Rededicated: the Société des arts de Saint-Joseph wants to become a cultural power


Paralyzing acrophobia can be almost fun, like a horror movie, even when its closest point of reference is a famous thriller. Climb the spiral staircase inside one of the twin spiers at the top Saint-Jthe church and the oseph complex at SoMa gave a recent visitor a quick bout of dizziness, but it was mostly imagining people having a cocktail party going up to this area with a drink in hand and two in their stomachs. Highlighted by two pink windows, the multi-storey brick-walled hall above street level is very different from the belfry in which a blind nun emerges from the shadows at the highest point of Vertigo, sending Kim Novak to his death.

God have mercy. The Hitchcock movie may be slightly overrated, but this edifice is not. The church, built at the dawn of World War I, was desecrated decades ago and added to the National Register of Historic Places. It languished in the historical equivalent of developmental hell, slowly falling prey to entropy, the gold on its steeples peeling off – until last year, when it became Society of Arts Saint-Joseph, a subscription-based cultural organization with grandiose and slightly transgressive ambitions to become a local powerhouse for contemporary art.

Inside this ancient, century-old place of worship, staff tend to congregate in one place. Although the floors have radiant heat, the building can be drafty and the camaraderie is all the more enjoyable. Around a tea in a corner of the ground floor framed by flowery curtains and a still life in chiaroscuro, director of the foundation Aimee The Duke explains how the patron-subscriber system of Saint Joseph works. She compares it to opera or ballet, where annual donations underpin the programming, and calls the founding subscribers of about 20 “like-minded people in the arts or who support art” who nominated 20 other artist-subscribers.

“If they contribute to the foundation, it receives funding, and that’s what drives a lot of our artistic programming,” she adds. “So these two pillars grow together. “

To access this seating area near the top of one of the bell towers, you have to carefully climb a vertiginous spiral staircase. (Peter Lawrence Kane)

Anyone can apply, and while there are no price points for different levels of support, Le Duc adds that Saint Joseph’s is developing its own version of Young Ambassadors and engaging nonprofits established elsewhere to. establish an artist-in-residence program. Yet on paper this may sound more DeDe Wilsey than Monique Jenkinson, something opulent enough to draw in the readership of the The Nob Hill Gazette south of Sutter Street from time to time, attracted by the Darwin, Sinke and van Tongeren the taxidermy of ursines or the trio of horse heads with cannonballs for the eyes.

But while relatively well connected institutions like the American Conservatory Theater socket fundraising gala Here, who can bring in profits in the highest six and seven digits, Le Duc is adamant that Saint Joseph is not a playground for the One Percent. She, with the director of the company Sarah O’Rourke and director of events Lizaveta Sergeyev, emphasizes that local programming is important to the mission. A Space Veteran from the Mission Gallery South exposure and the SF Arts Commission GalleriesThe Duke said Fulk hired her in part because of a desire to bring art into space and make it widely accessible, and not to reinforce exclusivity.

Noting that the five-month-old organization is “still in its infancy”, Le Duc mentions the founding artist-subscriber. Catherine wagner, whose altarpiece in photograph on vinyl draws the eye to the place where the priests once presided. A collection of busts, it performs a sort of trompe-l’oeil reinvention of the College of Cardinals electing a Pope from a long time ago. On the mezzanine is the new San Francisco location of Galler carpenter workshopYes, or Vincenzo De CotiisThe show “Ein Plein Air” is presented there until June, presenting almost functional objects made from basalt and recovered resins.

One of the many nooks on either side of the Saint-Joseph nave. (Peter Lawrence Kane)

“There will always be a public opportunity to come and see the work, to come and hear the conferences,” adds Le Duc, observing that the Company has a good working relationship with the Presidio Knolls school next door and with organizations that have nonprofit memberships that allow them to organize events or meetings in the church. Although they are not “aligned with the mission”, Le Duc emphasizes Dena Beard of The laboratory as an example of how to stay true to San Francisco’s most forward-thinking values. She escorts her visitor all around, from the Assouline Book Fair and the apothecary’s shop in the church narthex to the sunny meeting space in the old sacristy next to the altar. As an event space, it is undeniably fabulous.

“Not only do you experience visual art, dance and performance, but you also drink an amazing glass of wine in this beautiful space, and it all really comes together in our motto: every moment counts”, declares The Duke. “You can really take this one way or another. I can often be very cynical about things, but I have to say that after working for so long in the nonprofit arts administration, it is ‘is a model that could make a difference.… Maybe we can pack it up and distribute it to other cities, and it can be a new model for the way we support the arts.

The Romanesque revival can be read as more squatted and more fortress-like than Gothic churches, more of a rural abbey than a cathedral, but the light streaming through Saint Joseph’s windows on a clear afternoon takes in a heavenly hue. (The northwest-southeast orientation of the nave ensures plenty of sunlight.) And the sometimes heavy but generally skillful hand of Foulques is everywhere, so that the seams of the mezzanine don’t line up flush with the walls. legally protected. (If you want to “put a thumbtack in there,” says Le Duc, “you need the approval of the Home Office. So they built the mezzanine to be a free-standing room.)

Darwin, Sinke, and van Tongeren are a design duo that cite the 19th-century biologist as their third partner, and their flag-bearing lions could become a permanent installation in St. Joseph. (Peter Lawrence Kane)

Like the recent reconditioning and refurbishment of a cheerful West Oakland home As evidenced by this, minimalism is the “language of gentrification. “When it comes to stripping off a shiny paint and banishing adornment from a century-old house to make it palatable to people with more fear than taste, it’s true. But the underlying problem is more complicated than that, and not just because IKEA’s trend for minimalism is bland, affordable, fueling gentrification, and ubiquitous all at the same time.

Fulk’s aesthetic is the classic definition of maximalism, and his work appears in high-end places like Battery Where Leo’s oyster bar (or the vacation home sadly named “Halfway House” in an exclusive development in Big Sky, Mont., called the Yellowstone Club). It’s exuberant and cultured and very cheerful. While the bulk of St. Joseph’s patrons will be richer than the largely Filipino parishioners who celebrated Mass here decades ago, it is also true that artists and designers are quite capable of owning of multiple dimensions, to have commercial work subsidizing passion projects that may or may not always be in pencil, and to save beautiful spaces from the tyranny of open cabins and the other overwhelming prerogatives of optimizing footprint squares. Saint-Joseph may not appeal to everyone, but it can hardly be called a cynical, money-hungry company. He could very well achieve his ideals.

Even slight deviations from progressive orthodoxy could result in protesters on the sidewalks – see Manny is on 16th street – and no organization can turn off the tap of wealth pouring into the Bay Area. Moreover, a wait and see attitude, if used to suspend judgment indefinitely, can let the rich and powerful do whatever they want. At the same time, what would the Bay Area Theater be without all this “generous support” from?Am I like Wells Fargo and Chevron? At the base of the other Saint-Joseph bell tower hangs a long, heavy rope sheathed in purple fabric. Shoot it and you will ring the church bells. Once used to remind sinners of divine judgment, they are now reserved for secular purposes like fine art appreciation while sitting on cushions far more comfortable than any bench.

Society of Arts Saint-Joseph, 1401 Howard St.,

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