See Black Women emphasizes ‘who gets counted,’ in Census and beyond

Ashara Ekundayo curates the See Black Women discussions with YBCA

A two-part conversation called See Black Women, part of Art+Action’s  Come to Your Census campaign, is calling attention to Black women’s often overlooked contributions to the arts, and who “counts” in society.  (One discussion happened on May 19, and the other comes Tue/26). Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is the lead partner in the campaign, which aims to inspire Census participation by all communities—particularly historically marginalized ones.

The talks are presented with YBCA and coalition partner Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), in collaboration with arts organizer and discussion curator Ashara Ekundayo, who created the Artist As First Responder platform.

Arts are always essential—even more during a crisis, Ekundayo says. “Where would all be right now if we weren’t able to dance for hours, where would we be without poetry, or books like Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, which I’m rereading and admiring now?” she said. “Creative workers save lives and heal communities.” 

And Ekundayo thinks the Census is critical. 

“Whose bodies get counted? We are still reeling from two public deaths—Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor,” she said. “Black women’s stories are still not centered and deemed critical and important to society.”

In Ekundayo’s words, See Black Women “is a newly formed artist and curatorial collective centering the cultural impact and artistic labor of Black women” that was inspired by the final artist talk at Ekundayo’s now shuttered gallery in Oakland last fall. Artist Lava Thomas took part in a panel talking about a debacle with the San Francisco Arts Commission, where Thomas’ design, “Portrait of a Phenomenal Women” was chosen for a statue honoring Maya Angelou . . . and two weeks later she was told the sponsor, San Francisco Supervisor Catherine Stefani, wanted to go a different direction with a more traditional “figurative” statue.

Along with Thomas and Ekundayo, Tahirah Rasheed, Angela HennessyLeigh Raiford, PhD, and others felt compelled to continue the creative inquiry after that night. 

Lava Thomas’ ‘Freedom Song No. 5 (We Shall Not Be Moved’ utilized Census records

Thomas says that when Art+ Action founder Amy Kisch contacted her, she wasn’t aware how critical the census is to get federal dollars to communities.

“There are all the ways the Census provides resources for communities, for infrastructure, schools, and hospitals,” Thomas said.

Thomas also saw how important the Census was in genealogy, having used old Census records in a search to locate her ancestors and trace her matrilineal line back to someone who was enslaved. She took part in the first See Black Women conversation, and she has a piece hanging in the Come to Your Census exhibit at YBCA, shuttered for now, Freedom Song No. 5 (We Shall Not Be Moved). 

“It’s a tambourine installation with some eyes of my ancestors that I got from my grandmother’s photos,” Thomas said. “That song, We Shall Not Be Moved, was a freedom song, and I wanted to honor the labor of civil rights activists who during the march from Selma to Montgomery were met with lethal violence.”

And Kisch realized the importance of Census numbers in distributing money and power—the number of representatives in the House, for example–when she was approached by the San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs to do a campaign, so she was eager to work on it. 

Officials there had something like a mural in mind, but Kisch wanted to go bigger with art exhibits, community programming, partnerships with different coalitions, and a media campaign that includes billboards and transit kiosks all over the city with the message “Come to Your Census” in Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese, and English. 

Each billboard has the tagline, “9 questions. 10 minutes. $20,000. It’s time to get your fair share.”

The See Black Women billboard

Hennessy and Rasheed created the artwork for the billboard in the Bayview, an eye chart, spelling out “See Black Women,” a way of referring to visibility as well as counting people as a kind of test. 

People have until October 31 to fill out their Census.  Thomas, for one, wants to be counted. 

“The Census makes it so my progeny can find me in a legal document. That’s an important proof of my existence for future generations,” she said. “The Census also provides baseline data for demographics in this country, and that’s the way we know this pandemic is affecting black folks and people of color more than other folks in this country, and that data is really important.”

The See Black Women discussion is on “visibility, grief, and our present paradigm shift in culture and practice.” 

“The grief goes back to how the pandemic has affected various communities and communities of color and essential workers primarily,” Thomas said. “There’s been an incredible loss of life.”

But Thomas said she found joy in participating in the event.

“It was wonderful to be in community with my sisters because we can’t see each other in person now,” she said. “Each of us introduced each other, and it wasn’t the regular format of a list of accomplishments and education. We talked about what we meant to each other and how much we appreciated each other.” 

Tue/26, 4pm, online.
More information here

Asian American women artists on creativity, activism—and COVID racism

Jenifer K. Wofford with her new mural, 'Pattern Recognition'

While the Asian Art Museum, like other arts institutions, is closed during the COVID crisis, the staff is stepping up its museuming from home, offering many digital programs, including teacher packets, storytelling videos and an Instagram account from Art Speak—a paid teen internship program, where they post how-to activities, like making collages or zines. 

The museum is also hosting virtual public programs for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and on Thu/28, three Asian American women artists, Jenifer K Wofford, Chanel Miller and Jas Charanjiva, will talk with Abby Chen, the head of contemporary programs at the museum. In the discussion, the artists will “share how the COVID lockdown and the rise in anti-Asian racism have impacted their practices. They offer insights into how creativity can nurture positive social change and self-transformation.

Abby Chen, head of contemporary programs at the Asian Art Museum.

Chen came to the museum about a year and a half ago. In a recent expansion, the museum added an exhibition pavilion and an art terrace, as well as an art wall on Hyde Street that people walking around the neighborhood will see. Chen thought carefully about how to fill that space, wanting to take the neighborhood around the museum—the Tenderloin, the Civic Center, the BART station, and the farmers market—into account. 

