Youth Open Studios

By Rachel Znernold

Several dozen teenagers were milling about the garage, carefully taping up price tags, straightening the artwork hung salon-style on an array of funky old doors, and putting the finishing touches on large, handmade posters advertising their ArtSpan Youth Open Studios Exhibition. I caught a glimpse of one of the students, tears streaming down her cheeks, as she stared intently at the piece I had helped her frame the night before, a drawing she had meticulously created for over six months, but had been too afraid to show anyone until the day before. “Is everything okay?” I asked her, fearing we had somehow damaged her drawing in the hanging process. “For the first time in my life,” she replied, “I feel like a REAL artist.”

While it may seem simple from the outside, inhabiting the title of “artist” is a very daunting step that often goes hand-in-hand with the vulnerable experience of exhibiting artwork in the public’s eye for the first time. Fortunately, with a little guidance and support, this potentially paralyzing step can become an incredible opportunity for growth and to build confidence as a young artist.

Since its launch in 2014, ArtSpan’s Youth Open Studios program has aimed to do just that, by matching artist mentors like myself with youth groups across the city, providing professional development workshops, visiting working artists’ studios and galleries, and inspiring young artists to work towards their own SF Open Studios exhibition.

As visitors began trickling into the art show, students were glowing from the public’s reaction to their artwork. “Seeing people walk into a garage full of art from our team felt really empowering,” Kedyn Sierra, a Media Arts senior at Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, told me. “Getting to share my art through the ArtSpan show allowed me to appreciate my imagery from a new perspective.”

Over the past few years, I have mentored students from the Boys & Girls Clubs of SF, Buena Vista/Horace Mann K-8, KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy, and Asawa SOTA; each community of students has unique ideas about what it looks like to be an artist in the real world. I coached them to think about art as a form of storytelling and activism and how their voices could affect change in the world. We worked together to write artist statements, curate a professional-looking exhibition, and think critically about modes of presentation and reception.

“Experiencing how people react to your art is probably one of the most important parts of creating,” said SOTA junior Shiloh Atkinson. “Listening to others share their experience with your creation helps you see a broader range of themes that people often connect to and teaches you about interpreting art.”

Throughout the process, I share my own trials and tribulations as a full-time, working artist in San Francisco, while aspiring to be the mentor I wished I had when I forged my own art career as a young art student. Here, I encouraged the students to work together to plan, promote and host their art exhibitions, and they quickly learned how crucial teamwork is to the success of working artists.

“The first classes and art shows I was able to participate in really enlightened my thinking about what it means to be an artist,” SOTA senior Kyra Monterrosa shared. “All of a sudden, I saw examples of how people could really do whatever they wanted with their art. The collaborations I got to participate in gave me a new perspective on how self-driven, young artists can collaborate.”

At the end of the day, every single student who had work for sale at their fall Youth Open Studios Exhibition sold at least one piece, and some students left with several hundred dollars in their pockets. The real reward, however, can be found in the smiles of hundreds of young people across the city who now proudly call themselves “real artists.”

Visit Youth Open Studios sites on Saturdays, 12pm−4pm, during SF Open Studios to support the next generation of artists in San Francisco.

These talented young artists, who create artwork through a variety of youth arts education organizations, have worked closely with ArtSpan’s Artist Mentors to plan and promote their very own exhibitions. See what the future of creativity has in store!

Weekend 1: Saturday, October 15, 12pm–4pm
• Family Art Activities
Hunters Point Shipyard, Bldg. 101 Courtyard

• Youth Performances by the Boys & Girls Clubs of SF
Hunters Point Shipyard, Parcel B, Bldg. 115 Courtyard

• Willie Mays & Tenderloin Clubhouses, Boys & Girls Clubs of SF
Hunters Point Shipyard, Bldg. 101, 2nd Floor Gallery

• Public Glass Youth Artists
Hunters Point Shipyard, Bldg. 101, 2nd Floor Gallery

Weekend 2: Saturday, October 22, 12pm–4pm

• Creative Arts Charter School, 1601 Turk Street

• Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, 673 Baker Street

• UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, 1975 4th Street

Weekend 3: Saturday, October 29, 12pm–4pm
• Creative IQ Art Studio & Gallery, 3423 Balboa Street

Weekend 4: Saturday, November 5, 12pm–4pm
• Buena Vista Horace Mann Community School, 3351 23rd Street

• Columbia Park & Mission Clubhouses, Boys & Girls Club of SF, 450 Guerrero Street

• Kids & Art Foundation, Sports Basement Grotto Gallery,
1590 Bryant Street