If you’ve ever been to a mural unveiling ceremony in San Francisco, it’s likely that you’ve brushed up against Lisa Brewer.
As the owner of MissionArt415, a gallery at 2884 Mission St., Brewer seeks to empower local artists who are often overlooked in the art industry by giving them a platform to show their work at her gallery or commissioning them to paint murals throughout the city.
She’s worked with local officials and property owners throughout the pandemic on mural installations focused on historical San Francisco figures, including the legendary musician Carlos Santana and Earl Gage Jr., the city’s first Black firefighter, as well as the Resilient SF Mural Project in collaboration with the San Francisco Giants.
Brewer is currently working with artists like Crayone and Wes Wong on new murals that will feature the incomparable concert promoter Bill Graham at the intersection of Geary Boulevard and Post Street in the Fillmore District. She’s also working with the nearby Japantown Cultural District on a mural that will tell the visual 150-year history of Japanese representation at Peace Plaza.
“I think working on murals instills pride and shows that we can all be heroes, like Earl Gage Jr. or musical pioneers like Santana,” Brewer said. “It makes you feel good about being part of this city.”
When Brewer first relocated from Pennsylvania to the Mission District 22 years ago, she had to do a lot of emotional and psychological processing on her daily morning commute to the 24th Street BART Station. Dressed in her power suit and heels with a briefcase, Brewer would make her way down Lilac Alley, stepping over things she said that nobody should ever see.
“I saw things like feces, needles, people shooting up heroin,” and worse, she said.
Fed up with the conditions, Brewer told her husband, Randolph Bowes, that she wanted to move out of the neighborhood. He countered with the suggestion that they bring in a muralist to paint the side of their building.
Initially Brewer was skeptical. “But my husband was coming from this paradigm of ‘When you are in the city, do what the city people do.’”
So, the couple got permission from their landlord to paint a mural, commissioning the late Clarence “CUBA” SIlas Robbs, who was known in the art world as the “Graffiti Godfather.”
For Brewer, the project sparked a new passion for street art, and she decided to pivot from fine arts and invest in her community by focusing on neighborhood beautification.
One block turned into an outdoor gallery and eventually spanned 14 blocks, which they call The Lilac Alley Mural Project. It received a lot of love from the community plus some attention from city agencies like the Department of Public Works. Now dozens of murals by local and international artists can be found in Lilac Alley.
While the project saw much success, Brewer also faced some pushback from the community. “I know what people perceived when they saw me, a white woman trying to do something positive in a community with so much cultural history,” Brewer said.
Nowadays, when visiting MissionArt 415 Gallery, you’ll see community members from all walks of life peek in and wave to Brewer. And despite her growing pains, Brewer has remained consistent with her outreach, and has continued to fundraise for murals and events, like First Fridays at the 24th Street Bart station.
“I really believe God calls you,” Brewer said. “The universe will open up and put you where you need to be, and this is my niche.”
To unconditionally inspire others with love and kindness through the power of art.