ArtSeed

San Francisco, California

INTRODUCTION

Founded by Josefa Vaughan, ArtSeed is a non profit organization in San Francisco that connects the most resourceful and gifted with the youngest and most vulnerable citizens of the Bay Area and beyond through projects that explore links between classical and cutting-edge fine arts disciplines.

00_03Josefa’s portrait of her first teacher, Pilar Rubin, above at left with a self-portrait, right, both made in 1978.

I. THE FERTILIZER OF ARTSEED 

BORN IN 1955, I GREW up without a television. My family was one of the remaining whites in a low-income, African-American community on the outskirts of Houston, Texas. My parents’ civil rights activism earned them a threatening nocturnal visit from the local Ku Klux Klan. My father, a retired machinist with an eighth-grade education, was an amateur social ecologist who wrote an unpublished thesis he called “Metacracy.” My mother was a high school substitute teacher of Romance languages. Together they impressed upon their seven kids the importance of religious ecumenism, democracy, music, and art. When I was eleven, I was granted free private art instruction from Pilar Rubin, a local artist who saved my life with her mentorship.  Pilar’s influence steadied me in a period of teenage wanderings while maintaining a daily art practice.  High school ended after tenth grade when I decided to audit art classes at University of Texas at Austin.  At this time, I also became my own guardian as my elderly parents’ were suffering from debilitating, chronic illnesses. I lived on street sales of my art plus $79 a month given to me because I was a minor and my father was a veteran.

The next year, Jim Horrocks, a musician and friend that played in the Houston Symphony, invited me to co-own a house and have a child with him. I was barely 17 years old and wasn’t even sure if I liked men, but I took a leap anyway!  Many years after raising our son in our home, when I was living my new life in California, Jim decided to sell the house and sent me my part of the proceeds. Some of this became seed funds for a non profit organization, ArtSeed, which grew as my art-making became more collaborative.

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WHAT MOVES US?, San Francisco Arts Commission award, 1995.

The idea that San Francisco might one day be my home came up in 1987 when I won a residency at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, California. It was here that I met, and fell in love with, composer Charles Boone, my husband since 1988.

In the new San Francisco chapter of my life, things developed very quickly. The teaching practice I developed in Houston gained momentum and philosophical depth at the San Francisco Arts Education Project, the Hills Project, Synergy School, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Asian Art Museum, and the Oakland Museum of California The ArtSeed team started forming when I worked with adults at Studio One in Oakland.

As a result of these many activities with families, a series of assisting artist-friends, and the energy provided by the Bay Area community, ArtSeed’s innovative approach began to form an organization in 2000. Founding Board members include Marissa Kunz, recently graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute and Laura Kamian, an accountant in Oakland. They helped to establish ArtSeed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. ArtSeed’s mission is to connect the most resourceful and gifted with the youngest and most vulnerable citizens of the Bay Area and beyond through projects that explore links between classical and cutting-edge fine arts disciplines.

In spring 2000, I was asked to teach a class to eleven “troubled” middle schoolers. At that time, I sought the advice of Tim Rollins of K.O.S. who had long worked with the toughest kids in New York. He said, “You gotta fire your assistants. Take Texas into that room with you, let them know you are not afraid, and never turn your back on them.” By the end of the school year, this provocative strategy worked. We produced our own exhibition at a library across the street and a core group of youngsters became the first ArtSeed youth council.

Tim began our first Summer Intensive by inviting us to work with him during his de Young Museum residency. By the end of that summer my kids had produced an exhibition for Southern Exposure called “Gods and Monsters.” Then they became docents and helped me produce work in an interactive art studio — “ArtSeed: Visual Learning, Fruits of an Imaginary School” — at my own de Young Museum Residency the following fall.

After almost three years of pilot programs, community needs assessments, and legal assistance, in 2003 we finally became a charitable corporation exempt from federal tax. At that point, ArtSeed’s dream began in earnest. Annual public events — spring and fall Open Studios at the Hunters Point Shipyard, Art-a-thons, Fine Arts Summer Intensives, and year-end exhibitions in the Presidio — have brought thousands of families from disparate communities together to celebrate their children’s accomplishments alongside distinguished artists in all disciplines. For sixteen years, these events have helped ArtSeed’s artists and families grow in their thinking about what art is meant to do.

