When I decided to apply to intern at Galeria de la Raza, located in the Mission District of San Francisco, I knew generally about their aims and some of their previous exhibitions. Through the USF Art History/Art Management program, I was able to secure an internship.
My interview was nerve racking. I had never done a real interview before, except for a very casual one for a student assistant job that I had pretty much already gotten. Instead I had used personal connections and relatives to get jobs, never necessitating a formal interview. The day of, I had nothing to wear! I hiked across the park, literally almost running, to my cousin’s house in the sunset to find some dress pants. Luckily, she had some, and they fit! I hurried home, got ready and got on the 45 minute bus ride to Galeria from my house. I have a bad habit of getting to places 20 minutes early, so then I had to awkwardly burn time for 15 minutes while I waited to be respectably early. When I walked in, I was directed to Jenn, their community relations director, whom I would be working with as my prospective boss. I won’t say I nailed it, but I answered adequately, y que suerte!, got the position for the fall. This was in June, so I had some waiting to do. As far as expectations, I wasn’t sure what to think. I was excited about possibilities to learn about actually curating a show and how to handle art work. As Galeria is a community hub, I was also was excited to see their role and be a part of the history that was been around for 40 years.
Interning so far has been an amazing glimpse into a non-profit and a gallery. My daily routine includes creating blog posts (which I have never done so that’s a bit of a challenge to keep interesting), updating their website, gallery sitting (which could be boring but I have other project to work on), and working on said projects. Galeria is having a community forum on Saturday September 22nd, to share with the community their upcoming structural changes. They are implementing two new programs, including an artist in residency program and a youth program. This forum will be very interesting: it is going to open up to community members to share their opinions and suggestions. As an organization that has been around for forty years, creo que people are going to have a lot to say. Jenn, my supervisor, has been getting all ramped up as well as Ani, the interim executive director, and Adriana, the curatorial manager. Nobody knows if the community of going to have a positive response or a basically crazy reaction to all of our changes; it is creating a nervous atmosphere that I imagine will be amplified on Saturday. However, I am confident we can pull it off! I even got to meet a board member who was in the office today.
Luanda is Galeria's bilingual open mic night that occurs every month on the full moon. I worked the first one of the season, and never having been to an open mic night, wasn't quite sure what to expect. First, I met Sandra, the curator and director of the event. 4 feet 11, she was a crazy animated ball of energy. We set up and 'set the mood' by placing yellow stuff over some of the lights, figuring out where to turn some off and where to point others. I was assigned to work the door. Easy enough right? Wrong. The sign up list for the 10 open mic spots (plus 2 pre determined main artists and Sandra) already had over ten people waiting when I allowed people to start at 7:15. After a small dispute, me in the middle (ahh!), everything was settled. I was immediately surprised about how many people came. The event was $5 and we easily reached 40 people. Sandra got up and introduced herself, commanding the attention in the room with her compelling voice and energy. She did the first reading, a poem she wrote. Applause exploded after. Next, she went through some of the open mic contestants, never going in order but switching it up. I heard some great stuff, was very impressed by everyone. The 2 main artists read in the middle, one (will look up names) some poems and the other pieces of short stories he had written. Throughout the entire event, everyone was respectful and attentive. The most impressive person to me was Sandra. Her amazing voice and animation literally had people at the edge of their seats. After working another at the end of October I may be inspired to sign up!
On Saturday September 22nd, Galeria had a community forum. They invited members and board members to come give their input on the many changes that we are going through right now (new staff, additional programs such as a youth program and artist in residency space). Members of the community were asked to give their inspiration for being involved, who the community Galeria serves is, the biggest problems facing Galeria, and their vision for the future. I was surprised at some of the anger that some members had. My staff members had anticipated this and had been nervous for the event for weeks. Luckily, everything went smoothly in terms of logistics. One specific moment I recall was that a community member shared "Galeria needs to stay brown. This is a Latino and Chicano organization and needs to stay that way." Of course, I felt slightly personally offended since I was sitting right next to her and I’m clearly white.....I also thought it was interesting because I am here volunteering and giving up my free time to help this organization, why shouldn’t I be included? Another main issue was about hipsters taking over, when I considered several of the people who shared this concern to be hipsters! Oops! Afterwards, we celebrated with some champagne and relaxing with the staff. All of the hard work that we had put into creating this event (including my own) was not wasted, as we got some really valuable feedback from our community!
My most exciting experience lately was the opportunity to handle, help design, and install a commemorative show at Galeria for Dia de los Muertos. I helped Adrianna pick out frames, measure them, framed two huge prints for the show (a lot harder than you would think), destroying all of my fingernails in the process, painted the display room and prepped the lighting. When I first started installation and actual art handling was something that I really wanted to learn about, so this was an awesome experience. On Dia de los Muertos, I got to spend time with the executive director, Ani, and organize the final presentation of the room, including carnations and candles. It ended up smelling and looking amazing. Given the significance of Dia de los Muertos to the Mexican American population in San Francisco, I felt honored and blessed to be a part of a show that commemorated three artists that were a part of the community.
As another part of Galeria de la Raza’s involvement in Dia de los Muertos, they hosted several sugar skulls workshops. Sugar skulls are a traditional part of altar decorations and treats given to kids to decorate. The workshops were held in the Studio 24 portion of Galeria, and many classes from local schools came to participate. On Halloween, we passed out candy and a tiny sugar skull that had been decorated by kids. For the next two weeks following, a steady trail of kids dragging their parents in to find their owl or skull filed into Galeria. Seeing this steady flow of visitors and the excitement that Dia de los Muertos created definitely impressed upon me the importance of the holiday and the Galeria’s role in the community as a leader. I was also impressed that the businesses surrounding Galeria had candy and treats to distribute to young people!
Galeria de la Raza has a historic billboard on the side of their building. They gained the rights to the billboard in the 70’s and from then on various artists have taken their turn to decorate the board with their artwork. It has decades of work, layer after layer because the new billboards are put on top of one another, that covers so many political themes and controversies. Unfortunately, because of the public nature of the placement of the space, the ‘community members’ let Galeria know what they think of the current work. In recent years, graffiti has become a huge problem. Despite the beautiful pieces that get put here, it gets tagged quite frequently. The other day while at Galeria, I participated in removing the tagged piece by wetting down the wall and using scraper to remove the piece. Rye Purvis, the artists who had done it, replaced it with a new graffiti style piece in honor of the Day of the Dead. It really reminded me of the importance of physical work: that our actions always affect someone, somewhere.
Throughout my time at Galeria, the transparent importance of community organizations in the Mission and Latino population in San Francisco has become obvious. It made me think about other organizations such as the Mission Cultural Center, Precita Eyes, the Woman’s Center, and countless other non-profits that give their time and money to the advancement of Latinos in so many sectors of life. Galeria has been around for 40 years; it is paramount that we as a community continue to support organizations such as these so that we may continue to grow and learn.