Making a Scene: 50 Years of Alternative Bay Area Spaces

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From July 9–August 20, 2015, the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism's fiscal sponsor, SOMArts Cultural Center, presents Making a Scene: 50 Years of Alternative Bay Area Spaces. As a key contributor to the exhibition, the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism will be opening up our Collective Memory: Art & Activism Archive and online History Collection Lab, to support online and offline efforts to gather, organize, and share archival material from Bay Area alternative spaces and this monumental exhibition.

Were you there? Did you make a scene? If you were/are part of an artist-run, alternative Bay Area space, please consider sharing your stories and historical material. Share articles, information, and ephemera for Collective Memory and Making a Scene through our History Collection Lab. Memories, stories, flyers, photos, documents, and shoeboxes welcome!

About the Exhibition

Queer Trans Community Action #2, April 17, 2014. Photo by Sunshine Velasco.
Developed by the staff at SOMArts Cultural Center for exhibition in the summer of 2015, Making a Scene received critical support from the National Endowment of the Arts to spotlight a rich history of Bay Area artist-run, independent and alternative spaces, as well as the pioneers and contemporary trailblazers of social justice who utilized these spaces as a catalyst and megaphone.

Archival material from more than 20 individuals and spaces, and art and installations by more than 30 current and historic Bay Area artists, unite the featured spaces’ disparate, yet overlapping and contingent histories of cultural engagement, community development and social justice.

"In pursuit of a place that honors their unique voices and uplifts their communities, artists and activists create and activate alternative spaces, both physical and temporal. Making a Scene emphasizes how under-invested communities boldly forge places where they can create on their own terms, and, in doing so, interrupt a visual arts paradigm that tyically favors largely white, upperclass commercial epicenters.” – SOMArts’ Curator for Inquiry & Impact, Melorra Green

Featured artists and activists created and activated alternative spaces during a time when the United States was alive with radical movements that uprooted and exposed various levels of police brutality, discrimination, and lack of representation for their communities.

Making a Scene includes a direct call-to-action that invites the Bay Area to contribute to the collective memory of the region’s spaces in two ways, transforming the exhibition into an incubator for exploration, discovery and contribution. In partnership with Bay Area Society for Art & Activism, exhibition visitors can contribute audio, scan newspaper articles, and catalog lost stories and histories to a Wiki Site, “Collective Memory.”

Building on its current partnership with SOMArts, Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) will install a temporary broadcast studio within the exhibition in which visitors can record their impressions of the exhibition, share memories of the community arts spaces on view or just “make a scene.” Community Producers from SF Commons, San Francisco Public Access TV–– which will telecast select portions of the footage–– will also use the space to remotely broadcast select shows from SOMArts. Also on view will be community and artist-produced media from BAVC’s archives, along with select ephemera from the organization’s near 40-year history.

“EcoSexuals” Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens exhibit a 7-monitor “Pollination Pod,” a mobile museum of alternative sexual identity, and activate the gallery with a special performance during the opening event, Thursday, July 9, 2015, 6pm to 9pm. After marrying the Earth, Stephens and Sprinkle have conducted 17 wedding performances in the span of 8 years in 8 countries that included over 3,500 people. They will conduct a “Water Commitment Ceremony” in their Pollination Pod. Bay Area Society for Art and Activism will facilitate contributions to the Wiki Site “Collective Memory.”

Emory Douglas offers revolutionary art created when he worked as the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party from 1967 until the Party disbanded in the 1980’s.

On view will be “Media Burn” by Ant Farm (Chip Lord, Doug Michels, Curtis Schrier, Uncle Buddie), a classic video art piece examining and satirizing the media through performance and spectacle. Sandwiched between clips of real media coverage of the event, the piece includes footage of a 1975 Independence Day performance intervention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in which a pyramid of television sets were stacked, doused with kerosene and set ablaze. Then a modified 1959 Cadillac El Dorado Biarritz, piloted by two drivers who were guided only by a video monitor between their bucket seats, smashed through the pyramid destroying the TV sets.

René Yañez, founder and former Artistic Director of San Francisco’s Galería de la Raza in San Francisco’s Mission District, exhibits archival material as well as an altar installation. Yañez was one of the first curators to introduce the contemporary concept of Mexico’s Day of the Dead to the United States with a 1972 exhibition at the Galería, a tradition he has continued for over 40 years through producing art and curating exhibitions that have galvanized a large community of Latino and Chicano artists.

Sunshine Velasco captures the essence of moments in Bay Area history where young people have “made a scene” in response to numerous cases where black men, women and transgender people’s lives were taken by police officers, security guards or vigilantes. In Velasco’s photography you will find documentation of actions including 3rd World Activists Unite in Solidarity for Black Lives Matter, Million Man March in Oakland, and Queer and Trans Community Action in both the Castro district of San Francisco and downtown Oakland.

In response to witnessing the digital colonization of the people of Central and Southern Africa in 2009, Marlon Ingram conceived, in partnership with Shem Shobin and other creative partners, the “Indigenous Tips for a Modern Now” as a conceptual marketplace that proposes alternative ways of assimilating today’s cellular lifestyle, and avoiding environmental and physical impacts of technology.

Making a Scene was curated by Melorra Green with Sandra Ramirez and Roula Seikaly. Exhibition historical consultation and archival material was contributed by Tom Marioni, Chip Lord of Media Burn, John Held, Bayview Opera House, Mission Cultural Center, and San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery.


Exhibiting Artists

Bay Area Video Coalition

Black Magic Arts Collective

Brittney Cathey-Adams

Lenore Chinn



Duane Deterville

Emory Douglas

Caleb Duarte Piñon

Carmina Eliason

Chelsea Elisabeth

Alyssa Eustaquio

Kathleen McDonald

Nannette Y. Harris-Jones

Taraneh Hemami

Philip Huang

Marlon Sagana Ingram

Lucia Leal

Judith Leinen

Ajuan Mance

Aambr Newsome

Jeremy Novy

Carolina Quintanilla

Sandra Ramirez

William Rhodes

Ross Robinson


Sage Stargate

Zachary Royer Scholz

Refa Senay

Annie Sprinkle & Beth Stephens

Darryl Thompson

Elizabeth Travelslight

Sunshine Velasco

Lexa Walsh

René Yañez

Madison Young

Contributors of Ephemera & Artifacts


African American Art & Culture Complex

Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center

Bay Area Society of Art & Activism

Bay Area Video Coalition

Bring Your Own Art

Circus Center

Crown Point Press

Emory Douglas

Femina Potens

Christian L. Frock

Galería de la Raza

John Held

Invisible Venue


The Living Room Project

Chip Lord

Malidoma Collective

Tom Marioni


Pomo Afro Homos

Queer Cultural Center

San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery

Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

Lexa Walsh

The Upper Room

Exhibition Supporters

SOMArts’ exhibition programs are generously supported by the San Francisco Arts Commission and The San Francisco Foundation, and are sponsored in part by a grant from Grants for the Arts. Making a Scene is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

How to Contribute

This article was created as part of SOMArts Cultural Center's Making a Scene: 50 Years of Alternative Bay Area Spaces. To learn how to add or edit content please visit the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism's online History Collection Lab.