The Mitchell sister - Page 8

Can a woman's touch at the top help change San Francisco's sex industry?

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Meta Jane Mitchell Johnson and brother Justin Mitchell (left) now run the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY CHARLES RUSSO

"It's a benefit to have a female in management," Johnson claims. "When we come up with an idea, I think: How will the dancers feel? We're on the same team. I treat them like teammates. We're not in a battle over who gets the most money. I can see through things. Women manipulate men, and dancers are in the business of manipulating men. It's a sale. It's a hustle. They have that mindset. But I say, no, you don't need to make up situations. You just tell us what's up. But that's not the normal attitude. In most clubs, it's 'Shut up, do what we say, and pay your fees.'"

Johnson says she was recently at the AT&T store, and the girl asked where she worked. "I said, at a strip club. People find that incredibly interesting. This girl was 23 and she was not comfortable with the idea of dancing, but at the same time she was fascinated by it. And it's not going away, women dancing and stripping, You can hate it; you can love it — it doesn't matter."

After so many years on the San Francisco scene, MBOT is striving to be a legitimate part of its neighborhood and the city's business community. And to Johnson, some of that involves unfinished business.

"Lou Silva was the artist who did the original mural of whales on the club's wall. That's what I remember as a child. My dad and uncle were connected to that community and the underground comic movement in the late 1970s. They made money, they wanted to spread the love around, so they did a giant art project on the side wall. And a couple of years before my uncle died, they started to redo it. But the project stopped when my uncle was shot. We are going to bring the whales back. We're working on it with an Academy of Art class. It will be far more peaceful and calm than a crazy jungle scene on the wall. We want to redo whales to demonstrate that we are interested in more than just sex and exploitation. We want to be connected to our community again."

Noting that the new mural is part of the beautification of Polk Street, Johnson concludes: "The mural on the wall is unfinished because of Artie's death. Now it's time to finish it, not to have unfinished art on the wall because of some horrible, violent incident. It's an investment to show we are not the Mitchells everyone thinks we are."