, psychedelic music festivals at Pier 80 and Golden State Warriors games at Chase Center. Self-driving cars roam Dogpatch streets alongside concrete collage artist Anne Hicks Sibell, who's collecting urban artifacts for her upcoming show at nonprofit Museum of Craft and Design. At neighboring McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, Clare Rojas is staging a colorful takeover of a stark gray warehouse with pop-art portraits of girls, looming large and in charge. Over at nonprofit Letterform Archive's inaugural show of protest signage, punk 'zine publishers, Adobe software designers and sundry other San Franciscans gather to admire 1960s Black Panther newspapers and 1980s AIDS awareness posters.
Now with the opening of the ICASF, travelers will find fresh inspiration along San Francisco's weirdest stretch of waterfront. If you can’t go until 2023, watch this space: ICASF's first group show from January-May 2023 will be Resting Our Eyes, featuring 20 Black artists celebrating Black women and offering an all-too-brief respite from heavy historical burdens.
All this goes to show that in San Francisco, art isn't some precious collectible in golden frames – it's an unstoppable tide, and watching it roll into Dogpatch this fall is a thunderous thrill. The incoming wave of site-specific artworks could signal a creative sea change, bringing in art as a cultural force instead of just another commodity. Catch it while you can.