The pathway to adulthood is a funny thing, it’s different for everyone. In 2007, at age 42, I spontaneously decided to open a performance space (with co-founder and technical director Michael Michalske) in san Francisco at 975 Howard called The Garage. the following eight years were trial and error, tight budgets and a lot of growing up.
The physical spaces of The Garage at Howard Street and later, 715 Bryant Street have been my gauntlet, my odyssey and my albatross but also a shining example of human potential, both mine and the artists that came through the doors. On The Garage stage, I experienced the best that people had to offer and that’s been an honor to help facilitate.
As many of you know, The Garage can sometimes seem like an extension of my personality, so any conversation about closing the space has been done with great thought. Frequently, The Garage has been a bit of a one-man show with me as the ringleader and because of that, a lot of my idiosyncrasies helped shape the personality of the space. Sometimes it seems like The Garage is a just reflection of my personality—hopefully a little irreverent (some would say sarcastic) and hopefully a lot of heart (or as Philip Huang would say, “Earnest” but I don’t think he meant that as a compliment).
On the other hand, I think I always planned on The Garage being a temporary thing, I never really saw myself as an arts administrator; I just didn’t want to work for someone else. More than anything, I wanted to have more control over my choreographic career because I didn’t feel like I fit in artistically at any of the other dance spaces in San Francisco. I had worked for other producers like the Jon Sims Center and Footloose Productions and I felt like I had my own aesthetic to share beyond their programming.
The Howard Street location had an amazing lease but awful neighbors. Although we loved the location, the block was partially residential and our neighbors didn’t appreciate our love of loud music. Eventually the neighbors forced us out and we relocated to 715 Bryant St.
The Garage, like any business, has always been subject to the realities of our local and national economy. The economy crash in 2008 hit us hard, but we bounced back. But the San Francisco economy continues to change dramatically; we’re seeing fewer and fewer independent choreographers moving to SF because of the high cost of living. Meanwhile the exodus of artists leaving the city continues to grow because of the lack of affordable housing. In the early years of The Garage, our residency program (RAW – Resident Artist Workshop) hosted approximately 120 groups per year and in 2014, we hosted 80. This significant drop in programming negatively impacted our overhead (fewer shows means less box office income).
After speaking to then Mayor Newsom in 2009, he strongly encouraged our non-profit, SAFEhouse for the Performing Arts (Saving Art from Extinction), to consider moving to the Central Market neighborhood. Many other funders made the same recommendation. We then developed a relationship with the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development and began producing a free dance festival in the neighborhood (24 Days of Central Market Arts in 2010-2012). In 2013 we began considering closing The Garage when Yannis Adoniou, then director of KUNST-STOFF arts at One Grove Street invited us to run his space, and that changed a lot of things. We then programmed both spaces in 2014.
In the end, The Garage closed at the end of 2014. So why close The Garage? Well, running two spaces is exhausting. In addition to The Garage and KUNST-STOFF arts, SAFEhouse also produces two annual dance festivals (SPF at the ODC Theater and West Wave Dance Festival at Z Space) and honestly, there isn’t enough art-making to sustain both spaces. Being at One Grove places our organization in a better position for more funder support and a better geographic location to attract audiences.
What does the future hold? Beginning January 1, 2015, KUNST-STOFF arts becomes SAFEhouse Arts. I’ll miss The Garage space and everything it represented for me personally. I’ll miss its feistiness and scrappiness but the new economic climate warrants a new model.
The good news is that we will continue providing all of our services and not charge artists to participate in our residency programs or festivals. The downside is that fundraising now becomes part of our everyday work and marketing performances is no longer something we can afford to blow off (I see shiny pamphlets in our future).
Artists interested in getting involved at SAFEhouse can participate in our Saturday work groups, where we facilitate peer staffing (volunteers that get to actually shape the organization). If you would like to learn more, see safehousesf.org for a schedule of upcoming projects or join SAFEhouse for the Performing Arts Community group on Facebook.
Lastly, thank you to all the amazing artists, volunteers and audiences that made The Garage such a magical place, where miraculous things appeared from thin air and many people found a place to belong during a time when harsh economic realities sometimes make SF seem untenable.