Five new art galleries have recently opened or will soon open in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. The most recent, Bash Contemporary at 210 Golden Gate under the historic YMCA, celebrates its grand opening with a party open to the public on Saturday, June 8 from 6-9pm. Bash Contemporary joins the Lower Branch gallery at 233 Eddy Street under the Drake Hotel, and the recent relocation and expansion of the White Walls gallery to 886 Geary Street. Two additional galleries will open later this year under the renovated apartments at 850 Geary. This growing Tenderloin arts scene is being driven by two factors: art community confidence in the area’s future, and property owners’ willingness to rent to galleries for below-market rents.

Since the 1980’s, many have seen the Tenderloin as a potentially great place for the arts. Its smaller commercial spaces are perfect for galleries, and the Tenderloin has long been home to the Central City Hospitality Arts Program, the Tenderloin National Forest, and to many individual artists.

I have often been told over the years when pitching arts uses that the Tenderloin was “not ready.” That’s why I asked Anthony Luzi, owner of Bash Contemporary, why he opened in the Tenderloin rather than elsewhere.

Luzi, who worked for six years at the Electric Works gallery and production space at 8th and Mission, has been in and around the Tenderloin for thirty years. He sees the Tenderloin as “in transition” and believes it is a “great time to establish a gallery in the neighborhood because I’ll have a footing here when it improves.”

Luzi graduated from the SF Art Institute, whose students have become regular customers at the legendary Aunt Charlie’s on the 100 block of Turk. His gallery specializes in up and coming artists in the “Neo-Surrealist” style, with most having begun as street artists.

Luzi told me that two of the artists currently showing, Nathan Ota and Bob Dob, were street graffiti artists who now teach at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. Luzi sees these street artist backgrounds as another reason why the Tenderloin is a good fit.

Many Bash artists will be at the opening to discuss their work, and if you check out the website above or go to the gallery, you will look forward to hearing more about these very provocative pieces. This is the type of art one would expect to find in the Tenderloin as opposed to more sterile neighborhoods.

The gallery’s hours are Tue-Sat, 11-5, and Bash is located in a beautifully renovated space at the corner of Golden Gate and Leavenworth Streets.

Credit to Property Owners

Bash Contemporary’s entrance into the Tenderloin would not have been possible without the community vision of its landlord, the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC). TNDC could have made more money by renting to a corner market, but realized that the community would benefit far more from an arts space.

TNDC made a similar decision to the community's benefit in recently renting a space at 42 Turk Street to Apex and Holy Stitch! for a co-working art studio and boutique. Apex, also known as Ricardo Richey, is a street artist who creates colorful abstract patterns through the use of spray paint. Part of the Gestalt Collective that engages in collaborative murals in San Francisco, Apex curated mural projects on Bluxome Alley and other districts of San Francisco. Holy Stitch! Denim Social Club teaches youth to be Social Entrepreneurs via the sewing machine, clothing, music and the arts.

TNDC deserves everyone’s thanks for accepting less rent in exchange for bringing exciting new arts uses into the Tenderloin. TNDC recognizes that its tenants and workers benefit from a safer and revitalized Tenderloin, and the organization is providing a great role model for other property owners.

Some owners already get this point. Among them is Dipak Patel, who gave a great deal to Lower Branch as an incentive to open a gallery under the Drake Hotel. Patel also was long the landlord for the White Walls gallery in its former location under the Hartland Hotel on Larkin at Geary. Patel has brought vital, positive uses to his Tenderloin retail spaces, and believes that owners' selection of commercial tenants plays a key role to play in improving the neighborhood.

Many potential arts spaces remain in the Tenderloin, including along Larkin Street. Those interested should respond through feedback to this article.

Randy Shaw is Editor of BeyondChron. He recalls Cadillac resident Craig Lasha setting up an easel on Tenderloin corners in the early 1980’s and painting street scenes as people hovered around watching him work.