A new space has been attained by an artist community that has existed without physical headquarters since the closing of Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory (MCVF) in August 2010. This community of artists, known as THEOFFCENTER (TOC), collectively ran MCVF for the last 8 months of its existence before the space was lost due to fire code rulings. Though they felt homeless at first, it soon became clear that TOC is a community, not a place, and they continued their work, highly successfully, as a traveling, decentralized incubator.
TOC responds to the needs of an infinitely diverse and evolving community in the SF Bay Area, in particular, supporting anything “queer,” by which they mean anything that disrupts and expands the normative. TOC asserts itself as a maker-focused network, offering a platform for performances as a means of supporting the development of a plurality of individual queer/ed identities. TOC provokes artists to push their thinking and work to new places, sparks dialogue, and builds communities that last far beyond performances. Ernesto Sopprani, Director of TOC and Jorge De Hoyos, coordinator of TOC’s [**]! SPACE were the voices for this article, yet TOC’s development has and will continue to be shaped and facilitated by many in the SF Bay Area maker community and beyond.
In their time as a traveling incubator, TOC has facilitated close to 20 offerings, including 2 theater productions, 5 performance interventions (large group performance scores for public locations), 2 large festivals (including TOO MUCH, a 10-hour queer performance marathon in which 60+ performers took on Mission Dance Center), multiple series of workshops, a blog salon (in which 10 artists write on a given prompt and then publish their writings online to spark open dialogue), 5 SQUARTS (Spontaneous Queer Art events instigated by Laura Arrington, in which participants break into teams and have two hours to make a performance), as well other collaborative partnerships with YBCA, SOMArts, Headlands Center for the Arts, and The Garage. Additionally during this time, Philip Huang instigated the Home Theater Festival, a series in which artists create performances in their own homes. All of these projects are a testament to the power and creativity of the SF Bay Area’s queer community as a decentralized network.
After a year of existing in many locations, TOC received the opportunity to move into 848 Divisadero, a space that has its own rich past as the home of 848 Community Space, which later became CounterPULSE. TOC is excited about inhabiting this historic building, creating a new gathering place for their community, and expanding their programming. They are currently calling it the [**]! Space, a name that is not even pronounceable, because it is in a stage of nebulous possibilities. Sopprani, the director of TOC, De Hoyos, the current coordinator of [**]! Space, and over 20 other art makers have been hard at work painting, cleaning, and organizing since November 1, 2011. [**]! Space is a live-work space where various programs will be activated, including a 1000-square-foot dance incubator, a library of contemporary SF performance work, and a traveling artist residency project.
In the midst of the excitement, Sopprani and De Hoyos are also cautious. TOC’s use of 848 Divisadero may be temporary, and as De Hoyos says: “We have not been reliant on a space for a while nor do I think we would want to entirely locate TheOffCenter as a platform/organization at one specific address.” They want to make it clear that [**]! Space is just one project of TOC, and that they will continue their wide-reaching work in many locations. As De Hoyos says: “We’ve been carving out space through the intentions set forth by our community, and these spaces can, have, and will continue to exist in traditional theater venues, public areas, private homes, dance studios, etc. TOC will host work in progress, potlucks, film screenings, public actions, dance/improv jams, etc. It’s a model that can move and change size, shape, and feel, or at least that’s the hope. It’s been working so far, and time will tell if it grows roots in the space at 848 Divisadero or if it takes off to the air or another spot. Every opportunity and idea is potential space for us.”
In the meantime, TOC is hard at work developing programming at [**]! Space. One of their newest programs is an Out of Town Residency Program, through which they are currently hosting artists Ruairi O’Donovan from Ireland, and Karina Sarkissova from Sweden. [**]! Space is also the current home of TOC’s long running Tuesday potluck instigated by Rachael Dichter, which “feeds the community in multiple ways,” as De Hoyos says. Lots of future programming is in discussion, including film series, artist talks, symposia, a queer cooking class to go with the Tuesday Potlucks, performative improvisations, Breakfast and Bullsh*t (another gathering for food, friends, and ideas), continued Performance Intervention Series, movement classes, and more resident artists. When available,TOC will also be renting out their studio at an incredibly reasonable $10/hour.
TOC will evaluate their work in [**]! Space on a quarterly basis, just as they do with all other TOC programs. They have made a year’s commitment to work at 848 Divisadero, during which they will test a variety of new programs. At the end of one year’s time, they will analyze and determine best practices for future development. At the same time, however, they are committed to carrying on their work as a traveling incubator. As Sopprani says, “we will continue to work with other presenting spaces as well as artist groups and community centers in an effort to stay decentralized. We feel we are stronger when supporting not just one venue/ group but many.”
TOC is optimistic about the future, and continually in research mode. As Sopprani says: “We are looking at it as a big experiment to learn whether or not there is a need for a model like this. We think there is. Let’s see what the process reveals.”
Julia Cost is a choreographer, artist, dancer, and teacher. She received her MFA in Dance from UC Irvine in 2011 and moved to the SF Bay Area to get involved in its vibrant arts communities. She is currently choreographing a work to be performed at The Garage in March 2012. Check out her visual art at cargocollective.com/juliacost