It’s back to the drawing board.
After three years on 23rd Street, the Drawing Room Gallery will move from its Mission spot to somewhere else in the city, said its owner, Renée DeCarlo, because of deteriorating conditions, like trash and drugs on the block. She will uphold a previous arrangement to host a temporary art space on Valencia Street, which runs until April.
“I’m so sad, because I thought another three years for sure; it has been my sanctuary,” DeCarlo said of the 23rd Street location. By Friday, she had already begun packing up the community garden plants. “Moving my planter boxes is killing my soul.”
The decision to leave 23rd Street became clear last week, DeCarlo said, when a Mission High School intern and her mom visited the gallery. In a deal with the school district, three seniors would be paid to be DeCarlo’s assistants and learn to run a gallery. When DeCarlo attempted to give a tour of the neighborhood to the intern and her mom, they arrived to find a pile of dozens “of heroin needles” nearby, DeCarlo said.
The alarmed mother pressed the artist regarding whether her daughter would be safe, and DeCarlo couldn’t say so with certainty.
“I can’t guarantee that she can never see that again,” DeCarlo told her. Following the block’s consistent trash and detritus, the needles became DeCarlo’s personal tipping point. “The needles really did it for me. It was done for me. So I called the property and said, ‘I’m really sorry.’”
It’s one example of how conditions have plummeted on 23rd Street, thanks to reduced and inadequate services during the pandemic, the artist said, and which neighboring Pedritos staff confirmed. Already, the block receives little foot traffic. Then, during the pandemic, DeCarlo said helpful resources like public toilets disappeared, causing an uptick in defecation outside her storefront.
She called 311 over trash and disturbances daily; recently, someone shattered a pallet of fluorescent tubes on the sidewalk, creating a “blanket of glass” that people were forced to walk through. Another time, a woman lay unmoving in the same position for three days. It’s unclear if she was dead — or sleeping, which other neighbors believed.
“I called 311 for that woman,” DeCarlo said. “They never came.”
Instead, DeCarlo is looking for another space on Clement Street, where she said rent is cheaper. She said a lot of artists are moving there, to her surprise. “They’re eating and talking and not stepping over poop or needles or trash,” DeCarlo said.
Meanwhile, she plans to host one final exhibition at 23rd Street and a “goodbye party.” That party will feature an exhibition celebrating 85-year-old photographer Ivan Spain who, for a while, has “been wanting to do a show on 23rd Street.” DeCarlo is happy to oblige, but Spain must manage without her; by that time, DeCarlo will already be overseeing a temporary space on Valencia Street. The owners handed her the keys on Friday.
Before DeCarlo decided to move out of 23rd Street, the plans to host art shows at 780 Valencia St., between 19th and 18th streets, were already in motion, she said. She signed up for another initiative with pop-artist group Curated State, the INSIDE/OUTSIDE PROJECT, that sought to revive vacant spaces with artwork.
“This building has been vacant so long, and the owners really want to build it and open it,” DeCarlo said. “The space at 780 Valencia was given to me to activate, and in an attempt to restore my business.”
The gallery will run seven days a week, and will kick off with an opening reception party on Jan. 29 for the new Bay Area art show, “TIDES OF CHANGE,” which highlights climate change themes and works of over 50 creators. Following that is the “WOMEN RISING 2022” exhibition. DeCarlo invites women artists to submit work.
This can boost her revenue, though investors continue to help her pay rent, too. The money she makes helps sustain her family of two teenagers. The Drawing Room is also partially a nonprofit now, adding a new way for people to donate.
DeCarlo wished the block on 23rd Street could improve, so she could remain. She rattled off ideas like painting the streets, beautifying the vacant storefronts, and installing more trash cans and public toilets. There should be more mental health and unhoused services for the populations who need it, she added.
Still, as the Drawing Room shifts and eventually moves on, DeCarlo will look for other ways to keep her Mission community close. In previous stories, DeCarlo recounted how when she broke her tibia last March, 35 others rushed in to oversee the Drawing Room for six weeks.
“I didn’t even ask them. They just did it,” DeCarlo said. “And that’s huge to me, because that means that they want to make sure this doesn’t disintegrate.”