When Chen got Wofford’s proposal for Pattern Recognition for the space, it was what she’d wanted to see: visually appealing and energetic. 

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is it. It has this vibrant color scheme. If you go on Google maps, the area is very gray—our building is gray, and the library is gray. We thought we needed to add some color,” Chen said. “And that is only the form. What’s most important is the content which draws on the patterns in the Asian Art Museum. From outside you get a peek for what’s inside and certain community groups will recognize some of the patterns.”

Jas Charanjiva, Chanel Miller, and Jenifer Wofford.

That’s what Wofford was going for when she designed the mural. She says she didn’t want to use stereotypical images like dragons or pagodas, but instead thought about both patterns inspired by art in the museum and communities close to the museum, such as references to images from the Yakan in the Philippines and Hmong communities in southeast Asian countries. 

“I am hoping for a certain degree of joy with a bold and graphic and fun mural,” Wofford said. “Sort of a party on a wall.”

She also wanted to include names of some Bay Area Asian American artists. Narrowing that down was hard to do. She opened the question up to people on social media, talked to artists and consulted with her friend, Mark Johnson, a professor at San Francisco State University, who literally wrote a book on the subject, Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970.

A view of the Asian Art Museum’s colorful additions

Wofford decided to shout out artists born before 1940 who were also activists, involved in organizations like the Kearny Street Workshop. She included one of her mentors from the San Francisco Art Institute, Carlos Villa as well as Jade Snow Wong and Bernice Bing.  

Wofford says she hopes to blur the boundary between who’s outside and who’s inside the museum. Chen wants to do that as well, and she hopes the names will peak people’s curiosity in a chapter of art history they might not be aware of. 

“If you’re vacant from history, you feel like you want to make that void visible, and that’s part of healing,” Chen said. “The theme of the talk is acting, learning, and healing, and all three of these artists embody that in their practice.”

Thu/28, 4pm, online, donation requested
Tickets and more information here. 

The museum’s closed, but ‘The de Young Open’ poises for launch

Angelo A. Sotosanti. "San Francisco Outdoor Art Exhibit," 1941. Image: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Starting June 1, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco will welcome submissions from any artist over 18 years old from the nine Bay Area counties: Contra Costa, Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo, Marin, Napa, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma.

When the museum reopens, the selections for the exhibition The de Young Open will be hung. The art, which will include painting, sculpture, video, prints and photography, will be for sale and all the proceeds will go to the artists. 

This show was already planned to celebrate the de Young’s 125th anniversary, but it is coming sooner than scheduled—other exhibitions were cancelled when the museum closed due to the COVID pandemic. FAMSF director Thomas Campbell said now seemed like a good time for an exhibition showcasing local artists, who like many other groups, have been hit hard by pandemic. 

“The whole point is to celebrate art and creativity,” he said. “We though if we accelerate this, it’s something think about now that’s positive during this health crisis.”

This isn’t the first time the museum has had a community art exhibition. Campbell says the FAMSF recently hired an archivist, and they’ve learned there have been at least three of these shows – in 1915, 1949, and 1999, just before the old building was demolished. 

The theme for this show is “On the Edge,” and artists can take that different ways. 

“Here we are on the edge of America, and on the edge of Pacific Rim,” Campbell said. “There’s also the seismic instability, and we’re a city of cutting edge developments, and now with COVID, on the edge has a new resonance as we’re on the edge of something wholly unknown.”

Campbell adds that artists do not have to follow this theme, and artists are welcome to send in work they’ve created in the past two years. 

Artists can apply online from June 1 through June 14. The work will be selected by a jury including three of the museum’s curators: Timothy Anglin Burgard, Karin Breuer, and Claudia Schmuckl. Campbell says they are hoping for lots of different types of art, which will not be hung one work to a wall, 

“It’ll be in the Herbst galleries downstairs salon-style,” he said. “We want to pack in as many as we can, so it should be chaotic, creative, and fun.”

Campbell has been director at the museums for about a year and a half, and he says a show like one this fits into his goal of strengthening links between the community and the institution. 

“We started our free Saturday program, which has brought new audiences in and much more diverse audiences,” he said. “This is another way of engaging the community with the museum.” 

A Drag Queen Story Hour star and activist publishes her own kids’ book

Lil Miss Hot Mess hosting Drag Queen Story Hour. Photo by Joe Tekippe

For the majority of Americans, drag queens are performers they catch every Friday night on RuPaul’s Drag Race or at their local gay bar (pre-pandemic).

For former San Francisco performer Lil Miss Hot Mess, drag queens and kings have a broader appeal. They’re the brave warriors, who fought on the front lines for LGBTQ rights at San Francisco’s Compton’s Cafeteria riot in 1966 and New York’s Stonewall riots in 1969. Over the years, a slew of local queens have even run for public office—from the late José Sarria and Sister Boom Boom to Joan Jett Blakk, Anna Conda, and Honey Mahogany.

Drag queens have shown up at protests, volunteered and raised funds for community organizations, and, in the case of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, provided community-based security at major events.

The pandemic hasn’t slowed down their efforts or lessened their reach. Many performers, including Juanita More, are now putting on digital drag shows to raise money and support community organizations, including the SF Bay Area Queer Nightlife Fund, which supports out-of-work LGBTQ nightlife workers.

Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH), founded by queer author Michelle Tea in 2015 to inspire a love of reading in children while encouraging an appreciation for diversity, has gone virtual, as well, streaming book readings to kids everywhere via Instagram Live and public library websites.

One of the original DQSH hosts, who currently sits on the organization’s national advisory committee, Lil Miss Hot Mess pays tribute to all the tireless drag activists out there in her new children’s book The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish, out May 5. This parody of “The Wheels on the Bus” children’s classic encourages kids of all types to be their most authentic selves. The book is vibrantly illustrated by Olga de Dios Ruiz and features some of SF’s landmark attractions, like the Castro Theatre sign.

I spoke to Lil Miss Hot Mess, who currently lives in Los Angeles, about writing her new book, continuing to fight Facebook’s “real names” policy and discriminatory comments on the social media site’s DQSH page, and how she’s handling life under quarantine.

48 HILLS Why did you decide to write a children’s book?

LIL MISS HOT MESS The book grew out of my work with Drag Queen Story Hour. While there are many wonderful books out there with diverse themes and representation and many that deal with queer and gender themes (with even more on the way), there weren’t any kids books about drag queens.

It felt important to be able to offer kids an easy way to understand what a drag queen is, and to spread the joy of DQSH beyond events — especially in communities where we don’t have chapters yet.  What I love about this book, too, is that it teaches kids, but it’s not didactic. There’s no “Drag 101,” but it gets them swishing and shimmying and twirling, so they can embody and celebrate some of the things queens do.  If they like it, maybe they’ll want to be drag queens when they grow up, too.

48 HILLS Why did you choose The Wheels on the Bus as the structural model for your story?

LIL MISS HOT MESS This really was just a stroke of inspiration on my way to a DQSH event a few years ago.  I wanted to do a bit more than just read stories, and I was thinking about kid-friendly songs, but wanted to make them more specific.  And I liked the idea of creating a safe space for kids to experiment.  As an effeminate child, I was made fun of for being too swishy, and I wanted to let kids embrace that.

Plus, parody is a common trick of the trade of drag (and something I loved as a kid), so it seemed like another good way of not watering down drag, but simply adapting it to be kid-friendly.

But I truly didn’t think consciously until afterwards just how well some of the verses mesh up with the original: the hair going up, up, up (instead of the people going up and down), the jewels going bling, bling, bling, (instead of the lights going blink, blink, blink).

48 HILLS What can readers take away from the story aside from the fact that drag queens are amazing?

LIL MISS HOT MESS It sounds cheesy, but I hope that they take away the diversity, joy, and creativity that really are what make drag possible. The book isn’t meant to have any specific message, but I hope kids (and adults) think about drag as not just about gender or glamour, but as about really making your outer appearance reflect your inner sparkle. That’s so much of what drag is about—living that fantasy until it’s an undeniable reality.

Photo by Tracy Chow

48 HILLS Talk to me about being a founding member of Drag Queen Story Hour. How did you get involved and why is DQSH important?

LIL MISS HOT MESS DQSH was started by Michelle Tea, the brilliant author who founded Radar Productions in San Francisco. She had just become a parent and was looking for queer family programs, but wasn’t finding much. Honestly, I’m just so in awe of her genius. It’s such a simple concept, but also requires a lot of dedication and bravery to pull off. So, the first DQSH events were in SF in late 2015, and I was one of the first queens to host in NYC. And now I’m on the national leadership team for the DQSH network, which has 50 chapters and growing.

In terms of its importance, DQSH really is unique in offering a taste of queerness to kids, whether they have queer parents/families, or for straight families wanting to teach their kids about LGBTQ cultures.  Many of the stories we read have social justice themes and hopefully also encourage a love of reading and learning.  But I think the real value is in cultural literacy.  It’s hard to know how to teach kids about LGBTQ issues in age-appropriate ways (even though it’s part of K-12 curriculum in California). DQSH offers one way that is unabashedly queer, but also really connects to kids on their level.

48 HILLS In 2014, you helped fight Facebook’s “real names” policy and now you’re fighting trolls on the DQSH page. What can you tell us about that?

LIL MISS HOT MESS Oy vey. Facebook is a challenge. We won some great victories with the #MyNameIs campaign, though I still get messages from people whose accounts are blocked for the same reasons (and from some of the same people!). And, of course, this was before Cambridge Analytica and many of Facebook’s other scandals.

The problem with trolling really stems from the same problems as the “real names” issue, though. Facebook sees many of its most vulnerable users as “edge cases” that aren’t worthy of investing resources in to solve problems.  For them, trolling that happens to one percent or 10 percent of their user base is a drop in the bucket, but that’s still millions and millions of people!  Of course, there are always going to be haters, but frankly Facebook needs to do a better job of offering tools, systems, and support to prevent attacks.

With DQSH, we’ve simply been asking for the ability to turn off comments on live videos, so that kids don’t have to see hateful messages from trolls. That isn’t hard, but it’s an uphill battle with Facebook. The other issue now is that, because of the pandemic, many of their content moderators are furloughed.  Things weren’t great before, as many queer folks have either seen offensive hate speech deemed “not a violation” or truly innocuous queer-themed content deemed to be “inappropriate.”

I have a feeling that things are about to get a lot worse before they get better. Like the public health pandemic, a lack of preparedness means that bad and unjust policies on Facebook are only being amplified now.

