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The Art of Giving

Kenneth Patchen with books
His Life's an Open Book: The San Francisco Center for the Book relies heavily on volunteers and members to put on shows like the current one of Harry Redl photographs, which includes this 1950s photograph of Kenneth Patchen with his books.

Photo by Harry Redl



Membership gifts and volunteering
offer welcome alternatives to
standard holiday fare

By Melissa Sattley

Often the holiday season can become nothing more than a nonstop onslaught of traffic jams, frenzied shoppers and endless advertising jingles. But Yuletide needn't be limited to a trip to the mall. Alternatives exist for non-Grinches who find themselves filled with the spirit of giving, yet sick of shopping.

San Francisco has a wealth of arts organizations that enrich our lives all year long. So instead of investing in the material world for the holidays, culture mavens might think of volunteering their time at a local arts organization, or supporting institutions by purchasing memberships for loved ones. Here are a few places where time and money can help strengthen and support San Francisco's cultural life.

Museum Memberships

Besides supporting museums in a direct financial manner, buying a membership also entitles one to the wide variety of special events, discounts, and other perks that museums offer to their members alone.

The Asian Art Museum, located in Golden Gate Park, has the largest and most diverse collection of art from Asia in the West. Currently the museum has a special showing of art from Imperial China. Memberships ($50 a year) come with an extra museum pass for a guest and also provide a 10 percent discount at the gift store, which is filled with books on Asian art and fine Asian craft items such as teapots and ceramics.

Across the hall in the same building, the M.H. de Young Museum showcases a large collection of American and European art, as well as some pre-Columbian and African work. The de Young hosts a variety of traveling exhibits, which are, of course, open to members. A membership ($35 a year) also entitles its holder to admission at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park at 34th and Clement streets. This two-for-one deal garners members 10 percent off merchandise at both museums' gift stores, and a monthly magazine which lists a joint calendar of events that includes information on special traveling exhibits. (And bargain hunters, take note of this temporary deal: Until the Asian Art Museum moves to the old library building at the Civic Center, free admission will be offered to holders of a de Young membership card.)

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., is difficult to miss since its move to the new building designed by Mario Botta. The Museum of Modern Art is a great place to spend the day. A mixture of photography, sculpture, painting and architecture means that there's something for everyone. Plus, the gift store is probably the best in town, and the cafe isn't half bad, either. A membership costs $55 and provides one guest membership card, a bimonthly newsletter with a calendar of events, 10 percent off at the gift store and 50 percent off on lecture series. For memberships, call 415/357-4135.

For someone who loves Frida Kahlo and can't get enough of Diego Rivera, a membership to the Mexican Museum might be the perfect gift. Jonathan Yorba, the acting director, describes the museum as "an educational and cultural institution that exists to collect, preserve, exhibit and interpret Mexican, Mexican-American and Chicano visual arts from the pre-conquest to the present." The Mexican Museum has four to five major exhibitions a year, and also offers educational programs about Mexican art and culture for children in grades K­12. Individual memberships are $35 and garner 15 percent off at La Tienda gift shop, a quarterly newsletter about the museum's exhibits and events, and invitations and discounts to public programs, special events and lecture series. For more information, call 415/441-0445.

Galeria de la Raza/Studio 24, a community art gallery at 2857 24th St., features Latino art and culture. Galeria de la Raza promotes art exhibitions and education programs in the public schools, plus literary readings. All activities are free to the public. Individual membership fees begin at $35 and offer a 10 percent discount at the gift shop, Studio 24, which features Latino and Mexican folk art. Members also receive invitations to receptions and special events. The Galeria also needs volunteers to help out with a variety of duties: archiving, education, art exhibitions, gift store and administrative support. Call 415/826-8009 for details.

The Jewish Museum, 121 Steuart St., highlights contemporary Jewish culture and art within American society. The museum organizes special exhibitions such as the current show, Too Jewish, multimedia pieces by contemporary Jewish artists that reflect on the artists' very individual and sometimes humorous approaches to cultural identity. Memberships start at $40 and allow free admission, invitations to special previews and events, discounts on lectures, a newsletter and a 10 percent discount on the museum shop. As if that weren't enough, a free poster is included in the package. Seniors over the age of 62 and students can buy a membership for $20. Call 415/543-8880.

