“This is going to be insane,” says Drawing Room founder Renée DeCarlo of tomorrow’s opening reception for “SKY,” the latest exhibit in the soaring 5,700 square foot gallery at 780 Valencia Street. With 200+ featured artists, an RSVP list of 2,000 and music from DJ Lamont of Fingersnaps, the space promises to be buzzing with artists and Saturday night Mission-goers well into the evening.
Swirling pastel sunsets, birds mid-flight, aerial photos of the land, a clouded Sutro Tower, masked up people fleeing wildfires, the rugged skyline behind an oil refinery; every artist has a take on “SKY,” and all 255 pieces combine beautifully to draw the viewer into its lofty theme.
“SKY” follows the earlier shows “LAND” and “SEA,” and culminates The Drawing Room’s series of shows centering the environment. ”Each exhibit has counted over 100 artists, but SKY is one of the most abundant shows we’ve had,” says DeCarlo.
“These events get so much foot traffic. People come in and they read the wall tags at length.”
“SKY” artists range in age from 17 to 75, and include students, teachers, activists, designers, tech workers, casual artists, and artists with gallery representation. All are based in the Bay Area.
DeCarlo likens the curatorial process to “an intense puzzle.” Her own art “is all about connectivity and layers. Stuff starts in states of chaos.”
Earlier this week, artist Ava Grace, a native of the Sunset, was on site to help hang her piece “Dear Queer Sky.” It’s small, but instantly catches the eye; a light green square of chiffon painted with watercolor. In another room is a labyrinth she traced in gold leaf on the concrete floor, its flowing shape inspired by “listening to the wind.”
What the city needs right now, DeCarlo says, is more open spaces for the diversity of artists here in the Bay Area. At The Drawing Room, “there’s no barrier to entry.” The focus is on making the sometimes intimidating art world accessible for all artists.
The Drawing Room moved to its colossal new home on Valencia Street in 2022. The building was formerly a fabrication plant that was boarded up during the pandemic, which is perfect, considering the gallery “is kind of a manufactory of art shows.”
One of DeCarlo’s skills is in recognizing both the intense demands of an artist’s hustle and the need to build creative communities. “To be an artist with the billion artists in the world, you have to have people skills, business skills,” she says, and a “safe space” to experiment and learn. In other words, The Drawing Room.
This sense of gallery-as-safe-space is underscored by DeCarlo and co-curator Courtney Norris’ commitment to accepting nearly all applicants to every show’s open call. “It takes a village,” says DeCarlo.
This summer, the gallery will host its second show of 100-plus high-school artists. The previous one included “every high school in the city, private and public.” DeCarlo and Norris intentionally put everybody together, explaining: “We’re always separated. The public and private schools are never put together. These kids are siloed.”
The two want to see more places like The Drawing Room open in San Francisco, but rent in the city remains a huge obstacle to both artists’ practices and their spaces. With “no room” for most creatives to make art these days, and no affordable place to buy art supplies in the Mission, this space is a welcome relief for artists trying to find their way.
DeCarlo’s been able to write a good number of checks to exhibitors, and her business model “could be successful for maintaining artists’ lives if the rent wasn’t so high.”
Even so, the position she’s in with this space is not lost on DeCarlo. “Things are being flipped right now,” she says. “I don’t have power, but then someone gave me the keys to this,” and with every opening, that power spreads through the community.