48 HILLS How have you been handling quarantine? What is your daily life like now?

LIL MISS HOT MESS Quarantine has been up and down for me. By day I’m a PhD student, so my work has mostly been from home, though I do genuinely miss working in libraries and coffee shops! I’m also a “spoonie,” meaning I have a chronic illness and limited physical energy, so my life, over the past few years, hasn’t been quite as go-go-go as I used to be and fewer club nights.

So, it’s interesting to feel less like I’m missing out now that we’re all connecting digitally. And I’ve actually been performing more than I had been, because I can finally do drag numbers from my bed and bathtub. As someone who’s more vulnerable to this virus, I’m also grateful that so many in my community and society at large are taking this so seriously. It’s really quite moving, though I wish that the federal government had planned better to mitigate this. And all that said, I can’t wait til we can safely gather and hug again.

Wendy Macnaughton’s #DrawTogether brings art (and needed supplies) to kids

When people were asked to stay at home as much as possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wendy Macnaughton wanted to do something to help relieve the fear and anxiety so many people are feeling. The graphic journalist and illustrator of three New York Times bestselling books (including recent sensation Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat) decided on online drawing classes, which she hosts for half an hour on her Instagram Live at 10am every day. 

#DrawTogether with WendyMac has become wildly popular, mostly due to Macnaughton’s open, welcoming charm. She starts each lesson by balancing a pencil on her upper lip (something her students love to emulate), then leads the class in a dance or stretch to warm up. Next, she encourages the artists to draw rainbows, or birthday cards, or portraits of their dogs. Tens of thousands of children in more than 40 countries have joined in and now the classes are on YouTube as well. 

There’s a reason these classes have become so in demand and a welcome part of the schedule for both kids and parents at home, says Macnaughton’s friend, Vinny Eng.

“She’s so beloved, and she’s got such a great demeanor,” he said. “She’s got an amazing ability to engage anyone who watches, and she makes them feel included and accepted. There are no aesthetic concerns—your output is not measured—it’s the communal nature. Like she says, we’re better together when we draw together.”

One day Macnaughton and Eng were talking about her classes and a project of his, SF New Deal, which buys meals from restaurants and delivers them to people in senior centers or housing projects or other spots where people face food insecurity. Believing that art is an essential need as well, they thought of delivering kits of art supplies to children who might not have them.

Macnaughton’s friend, Michelle Morrison, who is on the social impact team at Dropbox, secured 600 kits to be delivered to the Boys and Girls Clubs in San Francisco. As a way to support a local art store, they source the materials for the kits—watercolors, crayons, a pencil, an eraser, and sharpeners—from Arch Drafting Supply in Potrero Hill.  The kits include an activity sheet as well. 

Noting that Macnaughton, who has a background in social work, has a deep well of compassion, Eng calls the nonprofit, #DrawTogether, launched by Macnaughton and her wife, Caroline Paul, author of books like The Gutsy Girl, a big lovely marriage of art and activism. Their original GoFundMe to deliver more kits met its goal of $27,500 in just one day. Now they have another campaign, with the aim of delivering kits in Oakland as well as Queens and Brooklyn, some of the hardest hit areas in the country.  

“Children are experiencing a lot right now,” said Eng, the program director of #DrawTogether, “But they know how to use a pencil. It’s like Wendy says, ‘Drawing is seeing and seeing is looking and looking is loving.’ It’s simple and profound.”

Folsom Street Fair 2020 moves online due to COVID concerns

This September, Folsom Street Fair’s jingle-jangle of nipple rings and crack-crack-crack of the whip will be floating out of your laptop speakers—rather than above the heads of half a million participants in the world’s largest fetish and kink fair.

The fair and its “kinky little sibling,” July’s Up Your Alley Fair (aka Dore Alley Fair), both produced by Folsom Street Events, which annually flood the city’s businesses with visitors and select community nonprofits with necessary grant money, are moving online due to health and safety concerns in the wake of COVID. The move was announced Monday morning, cementing a season of big festival cancellations, including Pride and Burning Man.

“It’s so cliche to say we’re making lemonade out of lemons,” Folsom Street Events Interim Executive Director Angel Adeyoha told me over the phone. “But what else were we going to do with all these lemons? Queer people and leatherfolk have been improvising throughout history, it’s just what we do. The health and safety of our community comes first.”

According to Adeyoha, the Folsom Street Events board and staff had been watching closely for any possibility that the fair could still be held, although it prepared for the worst. “When Pride announced it was cancelling, we knew we had to do the same with July’s Up Your Alley Fair. And then Governor Newsom said there would most likely be no large gatherings until next year, maybe, we knew we had to adopt a different plan for Folsom,” Adeyoha said.

“Nothing is going to look the same this year, in any context. So we are changing direction and focusing on creating an online experience that preserves the spirit of the fair, while promoting our fantastic community partners, performers, and vendors,” Adeyoha said. “We’ll be offering them connection and material support for this year’s changes. We’re still going full steam ahead on raising money for our annual grants, and producing something unique that maintains the vibe of the event.”

Photo by GlitterGuts

Maybe it’s unfair to ask this at such an early stage, but any idea what this online experience might look like?

“We are listening to the community and following the guidance of some of the organizations we’ve worked with for years. We’ll be releasing an online poll for our audience to tell us directly what they feel we should include, and holding space for our vendors and event staff to adapt to the changes,” Adeyoha said.

“Well definitely be preserving aspects like BDSM demos and entertainment—what’s exciting is now we can include participants and performers from all over the world, including DJs and musicians.”

