Viracocha, a Valencia collective filled with market finds, antiques, music and local art — one musician called it “a creative person’s flea incubator” — is set to close its doors by February, according to a letter emailed by its founder Jonathan Siegel.
“We’re losing a place for artists from varied backgrounds to come together and create,” said musician Isaac Frankle, known to some as “Shovelman” for his guitar rigged out of a shovel.
In a letter to email subscribers and posted to Facebook, Siegel, who is also an actor and poet, wrote, “I’ve thought about this letter for close to a year…I’m leaving San Francisco.”
The letter continues: “I must move on. I have my personal reasons…I have many reasons.”
It is not immediately apparent what those reasons are, though some have speculated that it’s a money issue. Siegel declined to talk for this article. Others made it clear that regardless of the reason, Siegel’s energy will be missed. Tireless and grand, Siegel and his friends hosted an eclectic set of events at the Viracocha Creation Factory including a free university, a lending library and a bone marrow center.
Siegel’s message leaves open the possibility of the store at 998 Valencia getting new ownership and management in Siegel’s absence. To that end, a fundraiser is being held on December 6th, at Viracocha.
“I can’t help but see it in the context of a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood that’s losing its artists,” said Frankle.
Siegel alludes to this in his message, saying that a new business model is being explored that would make the store more sustainable for another person to run.
Aside from its shows and artful market finds, Viracocha has been known for its quirky manner of doing business. Actor and artist Jason Whitacre worked at the store for two years. The pay was often infrequent —friends got paid when Siegel could afford it — the store gave him the freedom to explore his art. That opportunity, he said, was invaluable.
“Jonathan has meant more to me, and continues to mean more to me, than almost anybody else on this Earth,” Whitacre said. “Under his watch, I’ve been able to be part of something unbelievable.”
Siegel created Viracocha in 2010. He envisioned the store as a place to display and sell the old furniture and other finds he enjoyed collecting. More importantly, he saw it as being a haven for the artists he knew in San Francisco.
“I could always go in there and get my creativity sparked,” said singer-songwriter Mark Peterson-Estrada. Musician, Xandra Copora, said that Viracocha is the type of place that makes musicians, poets and other artists feel loved. “Viracocha has always been a kind of artistic refuge from the storm,” she said.
Viracocha has been a labor of love since the beginning. Siegel and other local artists, including Copora, renovated the entire storefront on their own. If you happened to walk by when they were working, Siegel would invite you in, offer you a beer and talk about his plans.
“I helped paint Viracocha in its inception,” Copora said. A wall made up entirely of free wood taken from pallets and the panels of a home was Siegel’s favorite part of the store.
Peterson-Estrada and Copora both credit the store’s vision and creative energy to Siegel’s presence. “Jonathan Siegel [has] raised a family in San Francisco,” Copora said.
Siegel raised his family of artists in the Mission because he saw the district as “the last bastion for what was the true San Francisco.”
While it’s currently unclear whether Viracocha will continue in Siegel’s absence, it’s clear that in his absence, it could not be the same.
“Jonathan Siegel is Viracocha,” said Whitacre.
If you’d like to support Viracocha at it’s December 6th fundraiser, or at some of the other smaller fundraisers to be held in the coming months, be sure to follow them for information on Facebook here, or on Twitter here.