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Arts & Entertainment

Can This San Francisco Mall Be Saved From the Doom Loop? This Nonprofit Is Trying

Written by Christina CampodonicoPublished Jun. 10, 2023 • 10:00am
a target store is seen from the street
Target is one of the retailers that anchors the Metreon, a Downtown San Francisco mall. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Once the embodiment of a lofty vision to merge entertainment and retail into a sleek urban shopping concept, the primary draws of Yerba Buena’s Metreon mall include an AMC movie theater, a forlorn-looking food court and a Target that was once rumored to be dead and has recently been racked by incessant shoplifting.

But where some see a beleaguered Downtown shopping center, the optimists behind nonprofit Filipino arts accelerator Balay Kreative see an opportunity to showcase local creativity in the mall’s otherwise vacant storefronts. 

Balay Kreative's pop-up art gallery and shop aims to bring a dose of creativity to the Metreon mall. | Courtesy Balay Kreative

Balay Kreative’s temporary art gallery and pop-up shop opens Saturday to coincide with the Be Free Festival, a SoMa-based celebration of Philippines Independence Day. Through June 24, the artwork of seven Balay Kreative artists will bring a dose of whimsy to the storefront once occupied by a Chronicle Books shop. With only 17 out of 25 stores active, according to the official websites of the shopping center and its parent company, about a third of the Metreon is currently vacant. 

“It was completely empty, black bare walls, said Balay Kreative’s program manager Nicole Salaver. “And now [...] it’s vibrant.” 

An interactive puppet art installation is on display at Balay Kreative's Metreon pop-up. | Courtesy Balay Kreative

From an interactive puppet art installation pillow to prints, paintings and textiles, visitors to the pop-up can appreciate the work of local artists and have the option to take home a unique piece of Bay Area-made art. The pop-up’s artists, who’ll be on hand Saturday, will be selling everything from pins to paintings to T-shirts throughout the duration of the pop-up. 

Balay Kreative's new pop-up at the Metreon showcases the work of local artists. | Courtesy Balay Kreative

The mission of the pilot pop-up is not only to uplift local artists but also to showcase how an urban retail space could be reimagined by creatives and reverse the proverbial doom loop, noted Desi Danganan, executive director of the art nonprofit Kultivate Labs, which launched Balay Kreative.

“Artists have [the] superpower of imagination. What some people see as blight, what artists see is the opportunity of a blank canvas,Danganan said. “We want our artists and creatives to really be the vanguard, showing our community that it is possible to turn this doom loop around.”

🗓 June 10-24
🕔 Various times
📍165 Fourth St. at the Metreon, SF 

Christina Campodonico can be reached at

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