“One thing we’re definitely doing is looking to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who have been part of the fair forever. Adeyoha said. “Their online version this year of the Easter Hunky Jesus contest filled me with hope, because it showed how effective an online community-building experience like that could be. It was so sweet and touching, too, to see how the community showed up and interacted in this time of crisis.”

Adeyoha says that among other fundraising efforts, Folsom Street Events plans to launch a Patreon in the near future, “to help keep the lights on”: Participants can subscribe for exclusive content and to support the fairs. The best way to find out about next steps is to follow Folsom Street Events on social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—and subscribe to the organization’s newsletter. “And please reach out to us at any time through our website,” Adeyoha said.

In the meantime, Adeyoha urges everyone to support local nonprofits (Adeyoha gives a special shout-out to the Bay Area Leather Lifeline —”If you would go out every week to events like a beer bust or fundraiser where you would kick in $15 or $20, remember those events aren’t happening anymore, and these institutions need your support. And please support our tireless healthcare workers and first responders.”

Full press release below: 


World’s largest leather and fetish events to go virtual in 2020

Folsom Street Events (FSE) is announcing that this year’s Up Your Alley, Folsom Street Fair, and related events will be held virtually rather than in-person. The board of directors and staff will produce virtual events to celebrate the historic fair weekends by staying socially connected while physically distant. ​The new events will be on the weekends of July 26, 2020 and September 27, 2020. For more information, visit

In making the decision, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public health and the response needed from Folsom Street Events was clear. Interim Executive Director Angel Adeyoha commented, “​We feel it is the ethical and the responsible choice to make before fair planning and production proceeds any further.​ The safety and wellbeing of our attendees and community members are our top priority. It was a hard decision to cancel our in-person events this year, but we hold ourselves and our events to the highest safety standards. Our team of staff and board members take their responsibility to our communities incredibly seriously.”

Folsom Street Events has observed a standard of care for LGBTQ2S+ community members since its roots in the AIDS crisis. This decision upholds that legacy by choosing to gather virtually until it is once again safe to proudly take to the streets.

“We know that our events are a beacon of self-expression and visibility for so many,” Adeyoha added, “and we look forward to remaining a vibrant San Francisco tradition this year and for years to come.”

“I know the cancellation of in-person celebrations of the Folsom Street Fair and Up Your Alley is disappointing, but it is best for the health and safety of everyone involved,” said Mayor London N. Breed. “I want to thank Folsom Street Events for their careful consideration of the current situation, and for making a decision that is in the best interest of public health but still allows people to celebrate virtually.”

2020 will mark the 37th year of Folsom Street Fair and 35th year of Up Your Alley. Combined, the annual events bring hundreds of thousands of fairgoers from around the world to the historic San Francisco South of Market (SOMA) neighborhood and more than $200 million to San Francisco businesses.

“Folsom Street Fair and Up Your Alley are important legacy street fairs that contribute to San Francisco’s unique cultural fabric and economy. While we will miss the fairs this year, I commend Folsom Street Events for taking this proactive step to protect public safety,” said Maggie Weiland, Executive Director of the San Francisco Entertainment Commission.

“Folsom Street Events is demonstrating true leadership by making the tough decision to cancel their 2020 events,” said Race Bannon, writer, organizer, and activist. “While these cancellations are a sad outcome of the pandemic, our city can take pride knowing that we also care deeply about the health and safety of our fellow citizens and those who visit our amazing city. We’ll be back. Our community will rise like a phoenix, more beautiful and vibrant than ever.”

Folsom Street Events will continue to support its community of partners, including local beneficiary non-profits, sponsors, exhibitors, and artists. The board of directors and staff look forward to providing connection and service to the entire FSE family during this crisis. Folsom Street Events urges all those we serve to stay safe, stay inspired, and take care of each other.

Folsom Street Events is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Our mission is to create world-class leather and fetish events that unite the alternative sexuality communities with safe, consent-based venues for self-expression, art and entertainment. Our events raise funds to sustain SF Bay Area-based charities. We value sexual freedom, diversity, and volunteerism. All of our events are adult-oriented, sex-positive events. Since our founding in 1984, FSE has given over $7 million dollars in proceeds to local nonprofit LGBTQ2S+ and allied organizations.

‘Hip-hop to Hamilton’ urges youth to pursue arts careers, despite COVID

Khafre Jay

Lily Ling, the music director and conductor for the tour of Hamilton, says we need the arts now more than ever. She saw that working on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wildly popular musical. 

“I think in general the arts are so important because they have no boundaries. We’re telling this story with nontraditional casting. The idea is art is alive and can be told in many forms,” she said.

“I was an immigrant from China, raised on classical music, and to be able to lead and express and teach the music that’s hip-hop and rap and gives nods to so many different types of music, and is in so many ways of relevant, is incredible.”

Aiming to inspire that passion for arts, even during this strange time, Ling, along with Khafre Jay, the founder of Hip Hop For Change, will be putting on a webinar, hosted by the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Unified School District, Hip-Hop to Hamilton: Making Art Work, about careers in the arts and how to navigate them right now. 

Ling hopes students pursuing arts won’t be discouraged although performances of plays and musicals and concerts are shut down right now, along with art shows. 

“I want young people not to feel disheartened, but to see it as an opportunity,” she said. “Maybe they have some free time to explore new things. With technology, we have so much at our fingertips to explore and learn something that could inform or feed us.”

Lily Ling

Ling had talked to people in the education department at the Asian Art Museum about speaking at an arts festival for San Francisco Unified students before the pandemic hit. She thinks it’s important to do outreach. 