“You can, as an artist, try to say something big about life; or be content to make the stuff in your hands come to life. And this humbler task is the greater, for all else merely follows.” — Leo Steinberg (Founding ArtSeed Advisor) from his Other Criteria

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Photo by Josefa of Leo Steinberg holding a plaster hand made by Auguste Rodin.

While I worked with kids of diverse backgrounds and from various parts of the city, ArtSeed’s focus for thirteen years was the Burnett Child Development Center, now called the Leola M. Havard Early Education School, in Bayview. There I worked alongside classroom teachers and other ArtSeed artists with youngsters in a well-outfitted, on-campus art studio.

As a young person, I was extremely lucky to have had the kind of loving guidance that aimed me toward what I presently do. Now, many years later, it is I who get to be a guide for some very promising young people, and for this there are immense rewards. More than once, walking down Third Street, I’ve heard someone shout, “Josefa!” or “ArtSeed!” There in front of me was a person I didn’t recognize but who gave me a huge hug. It was a thrill — Wow! — to realize this grown woman had been my student in that same neighborhood many years back.

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Leola M. Havard Early Education School in Bayview, SF.

“I cannot begin to tell you the impact you have with the children and grown-ups in the classroom. ArtSeed’s perspective creates new visions for us, and for that we are most appreciative.” — Mabel Young, teacher, Presidio Early Education School

Il. VISION

WHAT WE DO, AND WHAT I’ve always wanted to do, is pass along to young, disadvantaged children something I had as a child: private, fine arts instruction. ArtSeed does this as part of a rigorous interdisciplinary fine arts program that includes public workshops, classes, long-term studio apprenticeships, field trips and exhibitions. The part of what ArtSeed does that I am most passionate about, and with my own childhood experience in mind, is finding practicing artists whom I can pair with young apprentices for long-term, joint ventures of at least a year. 

Everybody can learn things, but not everybody learns in the same way. We design lessons that challenge the most advanced students, but ones that, with the help of the students themselves, can be modified to meet individual needs. Another significant part of what we do is to find the means to make ArtSeed’s diverse projects possible. This includes raising money to pay collaborating artists and to buy high quality, professional art supplies (not much finger painting, and certainly no construction paper!). I coach volunteers, make connections with partnering organizations, and give youngsters a chance to help in the office and plan events.

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Conceiving, curating, hanging, promoting, and documenting our exhibitions develops discipline and practical skills in young people. It also gives us older artists, their mentors, a chance to be challenged by our younger apprentices. They inspire us to tackle tough subjects and take intellectual risks. We use both new media and ancient methods of expression. We teach each other skills and habits necessary to be successful at home and at work. This means life long learning!

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ArtSeed alumni are living proof that tangible, meaningful arts experiences can have substantial impact on young lives. A particularly satisfying part of working with kids and staying in business over the long haul has been that they always know where to find us when they graduate from school, come home from college, pitch in at ArtSeed’s office, or find a profession they want to tell us all about.

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Images above are my earlier paintings of Michelle Quan and Max Gavrich (photo by his mom Tina Cervin), and this image of Mauricio Ramirez’s self-portrait. Two of these former students who returned are professionals in the arts nine years later. The other is a successful realtor quoted below.

“As an ArtSeed student, I experienced the incredible transformation of a child given a creative outlet. Six years later, I can say without hesitation that ArtSeed provided me with not only the support and guidance to better develop my skills, but more importantly, it shaped my character. My association with this organization has had immense ramifications in the way I lead my life.” — Michelle Quan, 2007 ArtSeed student after graduating from UCSC

“After being a 2015 Summer Intensive intern at ArtSeed’s cottage, I realized that art is compelling, influential, persuasive, and a force to be reckoned with. We came together to become a community, and to me, that was a powerful feeling.” — Ramsha Iqbal  

lll. MOST RECENT PROJECTS 

ARTSEED’S 2016 THEME, “Locomotion, Collaboration: Let’s Beat Poverty and Racism In All Their Forms!” produced the most activity ever with its sense of urgency. Never before has our final body of work been more precise and yet expansive in its rendering of our chosen topics.

