Art Blooms at McKinley Square

A rundown section of Potrero Hill will soon host an art installation created by Downtown High School (DHS) students. With the help of professional artist Daniela Steinsapir and urban designer Berta Lazaro, eight students will install a mural on Vermont Street's retaining wall, near McKinley Square Park, and create a living gallery that will include three dimensional elements and lighting.

The project is supported by the San Francisco Department of Public Works and the McKinley Square Community Association (MSCA), who hope it will help clean up an area that's been marred by vandalism and neglect. For the student-artists it's a chance to fix up their own backyard: DHS is located on Vermont Street, just a few blocks from the project site.

Starting last fall the students have met weekly to brainstorm potential art elements to install. After much discussion, the group agreed that the project's themes should include love, family, community, and the idea of a heart "pumping" the City. "The students are really exited...they have a lot to say," said Steinsapir. According to Steinsapir, the project has helped the participating DHS students feel that their ideas have a place in the world. This sense of validation will inspire them to challenge themselves and continue to create.

Steinsapir and her co-teacher Lazaro became involved with DHS through Southern Exposure (Soex). Based in the Mission, Soex is a nonprofit organization that's been promoting art and education for thirty-six years. DHS and Soex first started working together in 2008, when Tara Foley, Soex's Artists in Education Program Manager, set up an after school print making class at DHS. After two successful semesters, Foley decided to take on a more ambitious project, and hired Steinsapir and Lazaro to lead the McKinley Square public art effort.

According to Foley, DHS students are a perfect match for the project because the school relies on an innovative, project-based curriculum that's designed to engage students who struggled in more traditional classroom settings. The school enrolls students from throughout San Francisco, but many of the students involved with the project live close to the installation site.

Seventeen year old DHS student Miguel De La ‘O said he was inspired to participate in the project because he drives by the site every day, and wants to make the area more beautiful. De La ‘O believes that public art projects not only improve the appearance of a neighborhood, but also contribute to the well being of nearby residents.

Josselin Gomez, a seventeen year old DHS student, said she's excited to take part in a project that will enliven a neglected part Potrero Hill. "We would all benefit from having more art in display in public spaces because we don't all have time to go to a museum and enjoy art," she said.

The project may also serve to improve the relationship between DHS students and Potrero Hill residents. The two groups haven't interacted much since the school moved to the Hill from its Bartlett Street location four years ago. Some Hill residents suspect that DHS students may be responsible for neighborhood graffiti. Cris Rys, MSCA's vice-chairman, said he hopes that working on the project will encourage the students to feel like they're a part of the community.

The installation will be completed in May and will remain in place for two months.

By Mike Stillman



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