Forty years ago, SF Open Studios was started by a group of local artists who wanted to explore new ways of sharing their work with each other and with the public. Frustrated by the lack of exhibition opportunities provided by galleries and institutions in the city, they decided to organize an open studios program in order to show and sell their work directly to the community. In the anti-establishment, do-it-yourself spirit of the era—and like true San Franciscans—these founding members thought beyond the parameters of the traditional art world, and aimed to break down barriers between makers and the public at large. Over the years, SF Open Studios attracted more and more artist participants and ArtSpan was created to act as the umbrella organization to promote, educate, and bolster the artists of San Francisco. Since 1975, ArtSpan has believed in the power of art to enrich lives, and has worked to bring together diverse audiences in appreciation and support of the artists who contribute to San Francisco’s inimitable creative energy.
ArtSpan’s SF Open Studios program has expanded over the years to include over 800 participating artists, making it the largest and longest-running such program in the nation and a celebrated San Francisco tradition. Last year, the program welcomed over 60,000 visitors, ranging from nascent art appreciators to seasoned collectors. Besides giving both emerging and established artists a uniquely equal opportunity to exhibit their work in a public setting, SF Open Studios also educates visitors by enabling direct access to the working environments and creative processes of artists. In addition to SF Open Studios each fall, ArtSpan produces a number of additional programs throughout the year, including the annual SF Open Studios Exhibition at SOMArts Cultural Center; Selections, a biannual juried exhibition that showcases work by selected ArtSpan artists; professional development workshops that help artists navigate the business side of their craft; Art Curious cultivation events; community-building artist mixers; Youth Open Studios; and an annual benefit art auction featuring guest curators from the fine art, fashion, and design worlds. ArtSpan’s Art for City Youth program gives K-12 student artists an alternative platform to exhibit their work, and engages young people and families from around the city through art. The organization’s most recent initiative, the SF Open Studio Super Hubs, connects artists with local businesses that display their work, turning commercial spaces into places for experimentation and encouraging diverse audiences to interact with art in new and surprising ways.
As SF Open Studios approaches its 40th year, ArtSpan is focused on greatly expanding its impact on San Francisco’s art community while effectively responding to the shifting social and economic currents within the city. It is an ideal time to examine the organization’s history, its present identity and ArtSpan’s future role as a leading contributor to San Francisco’s cultural landscape.
Last year, ArtSpan initiated an evaluation process to examine how the organization currently functions within in the city’s arts ecosystem and to help define ways in which ArtSpan can expand and deepen its role in the coming years. The evaluation included audience surveys, interviews with artists, ArtSpan staff and board members, local curators, private collectors, government officials, and other core stakeholders in the community. A primary focus was on exploring ways to expand the organization’s capacity and impact, while ensuring that decisions and commitments made were sustainable. This period of investigation was an essential step towards creating a Strategic Plan that maintains the integrity of ArtSpan’s mission and core values while successfully responding to the changing cultural climate of San Francisco. The Plan outlined below proposes a three-year course of action for ArtSpan to expand its membership and supporter base, increase the visibility of its programming, diversify its audiences, and widen the scope of its involvement with other arts and community organizations through strategic partnerships, with the goal of becoming the pre-eminent, broad-based community arts organization in San Francisco.
ArtSpan is committed to cultivating a vibrant, accessible, and sustainable arts community in San Francisco and to promoting its unique creative energy locally and globally. We champion an inclusive experience of art by providing hundreds of local artists with the equal opportunity to showcase their work and make direct connections to diverse audiences and patrons. We are guided by the belief that artists play a vital role in society and that broad public engagement with their work is essential to defining a new cultural environment for our changing city.
1). We believe that art enriches people’s lives, and that the experience of art should be accessible to everyone.
2). We believe that diversity and a spirit of inclusiveness and collaboration create strong and resilient creative communities.
3). We understand that artists are struggling in the current economic climate and need guidance and support in order to create innovative, sustainable modes of living and working.
4). We recognize the importance of public educational programs in building a sustainable future for cultural producers.
5). We believe that cultivating strategic partnerships with like-minded organizations and supporters in both the public and private sectors is an essential step towards broadening the role of the arts in society.
ArtSpan envisions a San Francisco in which personal connections made through art are a part of everyday life. We recognize that the same economic forces that make for an increasingly prosperous city also generate pressures on artists, challenging their very presence as well as their ability to create new art and explore new modes of thinking and making. ArtSpan believes that it is essential for those of us who value creative freedom and self-expression to come together to advocate for sustainable solutions that recognize the essential work of cultural producers and the fundamental role of the arts in our city.