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Presidio School field trip to see their Thoreau exhibition.

Our projects included weekly classes at Presidio Early Education School, Tule Elk Park Early Education School, San Francisco Public Montessori School, SF Montessori Academy, and Saint Brigid School. Lowell High School’s music department hosted two lectures by composer Charles Boone. Together that made four SF Unified District Schools, one private, and one parochial school. More than four hundred and fifty students were served. Eleven classroom teachers and fifteen paraprofessionals were involved during the day. Afterschool involved twelve more teachers and paraprofessionals. Ten ArtSeed Teaching Artists and Interns were employed.

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Styrofoam prints by pre-k students at Tule Elk Park Early Education School.

Pre-k students explored different methods of drawing. They experienced how “fast lines” tend to go straight unless they are gestures made to capture the movement of a figure or atmosphere in a picture. What they saw in their heads or with their eyes sometimes looked, on the paper, just like what they had been asked to imagine: trails a tiny bug might be making as he moved about on the object being drawn.

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Detail of styrofoam prints by pre-k students at Tule Elk Park Early Education School.

We learned that faces are not round but egg-shaped and that landscapes love a horizontal format but claim a vertical thrust with mountains, volcanoes, and trees. These three and four-year olds learned to etch images into Styrofoam or produce them with stencils to make prints so that one drawing can produce lots of cards to give away to family and friends.

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Paola and her newly sold painting!

“During ArtSeed’s Summer Intensive, I noticed lots of laughter. I was an independent, serious girl, but when I started knowing other people better, I became more playful and kind. ArtSeed changed my personality.” — Paola, student, Summer Intensives 2014, 2015 and 2016

Some of our older students at the San Francisco Public Montessori School made paintings inspired by stories of fugitive slaves’ nighttime travels through landscapes guided only by the stars in the sky. Saint Brigid students painted live models with acrylics on canvas and also painted their own stories of everyday action figures using oils on large hand-made paper.

“During my time as an ArtSeed student, I learned that a mistake can turn into something beautiful. When I painted with watercolors I noticed that most of the time it doesn’t turn out as you want. All you need to do is just help the colors move together. Like in life, things don’t always turn out as you might hope, but they can end up being something unexpected that you will learn to love.” — Kimberly, student, Summer Intensive 2014 and 2016.

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Live model drawing in the Labyrinth Studios at Park Presidio United Methodist Church.

lV. A NEW LEAF

IN THE SUMMER OF 2016, sixteen years after our founding, another new chapter with its bright possibilities began.

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Labyrinth garden outside the studios.

Each year, we have a theme that acts as a unifying lens through which we view our activities and their artistic outcomes. For the coming year, 2016-17, Marching Home: Grasping Valor, Seeking Freedom, and Preserving History on the Way to Peace” brings hands-on art and music projects to participants including veterans, foster children, and other vulnerable or gifted members of our community. Together we brainstorm and make new, interdisciplinary works to be showcased in summer 2017. To inform the process, we collect newspaper articles, study the United States Constitution, and seek out professionals who make it their business to resolve conflicts. Our stories, and the various art forms they inspire, will culminate in an exhibition at the Thoreau Center for Sustainability. Participants and visitors will meet people from many walks of life. Prepare for expanded horizons! Save the date to join us for the Opening Reception 5-7 p. m., Thursday, June 8; and Closing Reception 3-5 p. m., Saturday, July 8, 2017

Is this a huge project? You bet!

All of this is made possible thanks to the generosity of donors who have included the California Arts Council, the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, the Sam Mazza Foundation, and the LEF Foundation. We are also sustained by major individual gifts, most notably from Tony and Caroline Grant, and the Gavrich Family. Modest gifts continue to be our base of support and are essential to our success. That we have around 200 such small donations annually is highly gratifying to all of us. Beyond all of this, we could do nothing without volunteer time and in-kind gifts from family and friends! 

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ArtSeed Apprentice Margaret Ma’s painting of Josefa.

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ArtSeed’s Labyrinth Studios are in the Park Presidio United Methodist Church, 4301 Geary Boulevard at the corner of 7th Avenue. For information about all of our activities, please check out our website — www.artseed.org — or call 415-656-9849