In SF, art still thrives — and celebrates its history — at The Farm

Maureen Shields in her studio at The Farm.

It’s been 30 years since farm animals roamed a patch of land in the southeast corner of the Mission. But the place on San Bruno Avenue, tucked into a pocket of a freeway intersection, is still known as The Farm, and it hasn’t lost touch with its offbeat, artistic history.

That past life and present creativity will be on display this weekend during open studios, when the artists who work in studios on the property will open up their spaces to visitors.

“Artists work in real spaces, make real products, and are real people,” said poet and Farm artist Silvi Alcivar. She wants people to “remember and be aware that there are still artists working in San Francisco. We haven’t all gone to the East Bay.”

New art, old posters and photographs will adorn the walls, a reminder of what The Farm once was: An exemplar of urban agriculture, sure, but it played host to dance classes, a mime troupe, a small school, a theater and visual artists for the roughly 12 years of its existence between 1974 and 1987. Technically called Crossroads Community, the nickname “The Farm” ended up sticking.

Art at The Farm using its original logo, found on a matchbook.

Maureen Shields holds an poster for the Battle of the Harmonicas that once took place at The Farm.

Joan Holden, director of the San Francisco Mime Troupe at the time, remembered The Farm in its early days in a documentary collecting memories of the artist haven.

“It was this little spot of nature, this little eruption of nature in the middle of the concrete jungle, proving that life could still exist there,” she said at the time.

It drew the attention of some of the Mission’s now best-known artists, including René Yañez and Dogpaw Carrillo, among others.

When the organizers came up short on rent, they started hosting punk shows that packed the place to, and past, capacity — estimates indicate as many as 1,000 people crammed into a space meant for fewer than 300.

The shows reportedly attracted big names, such as the Dead Kennedys and Faith No More, but weren’t able to save The Farm in its Crossroads Community form.

Toward the end of 1987, a dispute between the property owner and the leaseholders who ran The Farm ended in eviction. The animals were moved out, and the lot it morphed into quieter, tucked-away studios and businesses — including, at various times, a motorcycle shop, a recording studio and a few apartments.

This weekend, new art will be on display alongside documentation of what once was.

“We wanted to celebrate the memory of the property,” said Maureen Shields, a collage artist who has a studio at The Farm.

An artist prepares her studio space at The Farm for open studios. Photo courtesy Silvi Alcivar.

Shields dove deep into the task at hand, meeting with Andy Pollack, who was the last person at The Farm’s helm.

Pollack has preserved art, posters and other memorabilia from its heyday, and Shields curated some of it for open studios.

Now, the artists at The Farm and Goforaloop, a gallery and studio space on the same lot, are putting themselves on the map — literally. As part of ArtSpan’s programming, they show up on the map, in the guide and in the promotional material for open studios.

This is the second time The Farm has participated in ArtSpan’s open studios events, which happen across the entire city over the course of several weekends. Seventeen of The Farm’s artists will participate.

“Every year, we get more and more people roped into our madness,” Shields joked.

Open studios allow people to connect to the creators of work they might be interested in, maybe buy some work and discover something new.

Paul Jansen, for example, is excited to show people leather under a microscope. He is a leatherworker, with an emphasis on sustainability from start to finish. He’s interested in every detail — from the pastures the cattle grazed on to the joining methods he uses in his products — and in sharing those details with visitors.

Past open studios, Jansen said, have offered “an opportunity to learn.”

But it also is an opportunity to show people that even in San Francisco, art is still going strong.

“It’s important for people to see that it works, and how it works,” Alcivar said.

“This gem has not died,” Jansen said.

Silvi Alcivar’s studio at The Farm.

The Farm is at 1458 San Bruno Avenue. Open Studios runs 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11 and 12.

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