Sandwiched between an English language school and a yoga studio in the concrete expanse of the One Embarcadero Center office tower is a potential example of how city and business leaders are hoping to reactivate Downtown San Francisco with art.
A former chiropractic office will be the home of a new pop-up art studio and gallery known as SF Artistry—ART4U2. The name is partly inspired by the Irish rock band, which played a legendary show at Vaillancourt Fountain on the other side of the Embarcadero Center complex.
Linda Eckmann is the 77-year-old artist behind the new space, which is holding a soft opening on Sept. 28, and she can scarcely believe it's happening.
“If I had talked to people before moving ahead, I think I probably would have been talked out of doing this whole thing,” Eckmann said as she took a break from hanging art on the walls.
As it stands, Eckmann is hoping to do live art displays in the storefront and then draw people into creative exercises utilizing art supplies like the self-erasing Buddha Board and the Zentangle Method of drawing complex structures using a combination of simple shapes.
Julie Cohn, a Berkeley-based watercolor artist, is one of the five artists displaying their work in the gallery for sale and is a full believer in the transformative power of art.
“When I finally saw this space, I thought, ‘Oh, isn’t this perfect for teaching or allowing people to express themselves,’” Cohn said. “When people practice art, there’s something that unlocks in their brain that opens up the possibility of creativity.”
Eckmann, a born-and-bred San Franciscan, operated for more than two decades out of a studio in West Oakland, where she developed her style of mixed-media abstract paintings. Then came the pandemic, which curtailed her earnings and forced her to shutter her studio.
Left with no option, she shuttled her work into storage with no clear idea of where she would land. Ironically, she had previously worked out of a studio near the waterfront in Mission Bay before development activity in the then-industrial neighborhood forced her across the bay.
Out of desperation, she called her supervisor, Aaron Peskin, whom she had known for years as a resident of his district.
“All the rumblings were, ‘We need our artists to stay in San Francisco because we know if we have artists it brings in communities and makes it more exciting and interesting,’” Eckmann said. “I said, ‘I’m hearing all this stuff. Well, I need a place.’”
Funnily enough, he replied: "I have an idea."
The Embarcadero Center, the massive commercial real estate complex in the middle of the Financial District, was struggling with vacancies as remote work hollowed out offices and retail tenants left due to declining foot traffic. The property’s owner, BXP—formerly known as Boston Properties—was looking further afield for tenants.
A BXP executive had called the day prior asking Peskin if he knew of any nonprofits or artists looking for space. Peskin described the match as a moment of “total serendipity” and joked he doesn’t charge a finder’s fee for his brokerage services.
As part of the deal with BXP, Eckmann is being given the space for three months for no rent with the potential for an extension. Ultimately, Peskin said this is meant to be a proof of concept for creative use of vacant space that he hopes can spread.
“I am excited because this is a model for what can be done on an interim basis in an otherwise empty space,” Peskin said. “I’m hoping that other Downtown building owners see this and want to emulate putting their own skin in the game.”
The Embarcadero Center is also slated to host a number of pop-ups via the Vacant to Vibrant program funded by the city and SF New Deal. Approved vendors include Devil's Teeth Bakery, Rosalind Bakery and Teranga.
“Supporting local artists, entrepreneurs, and small businesses is an important component of revitalizing the Downtown experience, and we look forward to welcoming art exhibits by Linda Eckmann and other local artists to Embarcadero Center,” Rod Diehl, senior vice president and co-head of West Coast Regions at BXP, said in a statement.
A major aspect of the city’s strategy to revitalize Downtown San Francisco is to turn the neighborhood into a destination for events and culture. A precursor to retraining residents to spend their free time Downtown is building an infrastructure of fun and creative things to do.
“Before you stretch their imagination, you have to create what’s possible, and that means putting in restaurants and entertainment and arts and culture destinations,” Peskin said.
Kevin Truong can be reached at email@example.com