It was an unusual show by the Golden Melody Band, a local eclectic avant-chamber group, but the Red Poppy Art House, a street-level performance space and art gallery, is an unusual place. "It's always been our intention that this was a space where art was created and not just presented," says Meklit Hadero, director and resident artist of the Red Poppy, over coffee the next afternoon. Started in 2003 by visual artist Todd Brown with a partner, the Red Poppy began as an art gallery and studio and introduced live music later that year, with tango lessons and live jazz sharing space alongside the canvases and painters' tarps that cluttered the floor. Along the way, it became a hub for an eclectic array of world music, jazz, chamber groups and more than a few who fall somewhere in between.

"It really evolved organically," says Brown, who started the space after quitting his job to become a full-time artist. "I've come to realize through the process that it's evolved very much the way an art project or a painting would."

That evolution has snowballed into something much more ambitious over the last few years, with the venue not only picking up slack left by Mission haunts like Bruno's downsizing their live music schedules but also aiming for a sea change in the way artists interact with their community.

Todd Brown at the Red Poppy Art House.
Paul Trapani
Todd Brown at the Red Poppy Art House.
Stu Brinin
Grand opening performance at Yoshi’s San Francisco.

"I didn't anticipate that when people come here they seem to get moved by what's happening in a way that renews that creative impulse," Brown says. "They think, 'Wait a minute, I should be doing that.'" He and Hadero point to the Red Poppy's intimate atmosphere as being integral to the place's appeal and affecting the art and music. "Every place has a specific focus," he says. "If you go into a music venue, it has a stage and a focus, and I guess what's different here is the place is always changing and it has a sense of creative life because of that."

To broaden their reach beyond the 650 square feet of the Red Poppy's casual living-room vibe, Brown embarked on the Mission Arts and Performance Project in December 2003. The bimonthly Open Studios-style arts and music showcase spread throughout the neighborhood, with audiences strolling from painting displays in a garage to a backyard jazz concert to a poetry reading at a local cafe. The Family Art Project, where whole families painted together on the space's hardwood floors, often displaying their children's art on the sidewalk, integrated the venue into the Mission's multicultural fabric. "Generally there's a pretty large gap between artists and working-class families," Brown says. "They just don't hang out with each other. A lot of artists don't really spend much time thinking about that world around them, so for us the focus will be to think creatively about how to bridge those worlds to inspire some coalition building."

The year ahead looks to be the Red Poppy's most ambitious yet. With grants from the San Francisco Arts Commission, the San Francisco Foundation, and the Zellerbach Family Foundation, the space is on the cultural radar in a way it hasn't been before. "We're in conversations with folks from Yerba Buena [Center for the Arts], the Brava Theater, the de Young Museum, about arts in the community, and they're really looking at us as an example of how to integrate arts into the community," Hadero says.

All this focus on local community doesn't mean the Red Poppy's influence stops at the edge of the Mission. "A place like this can really fertilize the creative soil of the city," Hadero says. Brown points to plans for branching into theater, performing arts, and dance in the Red Poppy's tiny space while continuing the already-innovative musical programming. "That's the difference between art and entertainment," he adds, "and we have a little more time and resources to do that now." Ezra Gale

Hibernation Complete:

Oakland's Fox Theater Stirs

Music forecast for 2008: increases in torrential ass-shaking from sensations like M.I.A., hurricanes of fuzz from bands like Silversun Pickups, and blizzards of cute from acts like Beirut.

Such midlevel Internet buzz bands are the carbon dioxide of an increasingly warmer Bay Area music scene this year, and a new point source will be attracting them, emanating from downtown Oakland.

On October 28, 2008, the renovated 3,000-capacity Fox Oakland Theater at Telegraph Avenue and 18th Street will open its doors again. Its 80th birthday will be a bright one, as it caps a $60 million, 22-month renovation led by Another Planet Entertainment, the Berkeley company that books acts for the Grand, the Greek Theatre, and the Independent.

After 42 years of closure, the reborn Fox will open amid a hot cycle for venues of such a size. Mass culture and its attendant 10,000-seat amphitheaters and stadiums sit cold. Conversely, Web-enabled niche genres and their associated 3,000-capacity theaters and halls swelter with culture.

Gregg Perloff, owner of Another Planet, says such venues suit the new, Internet-created crop of midlevel bands that can regularly fill a 3,000-seat theater. "There's just a lot of bands that have developed a really strong allegiance with their fans that might not be at the arena level," he says. "We're looking at all the indie-rock bands and all the different forms of music, and there are a whole lot of bands who can do a certain number of people — whether it's a Sufjan Stevens, a Spoon, a Justice, or the National."

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