Over the next three years, ArtSpan aims to position itself as a leader in a coalition of community organizations that speak collectively on behalf of the arts community in San Francisco, lobbying public and private forces to take a strong stance on supporting a sustainable future for the arts and offering a range of services and resources to what we regard as our city’s most precious resource. With this coalition, we will strive to ensure that providing physical spaces for creative expression is a primary focus of public policy.
Above all, ArtSpan will continue to expand its promotion of alternative exhibition platforms, guided by the belief that broad public engagement is the key to a sustainable arts ecosystem.
PRIORITY ACTION AREAS & GOALS
GOAL 1. EXPAND CURRENT MEMBERSHIP & FINANCIAL CAPACITY
ArtSpan’s core community includes over 800 artists who participate annually in the SF Open Studios program, hundreds of additional non-artist patron members, and dozens of private and corporate supporters. In order to grow capacity over the next few years, ArtSpan will focus efforts on expanding and diversifying its membership base by growing the number of artist participants, with a focus on engaging minority artists and younger artists; by raising each non-artist member’s level of financial commitment; and by seeking out new relationships with corporate sponsors.
1) Focus on activating existing members, supporters, and partners in order to increase volunteer capacity and contributions and keep ArtSpan’s core constituency engaged year-round.
2) Solicit feedback; bring the current ArtSpan community together to identify innovative ways to attract new members. For example, establish neighborhood art groups to organize monthly creative events such as drink and draw sessions, film screenings, and artist talks.
3) Facilitate ongoing collaborations between these artist member groups; for example, provide the opportunity for them to curate group exhibitions during SF Open Studios.
4) Work with private and public sector organizations to find open spaces where ArtSpan members can place temporary installations throughout the city year-round.
5) Identify individual or corporate sponsors for high-profile public installations, send out an RFP to members, and publicize the fact that if non-member artists would like to be eligible for consideration, they have to join.
6) Generate and publicize stories of artist members who have achieved greater visibility and success through Open Studios; create an online marketing campaign showcasing these stories.
7) Cultivate relationships with civic organizations that represent minority populations (African-American, Latino/a, Asian-American, LGBTQ) and work with them to create new SF Open Studio opportunities for artists in their communities. Then focus on driving traffic to those locations during the SF Open Studios weekends.
8) Consider the probable necessity of subsidized memberships for artists in underserved communities. Dedicate ArtSpan efforts towards finding individual or corporate sponsors whose donations will cover dues for artists from these populations. Research and apply for any government or private sector grants that would support minority artists.
9) Activate current Benefactors more regularly; seek them out as experts, problem solvers, and significant stakeholders in building the future of the city. Encourage them to promote ArtSpan’s vision and programming in their personal and professional lives.
10) Provide unique experiences for Benefactor members at this level; for example, more regular and curated dinners with artists featuring special performances/interactive experiences, collection tours/Art Curious events, artist talks, and studio visits.
11) Work towards presenting an annual Benefit Gala that expands in programming each year, with an aim to create an event with a higher price point that becomes the go-to art event in San Francisco, attracting not only Benefactors on a per-ticket basis but also companies that purchase entire tables and sponsor the event.
GOAL 2. ENGAGE BROADER AUDIENCES
As a truly citywide organization with SF Open Studio participants in locations from the Outer Sunset to the Dogpatch to the Mission and beyond, and visitors from across the Bay Area and around the world, ArtSpan is uniquely qualified to engage the public across diverse populations and socioeconomic groups.
ArtSpan recognizes the need to interact with audiences in the digital realm, beyond the localized brick-and-mortar experiences of the artists’ studios and satellite events. With the knowledge that an organization’s website and social media platforms are often the first point of access for members of the global public, ArtSpan will redesign its current web presence in order to effectively and compellingly convey its position as a thought leader in the community. Moving forward, a strategic communications and marketing plan will be developed to increase the visibility of ArtSpan’s programming, with the aim of expanding the organization’s constituency and strengthening its influence in the community. Open dialogue around art is an essential aspect of broad public engagement; stakeholders, tastemakers and other influencers need to be writing and talking about ArtSpan via diverse public platforms in order for its programming to best serve the city’s population and truly make a lasting impact.
By focusing its efforts on creating dynamic localized programming, a stronger online presence, and greater visibility in the press, ArtSpan will provide a variety of compelling opportunities for the public to engage with art and San Francisco’s unique creative ecosystem in new and surprising ways.
1) Continually reimagine SF Open Studios in order to make each year different and compelling.
