Change happens from the street up. The founders of Imprint City believe that street art can unlock the potential of the Bayview neighborhood’s farthest reaches. They take us through their vision for a global art festival and the means to sustainable, positive change for an area plagued by neglect and the stigma that comes with it. Tyra Fennell, Shawn Bullen and Andrew Casteel bring more than vision, they bring the social capital and tenacity it takes to get ideas off the ground. Tyra commissions murals for the San Francisco Arts Commission, Shawn is making his mark painting murals, while Andrew has co-founded a new Bayview business, Laughing Monk Brewery.
(Interview with Tyra Fennell and Andrew Casteel)
HH: Tell me how the Imprint City idea got started.
TF: I had commissioned Shawn (Bullen) to do a mural and so had Andrew. My vision for an arts festival happened to be in the area where Andrew was doing business, and Sean connected us.
HH: Andrew, talk about how your business (Laughing Monk Brewery) grew alongside the idea of mural making.
AC: My friend Aaron and I had been home-brewing for about ten years and wanted to make it into a profession. So, we started looking around the Bay Area. We decided to base ourselves here (Bayview). For industrial spaces in San Francisco, this is still the most affordable. Then we found out was happening in the neighborhood, and we definitely knew this is where we wanted to be. There’s a bunch of food pioneers out here, the SF Mead Company, Barbara Gratta Wines. After talking with community groups, we knew this place is ready to take off. There’s a sense of wanting to take a chance, a frontier. My roots, before I decided to this: I was a teacher and then I was working for the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition. I knew I’d bring that community sense to the business.
HH: When you talk about community groups, are you talking about a central hub where groups come together?
TF: Well, the interesting thing about Bayview is we’re at the real beginning of what is becoming a cohesive, amazing community. It already has a lot of soul, it’s a family-oriented community, single family homes and a lot of stakeholders which is a rarity in San Francisco, which is very transient. At this juncture, as Andrew said, we have a lot of businesses that are on the frontier, and we have a lot of community groups that are organizing activations to help promote the neighborhood, which in turn brings in foot traffic and as a byproduct helps economic development.
Part of what I do is wrangle everyone together and coordinate the efforts so that when someone’s doing this event, Laughing Monk’s promoting it, All Good Pizza is promoting it, I’m promoting it, so that we can start building momentum and a profile for the community.
TF: One thing Andrew and I both love is art. And, for this community, visual art. We’re working to make this neighborhood the identifiable visual arts district of San Francisco.
AC: Laughing Monk sponsored a mural in Mendell Plaza on the Bishop Building.
We also take part, sponsor events. Just before coming here I posted (on Facebook) that Laughing Monk is hosting a beer pairing with Old Skool Café. We’re donating the beer and the proceeds will go to the Old Skool mission to bring career training to the community.
TF: I’m currently working with realtors who are relatively new and they are launching an “In the Bayview” initiative where they’ll have a website and a television site that will highlight the beauty of the Bayview, and they’re using their own capital to do this. It’ll be a place where people can find out what merchants are doing, what events are going on. It’s really going to be a ground-up swell. I think the city has been waiting for this for a long time and the city can only do so much unless the community is moving the needle, really moving the needle in an organized and cooperative way.
You really have to look at the global landscape and the use of creative capital around the world. (Meatpacking, SoHo, Portobello Road, Camden, Oakland). The majority of the murals on 3rd street I commissioned. Local artists, but we’re looking at making this area a little different by attracting muralists from different cities and potentially different countries.
AC: Just up the road Juxtapoz Magazine for urban art. They’ve been here for decades, and we’re working with them to create an event and attach their name to it to potentially attract a real international draw of artists.
TF: This is an annual festival we’re working on. This end of Third Street, 5800 and Third Street, has been largely underutilized in terms of events and activations. We want to create kind of like a block party on steroids. We are trying to layer this community with different types of activations that will speak to different demographics.
Andrew’s purview is working with the merchants, getting their feedback and buy in Sean is organizing the artists. My role, in addition to fundraising, is coordinating everything. Despite the appearance of these businesses, there are millions of dollars in revenues back here and yet the area looks really bad, we want to get art here, and other nuances, new lighting, getting a bike lane. There’s a lot of new revenue around here and nothing to do.
AC: We are the connecting corridor between what’s building up near Candlestick and what’s already grown on the other end of Third Street. Our concern is that the folks moving into the new residential units won’t feel connected to the rest of the Bayview community.
TF: Not building this area out is not only socially irresponsible it’s economically irresponsible.
HH: What about gentrification, that’s a real fear, especially in an area with such longtime residents. Is that something you think about?
AC: That’s at the front of my mind at all times. We’re trying to get the businesses that have been here for a while to become part of what we’re thinking about so that we can work together. We’re working with Bayview Renaissance that’s putting on social media training for businesses here to show “here’s how social media works when we are all using it together (to promote business).” It’s not one business that draws people out this far.
TF: This is a 7 billion dollar a year city, so if they want to do an injection of funds into efficient organizations making a difference they can. But you have to understand the politics. If the city isn’t acting, the community needs to step up. What I always say is that when the community shows success, the city will come. It’s like making an album, you’ve got to do a lot of work, make your demo, get the word out, reach out to an audience before the label comes to you. That’s what we’re doing now, we’re making our demo. (Haleh)