A & E

Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture: Local is global

The cast of The Gangster of Love. Photo by Jennifer Reiley

Fort Mason Center has long been a site for art and culture in San Francisco. Over the years, with the presence of San Francisco City College art classes, culturally specific art institutions, theater, annual art fairs, and other events, Fort Mason has often quietly contributed to the cultural well-being of San Francisco.

Here are some of the reasons why:


Fairs such as the San Francisco Tribal & Textile Show, a nationally acclaimed art fair devoted to a comprehensive presentation of Asian, Oceanic, African, Native American, and Latin American indigenous peoples by national and international galleries; the FOG Design & Art Fair, a showcase of leading international design and visual art galleries that celebrates San Francisco’s history as a hub for experimentation and innovation in art and design; Art Market San Francisco; and the Contemporary and Modern Art Fair, to name a few, all hold court at Fort Mason, and offer the Bay Area a range of deeply committed artists’ works.


The Museo Italo Americano, established in 1978, has long called Fort Mason home. The first museum in the United States devoted exclusively to Italian and Italian-American art and culture, the Museo Italo Americano’s mission is to research, collect, and display works of Italian and Italian-American artists, and to promote and foster educational programs to expand appreciation of Italian art and culture for future generations of San Francisco’s diverse communities. Opening May 10 and running through Sept. 2, the museum will present works by Piemontese artist Angela Sepe Novara inspired by Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Building C).


Here too, is the Mexican Museum, an institution that strives to be the voice of the complexity and richness of Latino art and culture throughout the Americas, and aims to engage and facilitate dialogue among multiple publics.

Currently through June 24, the Mexican Museum is presenting Family, Homeland, Revolution: Stories of the Chicano Movement, an exhibition of more than 40 artworks by Chicano artists that spans the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s to the present day. The exhibition offers a representative snapshot of 50 years of activist art reflecting early contemporary work in the Chicano movement (Building D).


Fort Mason has also long housed SFMOMA Artists Gallery rental and sales space, which promotes Northern California art through rotating year-round exhibitions; features new and established contemporary local artists through solo, group, and thematic shows; and presents a diverse range of art practices, including painting, photography, and new media. Through May 6 is an exhibition by Willie Little of large-scale assemblage artworks, some using reclaimed nodder dolls (Building A).


The Magic Theatre is one of the most significant premier theater venues in the nation — however under-recognized. Founded in 1967, it is dedicated to the development and production of new plays.

Over the years, Magic Theatre has provided established and emerging playwrights a forum for developing and promoting their work. To date it has premiered over 200 new works, including Sam Shepard’s Buried Child, the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979. The stellar roster of writers presented includes such luminaries as David Mamet, Michael McClure, Nilo Cruz, Rebecca Gilman, Edna O’Brien, and many others.

The Magic Theater completes its 2017–18 season May 6 with The Gangster of Love, based on the novel by acclaimed author Jessica Hagedorn. The Gangster of Love is an autobiographical tale that spans and bridges eras in United States and the Philippine relations, by relating the author’s family history of migration to San Francisco’s Haight-Asbury neighborhood during the1970s. Told through the eyes of Hagedorn’s immigrant characters, the play uses live music, poetry, and music videos as narrative forms to reflect on cultural conflict, social change, and artistic exploration (Building D).


Perhaps the most significant recent addition to the cultural landscape of Fort Mason is the San Francisco Art Institute since the summer of 2017 as an integral component and new destination site for arts education, exhibitions, and public programming. SFAI joins the over 20 arts and culture nonprofits at Fort Mason, and further establishes the Marina’s waterfront site as one of San Francisco’s most vital cultural districts.

Housed in a 67,000-square-foot renovated pier, SFAI’s new home for art studios for students, faculty, and visiting artists, and 3,300 square feet of new public exhibition space is open to the public and free of charge, and includes a flagship gallery, a graduate student-run gallery, a Grey Box media and performance space, and a sweeping amphitheater for public events.

This month, SFAI’s 2018 Master of Fine Art Annual Graduate Exhibition (May 11) and exclusive Vernissage preview event (May 10) is one of the most awaited art celebrations in San Francisco.

On display will be the work of more than 60 MFA artists, and featuring large-scale contemporary installations, painting, sound, video, sculpture, photography, printmaking, and performance, by new graduating artists trained in one of the most prestigious art institutions in the country. Faculty and students associated with SFAI have included Clyfford Still, David Park, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, Frank Lobdell, Manuel Neri, (then the California School of Fine Arts), as well as, renowned artists Annie Leibovitz, Karen Finley, Kathryn Bigelow, Barry McGee, and many others.

This annual exhibition represents a great opportunity for the public to discover the next wave of art practitioners who might become some of the most recognized artists in the world.


As affirmation that our local art scene is global, the San Francisco International Arts Festival will return to Fort Mason (May 24 through June 3) with a brilliant nine-day program that will feature more than 60 performances of dance, theater, music, and more, by close to 40 ensembles and individual artists from across the United States and eight visiting countries.

The festival will celebrate the multicultural diversity of San Francisco by showcasing the cultural expressions of different societies and traditions as a way facilitating greater intercultural communication and understanding.

This year’s theme, Down By The Riverside: 50 years Celebrating the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, will present a series of programs centered in such areas as cirque, comedy, dance, music, and performance, by a range of groups and artists that include: Agua Clara Flamenco, Bahiya Movement, Baobab, Chris Carlsson, Hafez Mordirzirdeh, Krip Hop Nation, San Francisco Flamenco Dance Company, Sha Sha Higby, and Ushanjali Dance, among many others.

Courtesy: San Francisco International Arts Festival

Courtesy: San Francisco International Arts Festival

The 2018 San Francisco International Arts Festival articulates a sustained vision and commitment to inclusive accessible public engagements that serve the needs of diverse audiences of families, youth, art and music lovers, and illustrates that here, local is global.

Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture: 2 Marina Boulevard, 415-345-7500,




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Anthony Torres is an independent scholar, curator, and art writer. He has curated and traveled numerous exhibitions, and published extensively in Art Papers, the San Francisco Examiner, Oakland Tribune, Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, and others. Additionally, he researched and wrote the “Illustrated Chronology” and essay “Negotiating Space: The Sketch Books,” for the book, Frank Lobdell: The Art of Making and Meaning.