Little Black Book

The Art Scene Is Thriving in SF's Mission District

by Gayle Pirie and John Clark
Gray Art, design, and tech meet at Gray Area. Photo courtesy of Gray Area.

Legendary San Francisco food and arts mavens Gayle Pirie and John Clark — masterminds behind the restaurant-slash-cultural institution Foreign Cinema as well as coauthors of the new Foreign Cinema Cookbook — explore the venues driving an arts renaissance in the Mission District.

MISION DISTRICT, San Francisco — For nearly twenty years, the Mission has been Foreign Cinema's home and inspiration, influencing the food, team, and evolution. Here in our courtyard, guests enjoy dinner and cinema under the stars, an experience that echoes the neighborhood's deep ties to art and film, specifically harkening back to when it was a hub of movie theaters in the 1950s. Between independent movie houses, artist-run galleries, and experimental multimedia venues, the Mission District is experiencing an arts renaissance. As local business owners, we've had the honor of observing the neighborhood's constant resiliency and vibrancy. These are our go-to art destinations, the ones that truly embody the diversity, excitement, and longevity of the Mission District.

Art Galleries

Ratio 3
2831A Mission Street; +1 415-821-3371
Between its unassuming, black facade and location on the block alongside Foot Locker and various Mexican restaurants, Ratio 3 is easy to miss. But the surprisingly spacious bright white gallery is home to some of the city's best contemporary art. In addition to representing the Mission School's Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen, Ratio 3 has showcased work from such internationally renowned artists as Marilyn Minter, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Sol LeWitt.

Incline Gallery
766 Valencia Street
As indicated by its name, Incline Gallery is an alternative art space situated in a series of sloping ramps. In a space that was once part of a former mortuary, visitors can admire mixed media artwork from the Bay Area's emerging artists and meditate on themes such as displacement, Americana, and local politics.

Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts 
2868 Mission Street; +1-415-643-2785
A pillar of the community since the late ‘70s and the largest Latino cultural center in the continental United States, the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (MCCLA) promotes Latin America's contemporary and ancient arts and culture. In addition to multiple traditional gallery spaces, MCCLA includes a performance theater and a printmaking studio. Exhibitions range from group shows on queer Latinx narratives to interactive Día de Los Muertos installations.

Modernism West
2534 Mission Street; +1-415-541-0461
Located within our own restaurant, Modernism West is an immersive gallery space that doubles as our private dining venue. Created in partnership with art dealer Martin Muller of Modernism Inc., our gallery showcases evolving, international artwork. Past exhibitions have included work from Helwein Gottffried, Naomi Kremer, and Bill Kane. The gallery is open to the public during restaurant business hours unless it's reserved for a private event.

500 Capp Street. Photo courtesy of 500 Capp Street.

500 Capp Street Foundation
500 Capp Street; 415-872-9240
Home to American conceptual artist David Ireland for three decades, 500 Capp Street has been preserved and opened in 2016 as San Francisco's first historic artist's home. The Victorian house contains site-specific installations that capture the artist's signature use of humor and everyday materials. Visitors are invited to take guided or self-guided tours, immersing themselves in Ireland's rich history.

Southern Exposure
3030 20th Street; +1-415-863-2141
An artist-centered nonprofit organization, the community-driven gallery space promotes emerging and local visual artists through a diverse array of experimental on- and off-site programming. Each year, Southern Exposure hosts an open-call juried exhibition, showcasing innovative, risk-taking contemporary visual artworks curated by a notable curator.

Savernack Street
2411 24th Street
San Francisco's only 24-hour gallery defies all the conventions of a typical place to experience artwork. Visitors view works by flicking a light switch located on the side of the building, illuminating the gallery within, and viewing art through a reverse peephole. What appears to be a life-size installation is actually a miniature display designed to fit within the confines a one-square-foot space.

Modernism West. Photo by Leonard Martin Hughet.

Film & Performing Arts

Roxie Theater
3117 16th Street; +1-415-863-1087
Established in 1909, the Roxie Theater is the oldest continuously operating movie theater in the United States. A true hallmark of the neighborhood's film community, the Roxie showcases both cult favorites and lesser-known indie films in addition hosting numerous film festivals, filmmakers, curators, and entertainers for more immersive experiences. The Roxie isn't afraid of whimsical events, as demonstrated by their recent screening of Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs, where they encouraged moviegoers to bring their furry friends.

Gray Area
2665 Mission Street; +1-415-843-1423
Gray Area is a nonprofit foundation and mixed-use performance space that explores the intersection of art, design, and technology as a means of building community. Its Mission District location, housed in a former movie theater, hosts a variety of events that include interactive art exhibits, panels with local leaders, performances, conferences, and festivals.

The Lab
2948 16th Street; +1-415-864-8855
A nonprofit arts organization, The Lab is an experimental performance space dedicated to fostering the works of artists who otherwise are underrepresented as a result of gender, class, race, and/or sexuality. The venue encompasses a gallery and black box theatre, where past performers and exhibitioners include David Wojnarowicz, Bruce Conner, Barbara Kruger, and Mike Kelley.

Artists' Television Access
922 Valencia Street; +1-415-824-3890
An artist-run organization that showcases underground media and experimental art, Artists' Television Access is one part screening venue and one part gallery.

Dinner and a movie at Foreign Cinema. Photo courtesy of Foreign Cinema.

Victoria Theatre
2961 16th Street; +1-415-863-7576
The city's oldest operating theater, the Victoria is located in a vaudeville house building that dates back to the early 20th century. Today, it showcases locally-produced plays, concerts, film festivals, musicals, and more.

Alamo Drafthouse: San Francisco
2550 Mission St; +1-415-549-5959
The marquee of the Mission's cinematic heyday was the New Mission Theater, which opened in 1916 and was declared a landmark in 2012. It was around this time that Alamo Drafthouse took over ownership and brought the epic space back to its 1932 Art Deco glory. The New Mission Theater, which sits next to the restaurant, is especially treasured by us since we saved a 35mm projector from the space when it had fallen disrepair. This remains the same projector we use to screen films nightly in our own courtyard.

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