The Excelsior District on the outskirts of San Francisco is now what many say the Mission District was 30 years ago; a diverse neighborhood full of working families, deep cultural identities, with a healthy community of artists and creators. If you’re like me, you discovered the district some 10 years ago, while getting lost outside the Balboa BART Station on your way to see the Diego Rivera mural at SF City College, and then you ended up eating delicious Filipino food and drinking San Miguel beer for several hours on Alemany Street.

Regardless of whether you’re just discovering the Excelsior or if your family has lived there for generations, there is great news: ArtSpan has won a long-term lease, and they are going to take a vacant building with a storied past and create a beautiful art center.

The new ArtSpan Onondaga Art Center (at 45 Onondaga Avenue pronounced on-uh n-daw-guh) will have 10 artist studios at affordable rates, community space, ArtSpan offices, and monthly professional development workshops that teach artists how to manage the business side of being a creative person. The new center will also host youth art programs, community and art events, and of course, ongoing artist exhibits for everyone to see.

There is a lot of work to be done before the center opens. The New Deal era building was originally built as a public medical facility during the Depression, and it needs a good deal of work before it reopens. Luckily ArtSpan has a lot of amazing programs to unfold in the meantime. Youth Art Exchange and ArtSpan have teamed up to occupy a vacant storefront on the Mission Street Corridor. This ‘xSpace’ project takes unused space and turns it into a youth and artist-driven interactive art-making exhibition space. The new art pop-up will be at 5137 Mission Street, formerly Chuck’s Meat Market, where volunteers and local artists have repurposed a once-empty storefront into something full of creativity and life.

ArtSpan’s Art-in-Neighborhoods program teamed up with longtime resident Cumaica Coffee to host art exhibitions and openings this year, including a leatherworking demo by Paul Jansen of Paul City Goods, a sound installation by Alex Abalos, a Rara Haitian Dance performance by World Dance Fusion, and live poetry writing by Silvi Alcivar. With programs like this, ArtSpan and its community partners plan to keep local artistry flourishing in the district for years to come.

At the new Onondaga Art Center, ArtSpan is also going to help restore a mural by legendary artist and labor organizer Bernard Zakheim. Not only was Zakheim a major contributor to the incredible murals in Coit Tower (1933) and at the Onondaga building (1934), he also helped create the San Francisco Artists and Writers Union, the very same group that lobbied the Federal Government during the Great Depression and got them to fund arts projects and artists across the country, a program that eventually became the Public Works Administration. Today, with a grant from the SF Arts Commission and donations from you the public, ArtSpan will restore and preserve Zakheim’s mural, along with a legacy that values and nourishes the working artist.

I can’t think of a more appropriate mural to anchor this new art center, a space that promises to keep and grow a tradition of community and artistry that is inseparable from the fabric of San Francisco and the city’s history as a haven for art and creativity.

Get a taste of ArtSpan’s growing presence in the Excelsior! Visit the Art-in-Neighborhoods exhibition at Cumaica Coffee, 4726 Mission Street. Explore artists’ studios in the neighborhood on Weekend 3 of SFOS, including a Youth Open Studios exhibition at xSpace, 5137 Mission Street, on October 27.

To help ArtSpan raise funds to complete the new art center and continue San Francisco’s tradition of being a welcoming home to art and artists, visit

Alex Mak is the Managing Editor of the website, Broke-Ass Stuart, dedicated to promoting good things in San Francisco.