Thirty years ago a group of students from SF State created a new future for art in San Francisco. Today, artists still use the space, known as The Lab, on the corner of 16th and Capp Streets as a place to go for shared studios, events and exhibitions.
Because of living costs, space for artists in the city is very limited. Laura Brun, John DiStefano, Tami Logan, Alan Millar and Nomi Seidman came up with the idea to fix that and start an experimental art space in their own apartment to continue their work after graduation.
In 1984 the Co-Lab, currently known as The Lab, was born. Millar was crucial in founding The Lab and is now the president.
In the beginning of its journey, The Lab produced excellent exhibits, but in recent years it has fallen on hard times, according to SF State Art Department Chair Gail Dawson.
Since August The Lab has been under new leadership and undergoing extensive renovations. Dena Beard, newly appointed executive director of The Lab, has been working hard to give the experimental art space the push it needs.
To raise money The Lab recently hosted a 24-hour telethon and it was a huge success. More than 2,300 viewers tuned into YouTube to watch a live stream, according to Beard. She said they surpassed their goal and made approximately $57,000.
Although they have never netted that much money before, Millar believes the most important aspect of the event was that it re-energized the audience and members of The Lab.
“We’re back,” Millar said excitedly. “We were never gone, but we’re back.”
Robot demonstrations, flame whistles, music, comedians and drag performances kept visitors busy from dawn to dusk during the Nov. 15 telethon.
“It was a total celebration of what The Lab does and the energy of San Francisco,” Beard said.
The Lab has always exhibited new artists, including interns. During an internship, students work on their own project and take ownership over a certain part of The Lab, according to Beard.
Interns get familiar with installation work, selling and marketing inquiries, art language and what is required to put on exhibitions. Beard said interning is a very important learning experience as an artist.
SF State art student George Carpenter believes The Lab is a good place for student artists.
“There’s no better place for an art student to be than your local gallery,” he said.
Although Carpenter has never interned before, he said he would enjoy interning at The Lab.
“I thrive in artistic work environments and gallery settings,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter participated in the LAST Festival at The Lab in October. The festival celebrated the confluence of art and science. Carpenter helped his professor Carlos Castellanos set up microbial fuel cells, which were the main component of the art piece.
As a graphic and musical artist, Carpenter likes the lab for its stance on experimental art and its importance in San Francisco, “a city with a long legacy for radical ideas and experimentation.” One day he hopes to get the opportunity to show his art at The Lab.
The Lab’s future looks bright with many plans for 2015. There will be opportunities for coworking with new artists, workshops where different artists from the Bay Area can meet each other, as well as a new program that will introduce musical performances and exhibitions.
“The Lab is like a family,” Beard said. “You come in, have mentorship and social events.”