My dad can tell you how to get anywhere in San Francisco on the bus. After working as a Muni operator for over three decades, it comes naturally to him. He still regularly takes out-of-town guests on an adventure called "The San Francisco Nook and Cranny Tour." On this voyage, he shows them the city's hidden gems, some places he frequented in his youth and others he discovered over the course of his 34-year career.
As someone who grew up in San Francisco's Bayview District but went to school in the Ingleside District and then to an after-school job in Union Square, I've spent a lot of time on buses and streetcars. Occasionally, I'd run into my dad, board his bus, sit in the seat right behind him and nerd out with him about San Francisco's history and his experiences growing up in the city.
While driving the 38 Geary, he told me about him and my grandparents going Downtown to shop on Market Street at the Emporium and then going for ice cream at Woolworth. When riding with him on the 71 Haight/Noriega, he told me about how my grandparents tried to rent an apartment on Buchanan and Haight, but were told, “We don’t rent to Blacks.”
Most stories were joyous; some were painful—but I got to know my city and learned the lay of the land from my dad. He taught me how to navigate various Muni bus lines throughout my childhood—and like so many fellow natives who are obsessed with classic bus transfers, I’ve kept a few.
That's why I feel such a deep connection to SOMArt's new exhibition, “Muni Raised Me,” which brings a collective of 13 San Francisco artists and community organizers together for a multidisciplinary art show that pays homage to San Francisco's natives, the working class, the melting pot of culture and diversity that made up our city and the Muni buses that got us from one corner of town to the next.
"Muni Raised Me," curated by resident artists Meymey Lee, Sasha Vu and Celi Tamayo-Lee—all of whom were born and raised in the 415—will feature a decommissioned bus, fully customized with art, that will serve not only as the exhibition's centerpiece but also as an altar honoring "old San Francisco" and Black and Brown people who lost their lives to systemic violence. Visitors are encouraged to bring offerings to the Muni altar inside the Muni bus. The show is a foghorn to all who have ever relied on public transit to unite with their loved ones.
Sophia Mitty, a clothing designer raised in Sunset and the Mission, created a collection of jackets cross-stitched with art depicting several San Francisco businesses and destinations she visited as a child but no longer exists. Hand-painted illustrations of places like Doggie Diner and Thrift Town can be found on the jackets. "It's a collection of things I like that may not be the most beautiful to other people, but they are to me," Mitty said.
Another jacket with the word "DEFEND" stitched across the back depicts a skull with a dagger stabbing its temple and a snake crawling through its orifices. The piece is intended to send a strong message to the city's newcomers. Mitty refers to the jacket as “Defend Frisco.”
“It's a reflection of the city's constant change and feeling like you have to accept it while also feeling like you need to take some ownership and remind people to respect the culture that was here before,” Mitty explained.
Artist Alyssa Aviles installed pieces based on nostalgia, particularly the joy she felt growing up riding the 48 Quintara line from her home in the Mission to the beach. “One thing I really liked about taking that long bus ride was looking at the landscapes connected through the bus route and all the people on their way to work, school or to meet up with friends,” Avilles said.
Aviles' installation also includes paintings of things she said make her feel at home, like the SF Giants memorabilia her dad kept in the garage and a classic giant bus transfer she saved. "It's like a time capsule of what it was like for me growing up in San Francisco," she said.
You could be a San Francisco native from any part of the city, but what has always united all the cultures of San Francisco was our experience growing up riding Muni. "Muni Raised Me" curators are aiming to bring that energy back to life with this installation.
According to them, this art show will be an opportunity for San Franciscans to come together and reflect on the city's beauty, challenges and relationships with it. The exhibition will be on view from Feb. 24 to April 9, 2023. For more information on the grand opening reception and following events, visit SOMArt's website.
'Muni Raised Me'
Feb. 24 | 6-9 p.m.
📍 SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan St.
Meaghan Mitchell can be reached at [email protected]