Bayview native Meaghan Mitchell first started working in the neighborhood as a hostess at 1300 on Fillmore. Not anymore – now she co-owns a pop-up neighborhood art gallery across the street from the restaurant and is organizing an entire week of events geared towards filling the historic neighborhood's streets again (Independent Artists Week, now through Sun/11).
The Fillmore's the kind of neighborhood that inspires creative growth, famous for its days as a cultural hub where African Americans celebrated the arts, succeeded in the business arena, and solidified community. This week's lineup of IAW events hopes to highlight that legacy, with speed networking for creative types, free art walks, and more.
Because right now, the area definitely needs some shine.
“We're struggling with the identity of the Fillmore right now,” says Mitchell, who sits in her small gallery space surrounded by paintings and sculptures done by local artists during her interview with the Guardian. Sisters Melorra and Melonie Green co-own the space, and Mitchell gives us a tour of the neighborhood art the three have filled their gallery with, from elaborate metal wall sculptures to small drawings by local grade-schoolers. The Greens are the other two lead organizers of Independent Artists Week.
Mitchell gestures to the towering condo and apartment buildings visible through the gallery's front windows. “Look at all those apartment buildings. Where do those people go?”
Despite its history of locally-owned businesses, Fillmore is far from bustling during the daytime, when the street's renowned jazz clubs are closed. There's a handful of black-owned businesses (including New Chicago Barbershop, which we profiled earlier this summer) that are still standing, but you see a lot of empty storefronts when you walk down the sidewalk.
Mitchell and her partners would like to reverse that trend. “There's so much potential for African American people to take back our neighborhood,” she says. “Facilitating our own events is a part of that.”
She should know – she learned from an event-planner extraordinaire. Mitchell says she owes her organizing skills to Ave Montague, the woman who was in charge of public relations at 1300 when Mitchell was first hired on.
“She made this neighborhood poppin',” remembers Mitchell. Montague organized the Black Film Festival, and took Mitchell under her wing, training her to help coordinate a slew of other events that were important to the Fillmore community – and the country. Montague passed away shortly after she threw the official West Coast inauguration party for Barack Obama in 2008.
“When she died, this neighborhood was in a different place,” says Mitchell. “It was grey.”
There was some question about who would take up Montague's crusade to make Fillmore Street a vibrant center of black Bay Area culture once again. But not for long – soon Mitchell and the other neighborhood business-owners and advocates from the Fillmore Community Benefit District were back in talks with the Mayor's Office, which is now once again subsidizing their event-planning efforts.
Of course, Mitchell says, there are challenges to this kind of city government-funded community organizing in a neighborhood that was gutted by “redevelopment” campaigns in the past. Long-time residents are less than thrilled to put the future of the neighborhood in the hands of organizations responsible for driving out black families in the first place. She's attended CBD meetings that ended in shouting and finger-pointing over who did and didn't deserve a piece of the $800,000 the Mayor's Office had contributed to their work.
“You've got to check in with folks.” Mitchell says that even though she is a San Francisco native, she's still a newcomer to the Fillmore scene – and that a big part of her work is involving the long-time movers and shakers in the area. She now holds monthly merchant meetings that started out with three and now generally attract 11 participants.
But it's worth it to become a part of a neighborhood this unique. “[Working in] the Fillmore, it was the first time I worked in a place where I really felt appreciated,” she says. “I met all these prestigious African American people who helped me and who I could look up to.”
Hopefully this week's events will provide similar opportunities for other up-and-comers – check out the schedule below to see what's on offer for artists, art lovers, wannabe yogis, and anyone who is into the idea of a new, brighter Fillmore.
Photo above right: Mitchell has joined Fillmore's entrepreneurs with a gallery space of her own on the strip. Photo by Caitlin Donohue
“Opportunity Knocks” speed-networking event
Local music scenesters, public relations experts, and other sources of knowledge on making a living off of art in the Bay Area will be available to chat with artists on those topics and more.
Tues/6 7-9 p.m., $15. Yoshi's, 1330 Fillmore, SF.
Sustainable fashion fair-clothing swap
Trade in your clothes for other people's hand-me-downs – style on a budget (and with a low carbon profile, hell yeah).
Wed/7 7-10 p.m. African American Cultural Arts Center, 762 Fulton, SF.
Thank You Awards
Honorees will include filmmaker Kevin Epps, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, and other supporters of the local arts community.
Thu/8 7-9 p.m., $15. African American Cultural Arts Center.
Fillmore Art Walk
Art in the streets! Tour the neighborhood's galleries and businesses (including Mitchell's space at
Fri/9 6 p.m.-midnight, free. Fillmore between Post and McAllister, SF.
Healing arts demonstration
The perfect, low-commitment intro to tai chi, yoga, acupuncture, meditation, and more. Swing through to ask about body and soul woes with experienced practitioners in the sunshine.
Sat/10 9 a.m.-1 p.m., free. Fillmore Center Plaza, Fillmore and O'Farrell, SF.
Western Addition Sunday Streets
A huge swath of Fillmore, Divisadero, and the Panhandle will be blessed with a free roller disco, break dancing lessons, free bike repair and rental, and of course lots of car-free asphalt for walking, biking, boarding, and blading community members.
Sun/11 11 a.m.-4 p.m., free. Various streets in Western Addition, SF. www.sundaystreetssf.com