Crossing the Street: Tales of the Portola -- Artists Oscar Melara and Kate Connell Explore San Francisco’s Portola Neighborhood

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To celebrate the history and daily life of their San Francisco neighborhood, visual artists Oscar Melara and Kate Connell have collaborated to produce "Crossing the Street", an exhibition of artists’ books inspired by the layered life of the Portola District, on exhibit at the Portola Branch Library, 380 Bacon St. at Goettingen, San Francisco, October 2, 2010 through February 25, 2011.

Bonnie: Up at the Park / Shirley: Down on the Avenue

The Portola neighborhood of San Francisco is a little-known working class district at the southeast rim of the city — a dynamic neighborhood that even native San Franciscans can’t locate on a map, or pronounce the way that Portola locals do. To celebrate the history and daily life of their neighborhood, visual artists Oscar Melara and Kate Connell have collaborated to produce "Crossing the Street: Tales of the Portola," a community-interactive exhibition of artists’ books inspired by the layered life of the Portola District. Crossing the Street will be on exhibit at the Portola Branch Library, 380 Bacon St. at Goettingen, San Francisco, October 2, 2010 through February 25, 2011. The exhibition opens with a free community event on Saturday, October 2, 2010, 3 pm to 5:30 pm, in the Library’s Portola Community Room, with activities for all ages. "Crossing the Street: Tales of the Portola" can also be viewed online at http://www.madeintheportola.org.

Wooed by stories of an earlier, simpler neighborhood where families helped each other paint houses and celebrated holidays together, worshiped together, swam off Hunters Point on Sundays, shared bootleg stills, and joyfully poured out into the street at the end of World War II, artists Oscar Melara and Kate Connell have been seeking a closer relationship with the people they share fences with in the neighborhood.

Through a series of engagements on one city block in the Portola — story gathering, block parties, portraiture — the artists collaborated with their immediate neighbors to produce a “social sculpture,” which has resulted in a collection of handmade books that describe the Portola and its history. These books will become part of the reference collection of the new Portola Branch Library — the neighborhood’s first permanent library, inaugurated in 2009.

Created over the last four years in collaboration with the artists’ Portola District friends and neighbors and the San Francisco Public Library, "Crossing the Street" features seven distinct artists’ book installations, on exhibit throughout the Portola Library — "Looking Up: Portola Skies"; "Tracing the Portola: A Neighborhood Atlas"; "Side by Side Stories"; "Portola Cognito" (a giant book with give-away pages); "Bonnie: Up at the Park / Shirley: Down on the Avenue" (paired graphic novels); "Drawing our Neighborhood"; and "Following the Pictures," a 3D book.

In their research, the artists found that within living memory the Portola was filled with stables, windmills, nurseries, and farms. The Portola District has also been the location of the U.S. Immigration Station, homes for unwed mothers, missionary colleges, and has been a first home to many new arrivals to the City. Though not marked on most City maps, the Portola District is nestled between the Excelsior, Hunter’s Point, and Visitacion Valley, and encompasses a large portion of the City’s McLaren Park.

This is the second presentation of Melara’s and Connell’s two-part project, Made in the Portola, created collaboratively with Portola friends and neighbors and the library staff. The first part, Portola at Play, presented film, music, games, and events to coincide with the 2009 opening of the new Portola branch library. The Made in the Portola projects are rooted in the artists’ deep engagement with neighborhood residents in their exploration of the Portola District and its nearly undocumented history.

Kate Connell and Oscar Melara have collaborated for fifteen years on storytelling projects that take the form of installations, murals, exhibitions and events. Their work makes use of a variety of media, from digital to ceramic. Their other collaborations include Our Work Life, a labor history mural installed inside public commuter buses. As collaborating artists, who also work as a bus driver and a librarian, they see their artwork as a kind of public service with the same goal as their day jobs — to work together with their community.

Connell and Melara’s roots go back thirty years in the arts community of San Francisco’s Mission District. Individually, their works have been exhibited at the Alternative Museum, New York; Berkeley Art Museum; Capp Street Project; the Smithsonian Institution; and other venues. Their projects have received support from the Creative Work Fund, California Arts Council, Zellerbach Family Fund and Peninsula Community Foundation, among others.

Crossing the Street has been produced with support from the Creative Work Fund and Zellerbach Family Foundation.

For more information visit http://www.madeintheportola.com

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Diane Roby
RED Communications
415-931-5367
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Kate Connell

415-572-3942
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