“In musical theater and on Broadway and in regional theaters, the female to male ratio skews a lot more male,” she said. “I want to empower girls and immigrants like myself, and talk about the possibility to be in the arts and to talk with parents, so they won’t be scared of that.”

With the arts festival cancelled, due to COVID-19, Ling and Jay will talk about the same types of things on the webinar. 

Jay says he feels like growing up black in Hunters Point with parents who talked with him about fighting white supremacy and oppression, activism has been built into his life. He worked as an organizer and fundraiser for Greenpeace for a time, managing a large budget and a staff of 20, and then wanted to use his skills to build something different in hip-hop. 

“Hip-hop is not that marketable if you don’t buy into the misogyny and materialism,” he said. “The main people buying mainstream hip-hop are 18- to 24-year-old white suburban men, and they’re buying what they believe is the hood.”

In 2013, Jay started Hip Hop for Change, going out to fundraise on Haight Street with a clipboard, then went on to incorporate his company, build a website, and hire people at a living wage. He employs local hip-hop artists to go into schools and teach kids the history of hip-hop. 

Like Ling, Jay was going to be part of the SFUSD arts festival at the Asian Art Museum. 

“Then the world fell apart, and we had to furlough our staff and every single school closed,” he said. “I love the Asian—they helped us out with stipends for artists, and we were going to do a live stream, then the world fell even more apart.”

Jay agrees with Ling that it’s important to encourage young people to keep doing their art.

“It costs nothing for a kid to break dance or to rap,” he said. “We need to invest in the arts more than ever.”

Saturday, April 25, 4 pm
On your computer, free
Register here 

SFFILM Fest goes virtual just as programming director bows out

Rachel Rosen. Photo: SFFILM / Tommy Lau

The week between the confirmation of the SFFILM Festival‘s program and the public announcement of it is Director of Programming Rachel Rosen’s least favorite time of the festival season. It is a fragile period when a guest or a film dropping out can have major consequences. And this year with COVID-19 making inroads into the United States, changes were coming in fast—and the cancellation of the 63rd edition of the festival that was announced on Friday, March 13, seemed more and more inevitable. Yet, Rosen and her team continued planning what was to have been her last festival before stepping down.

“In programming, we were going through this process of reimagining the festival every day,” says Rosen over the phone as she shelters at home. “Things happened so quickly in that last week. From the perspective of now, it just seems kind of ridiculous what we were concentrating on and yet at the time it made sense.”

SFFILM has made a comeback of sorts with a virtual festival, SFFILM at Home, which kicked off April 8 with a video profile of Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, directors of what would have been the opening night film Boys State, and a replay of last year’s opening night Q&A with the cast and makers of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. Future profiles, archival and educational materials, and live Q&As are forthcoming.

The real-world festival itself did not return this year. (Mini-festivals Hong Kong Cinema, July 10-12, and November’s Doc Stories are still on track.) While other festivals have announced postponements, SFFILM was a hard cancel and Rosen advocated for that.

“I just felt like whatever we do, even if it’s showing three-quarters of the films in one way, shape, or form, that’s not the festival we programmed,” she says. “There’s no way to duplicate it.

In the absence of a physical festival, SFFILM members can access an archive of live Q&As, like one with Jermaine Fowler, Boots Riley, and Terry Crews. Photo: SFFILM / Pamela Gentile

“San Francisco has a very rich and robust exhibition calendar and we’re a pretty long festival in the scheme of things, so there is no obvious pathway when we could do this in physical life. And 152 films is a lot if we said we were going to do it virtually. That also seems not feasible or desirable.”

The 63rd SFFILM Festival would have been Rosen’s 21st. She began as a seasonal employee in the early 1990s, a publicist one year and the program coordinator for two, before joining the organization as an Associate Director of Programming in 1994. She left to become Director of Programming at Film Independent in 2001, returning to take her current position in 2009. 

And while she is preparing to leave for a job as an awards consultant, it has been a role she has relished, embracing the festival itself as much as audiences do. She particularly enjoys the festival’s Live & Onstage events. Unlike the films, these are things she hasn’t seen, “They’re always new and fresh and dangerous and exciting.”

And she also loves being with visiting filmmakers as they interact with audiences, either one on one, or absorbing a crowd’s reaction to their movies. 

“There’s sort of like a spillover effect, which, of course, is greatest when you’re onstage at the Castro Theatre with someone experiencing a full audience’s love of their movie. It’s pretty exhilarating.

“My career with SFFILM would be the ideal life learning job for someone who loves movies. Every year and everything we did was an opportunity to get to know something about cinema, about the movie business, to experiment.”

SFFILM has posted a library of archived conversations on its site, including one with Charlize Theron. Photo: SFFILM / Tommy Lau

The silver lining Rosen sees to the festival’s cancellation is that she knows she would be the center of attention had it happened, and she would rather not be in that position. She would rather her role be in in the service of calling attention to others, to filmmakers and their work.

“I would’ve been uncomfortable with whatever attention was being called to me as it being my last year,” Rosen says. “One thing that is quite obviously true is probably half the things people think are attributable to me as Director of Programming are mostly the work of other people who will still be at SFFILM next year. My fairytale ending would have just been a last onstage Q&A for a film—maybe at the Castro – that audiences really responded to.”

As to the future of the organization she is preparing to leave, she has no doubt about it.

