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Burning Man art studio needs millions to survive in San Francisco

Mural-covered shipping containers serve as studios for resident artists at the Box Shop in Bayview-Hunters Point. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

From Burning Man sculptures to LED art installations in Golden Gate Park, Charlie Gadeken and the Box Shop have created it all. Now, the beloved art space is under threat of disappearing from San Francisco unless it can raise millions for a new home.

“Making Entwined during the pandemic was one of the most amazing artistic experiences I’ve ever been a part of,” said Gadeken, who founded the industrial art organization, describing his popular annual Golden Gate Park light installation that launched in 2020. “[Artists] also created a giant purple head out of the shop, and a 165-foot stainless steel serpent mother with an articulating, hydraulic head.” 

Mary McPheely walks through a warehouse at The Box Shop, where artists store pieces from the "Entwined" installation. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

That’s just a small sample of creations artists have produced out of the Box Shop’s shipping container-turned-studios—and it could be the last industrial art space in San Francisco.

After 20 years of metal art-making and community building, the Box Shop faces a murky future. Gadeken says the Box Shop's rent was raised by 40% at the same time that the studio effectively broke even in revenue, placing tough financial pressures on the business. Gadeken is now looking to buy a new industrial space to serve as the permanent home for the roughly 100 artists that work with him. 

READ MORE: ‘Entwined’ Art Installation Lights Up Golden Gate Park Once Again

Painted shipping container studios are lit up at the Box Shop on March 25, 2023. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

“We are really working hard now to raise the funds to buy a permanent home—it was inevitable that we were going to get kicked out,” Gadeken said. “If we lose the Box Shop, we lose a whole segment of the arts in San Francisco.”

The Box Shop now has just under a year to raise funds—but it won’t be easy. 

A new Bayview space they’re eyeing costs a cool $8.25 million, and Gadeken says he needs to raise roughly $500,000 in the next three months, and an additional $1 million per year for the next few years to buy that property. The studio already secured a $1.7 million grant from state Sen. Scott Wiener to find a permanent home. 

Charlie Gadeken (right) poses outside of a shipping container at the Box Shop, an industrial art space he founded 20 years ago. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

“I keep talking to these organizations that are supposed to be here to help us or support us, but none of them seem to have any capacity to help,” Gadeken said. “In 15 days, we can go nonrefundable on this building that we can’t quite afford—we can probably buy the building now, but I probably couldn’t buy toilet paper afterwards.” 

The space sometimes hosts anarchist coffee shops for local mutual aid groups and monthly open houses welcome outsiders to tour their colorful murals. And unlike many other metal-working spaces, the Box Shop is particularly known for stewarding female, LGBTQ+ and transgender artists. The volunteer-led, woman-owned Flaming Lotus Girls are headquartered at the shop and have created dozens of installations for Burning Man since 2000. 

Community members gather at the Box Shop for an Anarchist Coffee Shop event on March 25, 2023. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

The Box Shop invites everyone from high-profile artists to everyday hobbyists who simply want to find a community and make cool sculptures—like a flame-throwing serpent head—to come and create art in the space. 

“In San Francisco, we’re here to help raise everyone else up around us,” Gadeken said. “That’s the difference. It’s a collaborative educational space that is there to raise the skills and talents of everyone who walks through the building.” 

The Box Shop's roughly 100 murals were mostly painted during the pandemic and feature emerging and established street artists. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

Community members who want to help the Box Shop can donate to its capital campaign. The Standard reached out to the district's Supervisor Shamann Walton for comment.