Twice a year, preparations get underway in a San Francisco shipyard for a one-of-a-kind, two-day, 100-plus-participant, 1,000-plus-attendee event.
“It’s kind of fantastic to just open your doors. I do have to do quite a bit of cleanup, though,” says artist Marina Berlin.
Berlin is one of the Hunters Point Shipyard Artists (HPSA), and she’ll be cleaning her studio and opening its doors this weekend for the Spring 2023 Shipyard Open Studios. The semi-annual event in the fall and spring invites visitors into the spaces of dozens of artists, where they can speak with them and directly purchase pieces.
Located in the Bayview neighborhood, Hunters Point Shipyard is where some 300 artists have their own room to work using their preferred medium—whether it be paint, ceramics, wood, pastels, charcoal, pencils or, in Berlin’s case, chicken wire.
“I have 300 square feet of space where I can create [art] and also use it as a showroom for my work. It’s amazing,” she says.
Any artist who is a tenant in the shipyard can participate in Open Studios, and many do so on a consistent basis. The event also features artists in the satellite site Islais Creek Studios, a five-minute drive from Hunters Point Shipyard, as well as food and entertainment by local musicians.
“It gives the public an opportunity to interact directly with the artists—to see how artists work—and it kind of demystifies it,” says Barbara Ockel, organizer of Open Studios events since fall 2020. She’s also the board president of the Shipyard Trust for the Arts (STAR), a nonprofit organization supporting the shipyard artists.
Describing the uniqueness of Open Studios, she adds, “If you go into a museum, all you see is the finished artwork. You don’t get any idea of how it was created or the struggle the artists went through to make it except maybe you read something on a sign. But it’s not the same as meeting the artists and experiencing their workspace.”
While the artists tidy up and arrange their pieces in preparation for the event, Ockel busies herself carrying out a lengthy to-do list, putting together a catalog with information about the artists and their work, about the shipyard’s history as a U.S. naval station, and a map detailing parking options and where the studios are located.
Says Ockel, “It’s somewhat of an overwhelming, vast site. There are six artist buildings, and they’re not really all in the same area. So we print the catalog, and we have a map and so on. We also rely on our staff to tell people, ‘This is this way. That’s that way,’ because it’s not like a regular street area where there’s proper signs or anything.”
Pieces on view and for sale include paintings, portraits, figurative work, prints, jewelry, pastels, photography, sculptures and mosaics.
Artist Michael Kruzich says, “I’m pretty much the only mosaic person out there. … Most people haven’t seen anything like it before, or it takes them back to a time when they had visited Rome or Pompeii or some ancient sites and had seen some of that kind of work. But it’s not something you see a lot of.”
Kruzich describes his work as traditional Italian style mosaics, such as from the Roman and Byzantine empires. He says Open Studios give him the opportunity to not only share his work with the public, but also provide insight into the medium and the time-consuming, intricate process that goes into each piece.
He says, “There are a lot of times where I’m actually working on something, so I can actually show them a little bit of the process, and that’s kind of fun.”
Both Kruzich and Berlin appreciate that shipyard studios are affordable, rent-controlled, and accessible 24 hours a day. Artists work independently and privately in their own spaces according to their own schedule.
Berlin, who has rented at the shipyard for over a decade, says, “To me, it’s the opportunity to actually have a space that’s below market value. It’s kind of one of the last refuges for artists where you can have an affordable space in a city that’s so outrageously expensive.”
For HPSA tenants who do not have gallery representation, Open Studios are particularly significant.
Kruzich says, “It’s really important for me because a lot of my work is expensive. In a city like San Francisco, hopefully there are clients in this urban environment, like interior designers and other resources, that can afford and are intrigued by the prospect of mosaic work.”
Open Studios, Ockel notes, offers artists a means to hear and observe people’s responses to their work, while also acquiring customers and making sales.
In fall 2022, an estimated $600,000 of art was purchased.
“That is quite significant—especially for some of the artists who are actually making a living off their art. It’s a huge part of their income every year,” says Ockel.
Though San Francisco is known for its rich history of artists and writers, and some see their presence declining, the HPSA and events like Open Studios demonstrate otherwise. Artists, and public interest in art, are thriving.
‘When people see my work, they come back to me throughout the year. Thousands and thousands of people come through, and I’m not a great marketer, so being in this big community is really great,” says Berlin.
The largest artist community in the United States is here in San Francisco, soldiering on even with the high cost of living and a pandemic.
Berlin says, “Many of us haven’t left yet. It’s not all startups and Whole Foods. We’re still here.”
Spring 2023 Open Studios are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 29-30 at Hunters Point Shipyard, 451 Galvez Ave., and Islais Creek Studios, 1 Rankin St., San Francisco. Admission is free. Visit shipyardartists.com. For a preview of artwork, visit shipyardartists.com/preview/.
Artist Stacey Carter leads an hour-long tour of Hunters Point Shipyard at noon (wait list only) and 3 p.m. April 29. Tickets are about $29. Reservations are required at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/shipyard-open-studios.