“I anticipate the future of SFFILM being strong and resiliently creative,” Rosen says. “The role of a festival and how we fit into the ecosystems of San Francisco and the industry have changed a number of times since I’ve been at the organization, maybe not this dramatically, but as things evolve in the industry a festival has to adjust.”

SFFILM at Home runs through April 21 at

‘Change the dynamics’: Dawoud Bey on photography, place, and history

Dawoud Bey, "Three Women at a Parade, Harlem NY" (1978)

On February 15, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art opened An American Project, a retrospective, of the work of multi-award-winning photographer and teacher Dawoud Bey. The show was supposed to run through May 25, before traveling to other museums, including the co-organizer of the show, New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. But due to the COVID- 19 pandemic, the SFMOMA and other museums, closed temporarily in March. Recently the museum put up a short video of Bey talking about visualizing history, and he took over the museum’s Instagram account the week of March 30.

Bey came out to San Francisco for An American Project, and at a preview had a conversation with Corey Keller, (who curated the show along with the Whitney’s Elisabeth Sherman), in which he talked about going to see protests of the widely criticized 1969 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harlem on My Mind, which mostly excluded African American artists. There was no protest that day, and Bey ended up going into the show, which made him think seriously about being a photographer. 

An American Project includes Bey’s first show, Harlem USA, along with The Birmingham Project, commemorating the 1963 dynamiting of the 16th Street Baptist Church in that city which killed four girls; Night Coming Tenderly, Black about the Underground Railroad; and Class Pictures, portraits of high school students accompanied by their words. 

Bey sat down with 48 Hills and talked about changing from wanting his photos to show people in a “positive light” to just making honest photos; how for The Birmingham Project, photographing children the age of the ones who were killed makes history more specific; and the way the darkness and positioning of the photographs in Night Coming Tenderly, Black pull viewers into the experience of being on the Underground Railroad and running for their lives. 

Dawoud Bey, ‘A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY’ (1990)

48 HILLS Your godmother gave you a camera when you were 15. When did you start using it?

DAWOUD BEY When I got the camera, and it was a very basic Argus C3 Rangefinder camera, I had no idea how to use it. I was more fascinated by the camera itself—the fact that the lens came off, and I began to figure out when you turn this dial the shutter would open slowly. I had no background in photography, and I didn’t any think of it in terms of what would my subject matter be. So I just started walking around with this camera. I never made any memorable photos with that camera, but I did start to notice photography magazines like, “Oh, there’s actually magazines about this stuff.” So it got me engaged with photography, and I started looking at photography books and magazines, and then the possibilities of what one might do with a camera opened up. 

I guess the pivotal thing that happened was the following year when I was 16 and I went to see Harlem on my Mind at the Met. I actually took the camera with me, and I did take a picture of the banner in front of the Met. It was seeing that exhibition that began to expand for me considerably the notion of what the subject of photographs might be. Even though Harlem on My Mind was not an art exhibition, clearly the photographs were not that ones I saw in everyday newspapers and magazine, which up to that point was my only frame of reference for what photographs were. Seeing that exhibition and thinking about my family’s history in Harlem, because my mother and father met in Harlem, and beginning to realize one has to have a kind of nominal subject around which to wrap their picture making, that allowed me to begin making photographs.  

48H So that led to your first show, Harlem USA.

DB Yes. They were photographs of everyday people in Harlem in the public and semi public spaces of Harlem, largely in the streets, and a few in churches and in barber shops and greasy spoon luncheonette restaurants. Those were very much in the tradition of other pictures I had been looking at—a lot from photographers of the WPA and Farm Security Administrator. Walker Evans became an early influence and Roy DeCarava. I started looking at the lot of photographs, trying to get a sense of how photos are made and what good photographs look like. 

48H With that show, Harlem USA, what kind of photos did you want to make?

DB When I started out, I guess I wanted to make photographs that in some significant way contested the stereotypical notions of Black urban communities like Harlem, which are often described through a lens of some form of social pathology. So when I started out, I probably would have said I wanted to make photographs that represented the people of Harlem in a more positive light. But as I continued on, I couldn’t quite figure out what a positive light looks like. This was merely people in the act of living their lives.

I eventually came to this notion of wanting to make an honest representation of everyday people in Harlem. It allowed me to let me let go of this binary notion of positive and negative, and just try and describe clearly the people in front of me without trying to put them in a box. Just allow them space to breathe, and I realized that was enough. 

Dawoud Bey, ‘A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY’ (1988)

48H You have talked about showing your work in the communities where you took the photos and how the act of being seen is political.

DB I thought it was very important that the work I was making in that community be shown in that community—that the people who were the subjects of the work would have access to the work. Certainly a number of these photographs are made in places very different from where they’re shown, but they’re first shown where they were made, from my first show at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979. It gave me a very clear and intentional way of thinking about the institution as a place of display. Not just the end point for the work, but to use the space of the museum to set up a series of particular relationships: between the museum and the community in which it sits, and trying to use the work in a way that a piece of community is in the work. It creates a different relationship between museum and the community, where they are aware they’re being exhibited in this space, which makes them more likely to want to have access to that space.

I think it changes the dynamics. Certainly at the Studio Museum in Harlem, it’s a very different set of circumstances because that place is set up in order to have a place for art objects within the African American community. I wanted my photographs in Harlem to extend that conversation. Usually the first showing of the work is in the place in which the work is made. The Birmingham Project was first shown in Birmingham because it has a very particular relationship with that history. The Class Pictures project was made in several different communities around the country, but each piece first shown in the city in which it was made.

