Keep the underground in plain sight – help us buy The Lab!
For the past 35 years The Lab has provided a home for radical ideas in a changing city. We are launching this Kickstarter to gather the community support and the seed money we need to run a larger capital campaign to purchase our space.
So, we want to know: how much do you want San Francisco’s underground to survive?
What is The Lab?
The Lab is one of the last remaining arts organizations in San Francisco.
Each year, we give a few artists between $25–100K each, keys to our space, and unlimited time to create work that blows our mind. For the 12,000+ people who visit us each year, The Lab is a cultural commons where different ideas, creative approaches, and communities cross-germinate and come alive in the heart of a city struggling to maintain both art and public space.
Since 1984, The Lab has been the crux of the underground arts scene, hosting projects with Jack Smith, Nan Goldin, David Wojnarowicz, Lydia Lunch, Mike Kelley, Jlin, Dynasty Handbag, Martine Syms, Bruce Conner, Holly Herndon, Roscoe Mitchell, Barry McGee, Carrie Mae Weems, keyon gaskin, Charlemagne Palestine, Lonnie Holley, Chris Mann, Simon Fujiwara, Orlan, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Juliana Huxtable, Akio Suzuki, Dora García, William Basinski, Dodie Bellamy, Wadada Leo Smith, Caroliner, Z’ev, and countless others who represent communities and ideas that are rarely represented in high brow art spaces.
We have been compared with The Kitchen in New York and Cafe OTO in London, but The Lab has developed a distinctive, radical model that actively responds to the challenges posed by our current economic and political climate, especially in wealth-divided San Francisco.
Making a living as an artist has never been easy, but in the face of intensifying gentrification, yawning pay gaps, and cultural inequities, we focus our mission and programming around two key principles: 1) to empower underrepresented artists to reimagine art and art institutions, and 2) to provide these artists with significant funding, time, and space.
The Lab was profiled on the December 31, 2018 cover of the San Francisco Chronicle. Read that article here.
Why purchase our space?
The Lab is housed in the former union meeting hall of the Redstone Labor Temple, which served as a progressive think tank and cultural center in San Francisco for over a century. Built in 1914 by the San Francisco Labor Council, the building is where unions made history – advocating for living wages, reasonable working hours, health care, gender equity, and civil rights. It was an epicenter of organizing for the General Strike of 1934, home to the first women's union, the birthplace of online journalism, and a hub for underground art and theater (Angels in America premiered at the Redstone’s Theater Rhino). In 1994, The Lab transformed the main union hall of the Labor Temple into a raw, sonically tuned, laboratory for visual art and sound installations, wild performances, film screenings, and literary projects.
The Lab believes that the Redstone Labor Temple exists as a testament to the power of unions, which is why we are teaming up with fellow tenants – artists, activists, and grassroots organizations like El/La Para Translatinas, Western Regional Advocacy Project, and SF Living Wage Coalition – to purchase the building before it is bought by a private developer. If The Lab can furnish the funds to buy our space, it will enable our nonprofit funder, Mission Economic Development Association (MEDA), to keep existing tenants in the building at subsidized rates, while offering similar opportunities to other nonprofits engaged in equity-minded, community-backed work.
Why right now?
As we face down speculators who want to buy up historic landmarks like the Redstone Labor Temple and turn public space into private, corporate space, we need our city and our community to insist on separating social good organizations from the rent-seeking commercial sector.
Over the past five years, 52% of San Francisco’s nonprofit art organizations, along with untold numbers of artists, have been forced to leave the city due to skyrocketing rents. As nonprofit organizations are evicted, as our friends are displaced, as our spaces for grassroots responsiveness and creativity shrink, we must demand that the city use proceeds from property taxes and expansive gentrification to protect our public space.
One thing is true: we cannot continue to produce and present this type of art unless we have a community of people who are willing to back it. Anti-parochial and fully aware of its economic disadvantage in one of the most expensive cities in the world The Lab has proven that this city still supports culture, producing vanguard programming made possible by its creative re-organization. Together, we built a place that screeches, moans, whistles, purrs, and gets dizzy-drunk on the elixir of its own unlikely existence. As the stakes get higher and higher, we want to know: how much do you want San Francisco’s underground to survive?
What will your contributions support?
Your contributions will allow us to launch a concerted capital campaign where we ask for $2 million in major support from the city, foundations, and philanthropists, enabling a community-driven purchase of The Lab’s current space in the Redstone Labor Temple. Gathering a critical mass of backers is crucial in our push to show major contributors the outsized impact and momentous legacy their money can have. Even a small amount helps us build momentum — we want donors to know the vibrant and informed communities of artists and allies that are counting on them.
For Anthony A. Russell, who created our video and who powers so many of our programs at The Lab. Our video includes music by local phenomenon Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids, videos by Robert Divers Herrick and Griff Williams, and live footage from projects at The Lab by Julie Tolentino, the Light Field Film Festival, Darius James and Val Jeanty, Lis Rhodes, RRLEW, Sadie Barnette, TURF dancers, Roscoe Mitchell, Caroliner, Xara Thustra, Human deSelection and Realization Nature Group, Voicehandler, Semiconductor, Simone Bailey, Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux, Wadada Leo Smith, Man Forever, and William Basinski. And to Matt Carney, who helped advise.
... and THANK YOU. It’s all for you.
Risks and challenges
The Lab has been around for 35 years and has hosted countless projects. Recently we made infrastructural changes that allow us to give remarkable support to our artists while remaining accountable to our artists and funders. We do all this with a tiny staff – we believe our small size lends us enough flexibility to have tremendous resonance in our community.
If we meet our goal of $50,000, you can expect The Lab to be around for 35 more years! We're fundraising for everything (including our programs) from the ground up, so it's entirely possible that we'll meet delays in the process. We are fierce survivors, scrappy innovators, and we really like solving absurdly complex problems, so you can bet that we’ll make it out of this with some great stories to tell. We won't stop until we get there.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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