San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum, 399 Grove, documents and preserves the performing arts history of San Francisco. The library contains more than a million historic photographs, periodicals, playbills and costume designs. An exhibit gallery features performers of the past, with historical photographs, and video and press clippings. The gallery is free to the public; with advance reservations, one can use the research room. Individual membership ($40; or $25 for seniors and students) includes a newsletter, invitations to exhibitions and special representations, priority notice of lectures, discounted tickets to events and a gift. To purchase a membership, call 415/255-4800.

The Center for the Arts Yerba Buena Gardens, 701 Mission St., is a nonprofit organization that raises funds for artistic and educational programs. Paul Aguirre, director of communications, emphasizes that the center creates a place to reflect on the diversity of the Bay Area. "We don't have a permanent collection, so that new artists can show their work," he says. "We exhibit everyone from internationally renowned artists to unknowns."

Individual memberships are $35 and come with free entry (plus guest) to the art gallery, express entry during peak attendance, invitations to exhibition previews, a private performance ticket hotline, advance notice on events and lectures, ticket discounts and 10 percent off at the gift shop. Call 415/978-2700.

The Tattoo Art Museum, 841 Columbus, perfectly suits the person who wants to take art one step further by actually wearing it on his or her skin. Tattoos from the wild Barbary Coast days to modern Haight Street hipster jobs cover the walls. Also, the owner has a collection of old tattoo machines, but don't count on seeing them, because he often has them displayed at tattoo art shows around the country. The Tattoo Art Museum also serves as a working tattoo parlor--which might well make it the perfect gift for either disaffected cousin Raven or disheveled Uncle Eddie, with the faded hula girl on his forearm.

For the doodlers in the family, go no further than The Cartoon Art Museum, 814 Mission St. The only West Coast museum dedicated solely to the preservation of cartoon art, the Cartoon Art Museum houses a permanent collection of more than 11,000 pieces of cartoon art: comic books, animated movies, magazines, sculptures, advertisements and newspapers, as well as video. One can see original Batman art by Bob Kane or a Krazy Kat watercolor signed by George Herriman, as well as hundreds of other rare cartoon finds. A membership costs $35 and allows for free admission, a quarterly publication, The Cartoon Times, invitations to openings and receptions, use of the library (which contains 3,000 titles devoted to the art of cartooning), and a limited-edition collector's print. Those who join on Dec. 14 from noon to 4pm will get 30 percent off at the gift store--this means everything from Art Speigelman's Maus to videos and CD-ROMS. Call 415/227-8666 for more information.

Memberships for Kids

The Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way, offers a range of classes for children and adults, from telescope-building to ceramics. It also has an animal exhibit where volunteers educate children about the plight of endangered species. A family membership can be bought for $35 a year, which allows for two adults and their children. Senior and student rates are $15 a year. Members get first priority in the art classes and free admission to the museum. For memberships, call 415/554-9600.

The Exploratorium, located in the Palace of Fine Arts, 3601 Lyon St., has a dizzying array of exhibits involving art, science and human perception. The mostly three-dimensional exhibits allow for direct interaction with the child: Light, color, sound, music, motion, and language are only part of what the Exploratorium's exhibits offer.

Also, throughout the year, the Exploratorium hosts through its Center for Teaching and Learning a multitude of classes on science and art for students in grades K-12. An Exploratorium membership starts at $45 and provides free entry to the museum, a subscription to a bimonthly magazine, invitations to special events and free birthday-party rental for children ages 1­12, plus special reserved and discounted admission to the Tactile Dome--a must-see for every child. Call 415/563-7337.

Volunteer Opportunities

So maybe you're broke, but still brimming with the spirit of giving. Volunteering time to a local arts organization might just be the ticket. Numerous organizations in San Francisco (the majority of them nonprofit) need your help. Become a patron saint of the arts community--go ahead and stagger under the burden of that large halo you'll sport around town.

Brava--Women in the Arts (2180 Bryant St.) can always use volunteers. As one employee describes the nonprofit women's theater organization, it is "the only theater group whose primary purpose is to produce outstanding theater pieces by women of color and lesbian playwrights." Brava needs volunteers for ushers and administrative support, as well as good ol' manual labor. To volunteer, call 415/641-7657.