Dawoud Bey, ‘Gerard, Edgewater High School, Orlando, FL (2003)’

48H Why did you decide to have the students you photographed in Class Pictures write something to go along with their portraits?

I thought it was necessary because I wanted a very dimensional representation of those young people. I’m always acutely aware of the limitation of photographs because photographs don’t do a lot more than they do. They’re mute visual objects that present a particular piece of information. But all the information that lies out of the frame, which is a lot of information, tends not to be what the work is about.

In terms of making a contemporary portrait of young people in America, I thought it was important they not only be visualized in my photographs, but that they have a place of self representation and talk about their own lives in a way that the photograph is not capable of. That the two things—my portrait of them and the text—could add up to something more than either alone can represent. In that project I though it was really important to give them a literal voice in the construction of the image.

48H You talked about your work having a through line? What is it?

DB A sense of history and place. There’s always been a kind of close looking at a place. Photographs become history the moment that they’re made. They begin to recede into the past as soon as they are made. It’s about bringing all of that into the conversation through my work. To have them become a part of the conversation from which they’ve been largely excluded.

Dawoud Bey, ‘Mary Parker and Caela Cowan, Birmingham, AL’ (2012)

48H You said you went to Birmingham for years getting to know the city before deciding what you wanted to photograph to commemorate the bombing the 16th Street Baptist Church by white supremacists. How did you decide on young people the same age as the children who were killed in a diptych with someone who would have been their age if they lived?

DB I didn’t want to just photograph young people in Birmingham—I wanted them to be those specific ages. The girls were 11 and 14, and the two boys killed that afternoon were 13 and 16. I wanted them to be that age because for me, the work resonated more deeply in terms of what does an 11-year-old Black girl look like, because one of the girls who was killed in the dynamiting of the church was 11. Not just what does a young girl look like, but what does an 11-year-old African American girl look like.

It’s a way of making that history less mythic and more specific. History as time passes tends to become very gauzy. “The four little girls”…. It almost sounds like a girls’ singing group. Like what is that? I wanted to very specifically give you a sense of what a 14-year-old African American girl looks like, a 13-year-old African American boy. I want them to be that age as a way of invoking their presence in the work, not a presence, but their presence through those young people. And through the adults who were the same age they would have been if they had not been murdered. 

Dawoud Bey, ‘Untitled #20 (Farmhouse and Picket Fence I)’, from the Night Coming Tenderly, Black series (2017)

48H The photos in your Underground Railroad series, Night Coming Tenderly, Black, are very dark. Why did you want them to look like that? 

DB I wanted the viewer to think about moving through that landscape under cover of necessary darkness, as they moved, in that case, toward Lake Erie. I wanted to make photos that evoked that particular sensation. It kind of allowed the viewer to momentarily, through the photograph, inhabit that space under those circumstances, to imagine oneself moving though that terrain under threat of death. 

The positionality of all of them is eye level and meant to be experienced as if one were the person moving through that landscape. I wanted it to be a heightened physical and psychological experience. 

I had a very interesting experience at the Art Institute of Chicago when I showed them for the first time. I came into the gallery and two women had just finished looking at the work and they looked disoriented and they said to me, “You’re the one who made these photographs, right?” I said yes. “But you made them now, right? Obviously you didn’t go back, but why am I feeling I’m someplace I’m not?” It kind of pulled them back. I really want the work to pull you into the experience, so it’s not just a space of the imagination, which it is, but that it resonates as experience.  

Let’s help local artists, workers, and small businesses. Join in!

Nightclubs The Great Northern and Monarch have launched crowdfunding campaigns to pay their employees and cover costs. Find their link in the comments below!

Note: Scroll down all the way to the to the comments section at the bottom of this article to help support specific local artists, workers, and small businesses who need help in the shutdown. 

Following the lead of doctor-musician Rupa Marya and others on social media who have called for musicians and queer artists and sex workers and others to post links to their websites and social donation apps, we want to help compile lists and resources for this who can to support and donate to these vital and creative members of our community.

We’re going to keep a running tab of resources for the community here to amplify. Please write if you know if any others we should add. We encourage all workers and small businesses in need to drop a link in the comments of this article (scroll down!) to their website or  Patreon/Venmo/PayPal/GoFundMe/Cash app for 48hills community members to purchase merch and services or donate to help you get through this.You can tell us a little about yourself and your work, too, if you like.

Nightclubs The Great Northern and Monarch have launched crowdfunding campaigns to pay their employees and cover costs. Find more links in the comments below this article!

We’ll be blasting this throughout the next few weeks via our newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and site, so please don’t be shy! We want help to support our community in need.


**Donate to queer/trans workers and artists here.

**Donate to local musicians and artists here

**Donate to (and apply for) the Beverage Workers’ Relief Fund here

**Donate (and apply for) the Safety Net Fund for Bay Area artists here

**Buy gift certificates to “Save Your Fave” local restaurants here.

**Donate to “the Beat Goes On” fund for DJs here

**Donate to the SF Queer Nightlife Fund here.  

**Donate to a collective of Bay Area performers here

**Apply for the Arts & Culture Leaders of Color Emergency Fund here

**Check out this freelance artist resource guide here

**There’s a running list of the GoFundMe campaigns for many nightclubs and cafes here

**View Broke-Ass Stuart’s guide to ways you can generally help the arts community here

If you are in need of help during this time, please comment below  this article — scroll down!! — with your website/social/pay app! And if you know of any more relief funds/threads please email