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Arts + CultureArtRosebud art gallery blossoms, helping re-queer the TL and...

Rosebud art gallery blossoms, helping re-queer the TL and Polk Gulch

'Every time the press declares a 'doom loop,' it falls on queers and artists to think outside the box,' say co-founders.

Traversing San Francisco’s Tenderloin and neighboring Polk Gulch hoods today and remembering the once-vibrant queer community that existed there only two decades before makes one want to cry out “Rosebud,” like the titular character in Orson Welle’s Citizen Kane.

How can one not feel a longing for the gay old days of these once-thriving queer enclaves (where SF’s first Pride celebration took place in 1970 and local notable Bambi Lake wrote “The Golden Age of Hustlers”)—before they lost many of their community gathering spots like Reflections, The Giraffe, Ginger’s, Kimo’s, Deco Lounge, The Gangway, and Diva’s.

Fortunately, a new crop of LGBTQ+ businesses has been slowly springing up in the area over the past decade and reclaiming the city’s original gayborhoods, like Bob Mizer FoundationEmperor Norton’s BoozeLandDark Entries RecordsPropagationMoth Belly GalleryDACHAThe Birdcage SF, and EROS.  

The latest addition, Rosebud Gallery (opening on Thu/7, 6pm-10pm), was co-founded by longtime friends Shannon Amitin and Cabure Bonugli.

Amitin, a business founder and event producer (Farm:TableJolene’sT4TFluid Coffee & Events, and QT Cruising), and Bonugli, a photographer and tufted rug artist (Shot in the City Photography and Mister TUFT Guy), first linked up at The Stud 15 years ago. Becoming fast friends, they have been loving and supporting their queer community ever since. 

As such, they view their latest venture, Rosebud Gallery, as more than an exhibition room. Funded by a Storefront Opportunity Grant from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the pair envisions creating a community gathering space, brimming with art shows as well as creative classes and events celebrating inclusivity and the irrepressible spirit of the local LGBTQ+ community.

“The Big Opening” on Thu/7, for example, will feature artwork from Ashley Salaz, Seibot, Vinsantos, FotoHoto, Jackie Brainland, and Mister Tuft Guy, and DJ sets by the legendary Juanita MORE!, CarrieOnDisco, Josh Cheon, and Sounds Unknown.

Future events, each coinciding with the First Thursday Tenderloin & Lower Polk Art Walk, include April’s “T4T: TRANS Artist,” showcasing trans artists and performers, and May’s “Juanita MORE! Pride 2024 Artwork Unveiling.”

I spoke to Rosebud Gallery’s cofounders about the new space, the extraordinary artists they hope to feature, and the fight to reclaim SF’s original queer home.

48 HILLS How did Rosebud Gallery come to bloom? 

CABURE BONUGLI: In April of 2023, we discussed how I needed a studio space because I had taken over the living room with my photography and rug-tufting projects, which were getting out of control. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we found a space together and got to hang out all day doing crazy queer art projects and invite our artist friends over for hangouts and events?” Shannon asked what we would name it, and I jokingly said we could call it “Rosebud,” and it stuck.

SHANNON AMITIN: The concept of Rosebud was just one of many ridiculous ideas we come up with every day. A few weeks later, I met up with Katie Conry, the Executive Director of the Tenderloin Museum, at their new venue for their immersive theatrical experience, The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot. I’ve been an advisor for the project since 2020 and was thrilled to tour the space.

As I was leaving, I noticed the space next door, located in the former Fleetwood location, and, like many spaces in the Tenderloin, it had sat empty for years. Something clicked, and I realized that this was the perfect location. In addition to The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, our friends at Moth Belly Gallery and Dark Entries Records are across the street. I told Cabure, “How cool would it be if a bunch of queer small businesses got to band together to bring the queer back to its original home in the Polk Gulch?”

48 HILLS What can you say about the opening on Thursday and any subsequent events?

SHANNON AMITIN: “The BIG Opening” is on March 7th from 6pm-10pm in conjunction with the monthly First Thursday Art Walk. We have an incredible lineup of local emerging and established artists and DJs.

CABURE BONUGLI: In addition to monthly art openings, we are building a calendar of community-focused events that bring queers together in an art-focused environment. Some of our upcoming collaborations are with That Art Party, which offers creative play dates for BIPOC adults, and T4T, which centers all trans DJs and performers. Most queer events happen in bars, and as a sober person, I’m interested in offering space for sober events such as donation-based meditation and yoga.

48 HILLS What criteria do you use when selecting artists to showcase in the gallery?

CABURE BONUGLI: The process of artist selection is evolving, but ultimately, we select artists whose work moves and inspires us while being thought-provoking and silly.

SHANNON AMITIN: We are fortunate in the Bay Area to be surrounded by extraordinary queer artists, many of whom we’ve had the pleasure of seeing or collaborating with over the past 15 years. The response from artists reaching out to offer support has been incredibly heartwarming and has significantly expanded our network of folks we are excited to partner with. Ultimately, our selection process is guided by the desire to curate artwork that resonates deeply with us.

48 HILLS So many local artists and queer spaces have suffered displacement. It’s not lost on me that the gallery is next door to the now-closed Gangway. Is the opening of Rosebud Gallery another signifier that the tide is turning? 

CABURE BONUGLI: Every time cities enter what the press loves to call the “doom loop,” it almost always falls on queers, artists, and non-conservatives to think outside of the box to build communities they have been displaced from.

SHANNON AMITIN: Two blocks up on Sutter & Larkin is lesbian-owned DACHA, serving Eastern European classics. Over on Post and Hyde is the beautiful plant-filled bar Propagation, which is also queer-owned. The Birdcage SF over on Sutter and Jones is a new lesbian-owned cafe, and down on Larkin and Turk is Emperor Norton’s, where you’ll find a mostly queer staff behind the bar and a calendar full of queer events, including from folks like Kumbia Dark and the infamous Bus Station John. 

And, of course, our next-door neighbor is the new Tenderloin Museum immersive theatrical experience, The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, bringing to life the night in 1966 when queens and transgender women of the Tenderloin took to the streets to fight for their rights. Rosebud is proud to join all of these incredible small queer businesses in the reclamation of SF’s original queer home.

CABURE BONUGLI: Our official after-party is next door, at the former Gangway. We’ve become good friends with David, the bar manager, who is also queer. We are excited to see all the Coyote Queers who will be dancing on the bar that night!

THE BIG OPENING Thu/7, 6pm-10pm, Rosebud Gallery, 839 Larkin St., SF. FreeMore info here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter is a contributing writer for 48 Hills. He’s also written for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, SF Examiner, SF Chronicle, and CNET.

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