This year’s San Francisco Open Studios is set to kick off in the Mission District on the weekend of  Oct. 26, and the 93 artists who fill the studios at 1890 Bryant St. will include 12 new participants who have recently taken up residence in the five-story building between Mariposa and 17th streets. 

The newcomers include photographers, mixed media artists and graphic illustrators. Some work on canvas, while others use lights and electronics to make art, and some, like Ana Rivero Rossi, create installations using dolls and other imagery to set up scenes. 

They all work out of a former Best Foods factory built in 1949 that was purchased for $1.6 million in 1995 by Vera Cort and and her property company, Cort Properties. Cort converted the 43 rooms and cavernous hallways into one of the city’s biggest artist workspaces. There is always a long list of applicants vying to rent space, and this is the only weekend of the year when the public can drop in on them.

“A lot of people want in the building, and it’s hard to find space in the building at this point,” said Paul Morin, who has been renting an 800-square-foot studio in the building for the past 12 years. 

There’s a reason for such a long waiting list. Jeff Pangilinan, the building’s manager, said that rents can run as low as $1.75 per square foot. A 600-square-foot studio would run $1,050 a month, lower than many other places in the Mission. 

Morin, a painter, sells commissioned portraits – he  painted a portrait of President Barack Obama while he was in office and  gifted it to him in 2010. Though his windowless studio looks like a college workshop, it’s his home away from home. 

Morin hopes that the upcoming open studios will drum up interest in the arts from neighbors.

“For a lot of people, this is their only exposure to the public, ” Morin said of the weekend. It begins with a preview reception on Friday, Oct. 25, from 6 to 9 p.m. and is followed on Saturday and Sunday with studios open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Space is so difficult to get at 1890 Bryant that some of the larger spaces have been subdivided into small cubicles. 

Sophia Green, for example, has a cubicle that is part of a big studio on the second floor of the building. It’s a lot like WeWork, but for art.

Green, a trained sculptor, started working  in the video game industry in the 1990s, creating models for video games. Then, in the mid-2000s, she returned to art full-time. 

Nowadays, she’s experimenting with acrylic and oil paintings that offer a commentary on social issues. In one set of paintings, for example, Green stenciled technology acronyms and phrases over a marble-like pattern of blues and whites painted on a small canvas. The series is a commentary on internet surveillance, she said.

“I feel like the visual stuff is a way to process emotions,” Green said. “I want it to be suggestive rather than a representation of a real image,” Green said.

While many artists paint, there are a variety of folks who work in other mediums, including a baker, fashion designers, hat makers and photographers. 

Peggy Li, a jewelry maker, moved into a small fourth-floor office in January 2019. Li has been making handcrafted jewelry for more than 20 years, getting her start when she was in Los Angeles. Some of her jewelry has been worn on television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Arrow, she said.

Li said she applied for a studio space at the building ten years ago, but was only offered a place this year.

“Having a dedicated space is a new challenge, but it’s been really awesome to think about how to move my business into this space and have customers come shop,” Li said. 

Li decided to dive full time into her jewelry business seven years ago and hopes that her tenure at the Bryant artist studios can teach her to grow her craft.

“Meeting other artists has been awesome. It’s been interesting to see through their eyes what the art scene is like here,” she said.