2) Produce more juried exhibitions with attractive cash awards and creative corporate sponsorships.
3) Focus on driving more traffic to SF Open Studios locations by strengthening ArtSpan’s narrative: publicize the fact that ArtSpan artists speak to a wide range of human experience and represent the unique creative identity of San Francisco.
4) Re-brand and re-launch website to increase usability (e.g., mobile-friendly) and information sharing; provide more video-based content.
5) Provide compelling content to social media users: local and national issues of interest, original and syndicated content. Share content from other partner organizations and encourage them to do the same.
6) Increase regularity and expand content of monthly e-newsletters; create incentives for both members and non-members to subscribe.
7) Maintain robust audience feedback mechanisms via on-site and online surveys.
GOAL 3. EMPOWER ARTISTS
ArtSpan provides essential resources to artists and strives to cultivate an inclusive, multicultural, citywide community that supports artists at all stages of their careers. Over the next three years, ArtSpan will expand the educational resources it offers to artists, with the knowledge that independent artists often need guidance and support with business matters. It will also advocate for the preservation and enhancement of artist studio and exhibition space as a critical component of enlightened urban planning and ongoing economic development.
1) Expand ArtSpan business education programming. Increase the quality and relevancy of delivered content and put systems into place to measure their efficacy. Continue to provide member artists with relevant information on best practices in business matters: negotiating pricing, sales, exhibition contracts, consignment agreements; networking with other artists, curators, gallerists, dealers; promoting and marketing; writing and speaking about one’s work.
2) Establish a professional critique and portfolio review program where artists can gain feedback on their work from their peers and influencers in the arts community.
3) Maintain a comprehensive online resource for locating artist studio space in San Francisco and submitting to exhibitions throughout the Bay Area.
4) Become an essential communications resource; keep ArtSpan artists informed about local and national issues of interest by creating a consistent flow of both original and syndicated content.
GOAL 4. EDUCATE PATRONS & YOUTH
Educating the general public on ways to appreciate and support the visual arts is a fundamental step in the creation of a thriving—and sustainable—San Francisco arts community. Over the next three years, ArtSpan will focus on creating a series of special programs to help enthusiasts become buyers, buyers to become collectors and collectors to become commissioners of new work and key donors to larger public projects. ArtSpan will continue to demystify art buying, encourage collecting and discover new ways for patrons to support artists.
ArtSpan supports the next generation of San Francisco artists through its Art for City Youth and Youth Open Studios programs, with a particular focus on connecting with younger residents of underserved neighborhoods. ArtSpan believes that visual arts are an integral part of every child's education and that providing inspiration to San Francisco’s youth is essential to creating a sustainable arts community.
1) Educate the public on the value of collecting by promoting events and art experiences that encourage a lasting bond between artist and patron and support the creation of new work.
2) Provide an online information hub covering the multitude of art events taking place in San Francisco; deliver a steady stream of compelling art commentary via our website and social media channels.
3) Create programs for K-12 students that elevate student creativity, artwork, and presentation to the level of professional artists. Nurture the next generation of San Francisco artists with the skills to be leaders, creators, entrepreneurs, and advocates for the arts.
4) Create a Youth Open Studios Exhibition for K-12 students throughout the city, focusing on students in underserved neighborhoods.
GOAL 5. CULTIVATE STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS & BUILD COALITIONS
Currently, San Francisco artists lack a unified and powerful voice to represent their broader interests in the city. Over the next three years, ArtSpan aims to position itself as a leader in a coalition of community organizations that speak collectively on behalf of the arts community in San Francisco. It will liaise with a broad constituency of cultural producers as well as public and private institutions and corporations, bringing together a unified voice to lobby government entities to ensure that providing physical spaces for creative expression is a primary focus of public policy and to take a strong stance on supporting a sustainable future for the arts.
1) Bring together diverse groups to create a strong voice for art. Mobilize individual artists, collectives, patrons, art professionals, creative non-profits, and government agencies to create a healthy arts ecosystem by increasing the visibility of the arts and championing the economic viability of keeping creative spaces and makers in the city.
2) Create an alliance of arts-focused non-profits, academic institutions and governmental agencies to tackle issues and promote opportunities of common interest.
3) Create an advisory group of selected artists, curators, non-profit leaders, arts writers, and other cultural producers that meets regularly to discuss the state of the arts in San Francisco and identify areas that need immediate and ongoing support.
4) Ensure that ArtSpan becomes a “partner of choice” for city agencies as they implement citywide public art programs by positioning the organization as a leader in the community.
5) Investigate cross-marketing opportunities with like-minded organizations.