The Committee to Restore the Opera House (301 Van Ness Ave.) needs volunteers to help with administrative duties. Also, a membership will go toward restoring the historical grandeur of the Opera House. The recipient of a $50 membership will become a member of the San Francisco Opera Guild and receive an SFO Guild Season Preview Book (which contains plot synopses, cast lists and photos of the year's repertory), and free passes to four informal talks by the season's artists, conductors and production staff. A great gift (and cheaper than buying season tickets) for a favorite opera lover. To volunteer or purchase a membership, call 415/863-6494.

A wonderful place that always needs volunteers is Creativity Explored, a nonprofit art center for developmentally disabled adults. Creativity Explored has two locations: one at 3245 16th St.; the other at 2797 16th St. Attend Monday and Thursday morning meetings to find out more about the organization. Volunteers have done video projects that chronicle artists' works and writings. Two volunteers even had a magazine for a while called Whipper Snapper Nerd--the first volume dedicated to a student from the school, the truly wonderful artist Michael B. Loggins. Creativity Explored is looking for volunteers to start on new projects. Give them a call at 415/863-2108.

The Film Arts Foundation is a great asset to San Franciscans involved in filmmaking and looking for other filmmakers to connect with. "Volunteering is the best way to learn and feel connected," says FAF volunteer coordinator Daven Gee. "Plus, the Film Arts Foundation couldn't survive without volunteers."

Internships also are available, which last for four months and usually involve a workload of about seven hours a week. Volunteers and interns get the same benefits as members of FAF. This means access to editing facilities, film screenings, and use of the film and videotape libraries. For more information, call the Film Arts Foundation at 415/552-8760.

Interested in photography and want to learn more? Volunteer at The Friends for Photography: Ansel Adams Center for Photography. The center has a variety of jobs to fill: admissions desk, the bookstore, special events, artistic programs, publications and academic internships. For more information on the volunteer program send an SASE to The Friends of Photography, 250 Fourth St., San Francisco, 94103 (attn: volunteer program).

For those who want to share their love for art with children, the San Francisco Arts & Education Foundation might be the place. The foundation places visual artists, musicians and dance instructors in elementary and middle schools for one-year residencies. Primarily, the foundation works with children by getting them involved in school and the arts by participating in arts projects and feeling that their work is valued. For more information, call 415/777-1718.

In the age of the Internet and the World Wide Web, it's nice to know that The San Francisco Center for the Book (300 De Haro St.) exists. Born just three months ago, the center makes an exciting new addition to San Francisco's art community. Mary Austin, one of the founding directors, describes the center as "a place where people can come together and collaborate in bookmaking and appreciate the art of books." November through January, the center has an exhibition titled "The Pages of Sin: Beat Era Book Arts," with photographs by Harry Redl, hand-painted books by Kenneth Patchen, and a special art installation by Saul White on the theme of The Seven Deadly Sins. The nonprofit Center for the Book also offers classes in every aspect of bookmaking, from Basic Book to Letterpress Intensive, and is always in need of interns to help with exhibits, administrative duties, etc. To know more, call 415/565-0545.

Taking revenge on the Jesse Helmses of this world, The Institute for Unpopular Culture champions those who have been censored. David Ferguson, director of the institute, describes it as a "nonprofit, non-mainstream organization to help artists that have been financially and legally censored." Volunteers help set up exhibits, musical and theatrical productions, or assist with administrative duties. Interested volunteers can write the Institute for Unpopular Culture at 1850 Union St., Suite 1523, San Francisco, 94123.

At all times of the year it's impossible not to be alarmed and saddened by the thousands of homeless people on the streets. But during the holidays, it's especially hard to see fellow humans on the down and out. The nonprofit group Tenderloin Reflection & Education Center (135 Golden Gate Ave.) runs a number of workshops in theater, writing and art to help empower the homeless and low-income residents of the Tenderloin. The group also has a People's Library, open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, where people can get off the streets and read a book if they like. The Tenderloin Education Center gives children and adults from the Tenderloin a variety of avenues through which to express their own hopes and fears, from the Youth Writing Workshop to Women's Improv Drama. To volunteer or make a donation, call (415) 558-8759.

These are merely a few of the myriad art-based memberships and volunteer opportunities that a city as large and diverse as San Francisco can have. There are more museums and arts organizations than space would allow to describe. And in the era of budget cutbacks and NEA downsizing, these groups need any and all help they can get. Besides, a membership or a stint as a volunteer will provide a lot more holiday cheer than a coffee-table tome or a King Tut paperweight.

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From the December 1996 issue of SF Live

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