What to Expect from the Arts in 2020

New photography exhibits, developments at the Writer’s Grotto, and a La Cocina food hall are in the works.

Last year was a tumultuous one for the arts in San Francisco. 

People argued about murals (racist ones, ones featuring teenage climate activists, ones with gun-wielding babies), San Francisco’s housing inequality made it into mainstream cinema, and the city played host to more art exhibits pointing out the evils of colonialism. 

While we can’t anticipate the controversies bound to erupt in 2020, we do know some of the art and programming coming down the pike. Different museums and artist organizations across the city have a packed slate across writing, photography, theater, and food. Aspiring novelists, theater geeks, and general art enthusiasts — prepare for an amazing year ahead of you.

A New Year in Writing for the Grotto, City Arts

Roberto Lovato believes it’s harder for writers to survive in San Francisco right now more than ever.

“We are arguably one of the least hospitable cities for writing,” Lovato, a member of the Writers Grotto, says.

But writers are, if anything, resilient, and various groups have found ways to make the city their own. This year, the Writers Grotto, a 25-year-old local creative writing organization that hosts workshops and fellows, wants to increase its presence and influence in the Bay Area more than ever before. It will continue to host classes and workshops intended to make writing more accessible to low-income writers, writers of color, and emerging writers. It also has high hopes for new efforts like Rooted & Written, a writing workshop dedicated to writers of color, of which Lovato is on the teaching committee. 

Christopher Cook, another member of the Grotto, believes that the organization’s current goal of achieving nonprofit status will also enable them to apply for more grants, and become “more of a community-serving organization.” 

In 2020, the Writers Grotto also plans to publish a new installment to their Lit Starts book series, entitled Writing Memoir and Writing Sci-Fi & Fantasy. They’ll also be launching online classes, some of which will be taught by Meghan Ward, Carla Walter, and Sarah Pollock. 

City Arts & Lectures also plans on bringing in a whole slate of acclaimed writers to the Sydney Goldstein Theater, including Sally Rooney (Jan. 10), Carmen Maria Machado (Apr. 9),  Jia Tolentino (May 7), Kaveh Akbar (May 20), and Hanif Abdurraqib (June 2).

See In the Heights Live

If you haven’t had a chance to see In the Heights live, Bay Area Musicals will be putting on a production of their own right after its greatly anticipated cinematic release. In the Heights is a lesser known, but equally incredible, Lin-Manuel Miranda original, set in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood. Check it out at the Victoria Theatre on 16th Street from July 11 to Aug. 9. 

Other plays to watch out for include Don’t Eat the Mangoes, a story about three sisters in Puerto Rico reckoning with a hurricane and a flurry of secrets (Magic Theatre, Feb. 26 to Mar. 22); The Book of Mormon, the Tony Award-winning musical satire (Golden Gate Theatre, Mar. 31 – May 2); Real Women Have Curves, a story about women’s empowerment and the Latina immigrant experience (San Francisco Playhouse, Mar. 17 to Apr. 25); and Poor Yella Rednecks, part two of Qui Nguyen’s autobiographical trilogy, set in Arkansas after the aftermath of the fall of Saigon (A.C.T. Geary Theatre, June 4 to June 28).

A New Food Hall by La Cocina

La Cocina has a big year ahead: 2020 brings the launch of their first-ever food hall. The food hall will be in the Tenderloin on 101 Hyde St., and plans to host eight food stalls in its 7,000-square-foot space. 

Caleb Zigas, the executive director of La Cocina, says that they’re also working on moving Noodle Girl into a brick-and-mortar space. Reem’s California, an Arab bakery by acclaimed chef Reem Assil and another La Cocina business, will be taking over Mission Pie’s old space on 25th Street by February.

Photography Exhibits Across the City

The Museum of African Diaspora is currently hosting Black Is Beautiful, an exhibit that consists of works by renowned New York photographer Kwame Brathwaite, who popularized the phrase “Black is beautiful,” and was an integral part of the second Harlem Renaissance. The exhibit closes Mar. 1. 

Opening on Jan. 23 at the Fraenkel Gallery is an exhibit dedicated to Sophie Calle’s work. The exhibit, Because, seeks to subvert a viewer’s expectations of processing artwork: In front of each photograph is a felt curtain with text, encouraging people to read Calle’s writing before seeing the picture itself. This exhibit closes on Mar. 21, but following it is Optiks, a collection of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s polaroids that look at color through prisms. Optiks opens Mar. 26.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project opens on Feb. 15 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Bey’s lens tends to focus on underrepresented communities. In 2017, he was awarded the coveted MacArthur “Genius Grant.” Many of his works are portraits, with the subjects looking head-on at the camera, and thus, the viewer. But Bey has also been working with landscapes, using color to evoke themes of race, history, and witness in Night Coming Tenderly, Black.

Grace Li covers arts, culture, and food for SF Weekly. You can reach her at gli@sfweekly.com.

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