$100 month for rent? Real estate firm cuts deal with artist to transform shuttered SF storefront

ByJuan Carlos Guerrero KGO logo
Thursday, July 7, 2022
Artist's unique solution to shuttered SF storefronts
Two years after being boarded up, a Valencia Street building reopened thanks to a special pact between a real estate firm and a San Francisco artist.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco is filled with empty storefronts. They plague every neighborhood.

In the Mission District, a building at 780 Valencia sat empty for two years after Betabrand, the previous tenant, left during the pandemic.

The real estate firm that owned the property, Basking Investment Group, was tired of seeing it boarded up, so they turned to a local artist for help.

"Part of my business model is to activate space," said Renee DeCarlo, who took the 6,000 square foot building and turned it into an art gallery.

The shows at The Drawing Room have themes. The first one focused on climate change, then the next one showcased women artists. They had more than 200 artists submit works.

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The latest one showcases artwork from San Francisco high school students.

"Most of these students don't actually have an art class so they made a lot of this work on their own and in their sketchbooks. We were able to take everyone's work and present it in a way that we were hoping to create dialogue and connection," said DeCarlo, who got artwork from almost every school in the city.

There are sculptures made by students at International High School, conceptual art from Mission High School and self-portraits from several schools.

In all, the works of 250 high school students are on display in what used to be an office space. They hang from almost every space imaginable.

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"It's exciting to see how people like take it in and like how long they stare at it and how much it takes for them to take it in," said Chloe Sobelman, who created a self-portrait titled "When the Moon Cries".

"It's about having an adulterated self-image and being a teenager and having to mature and balance social life and the pandemic," said Sobelman.

DeCarlo wants people attending the show to learn more about what youth are thinking about and what is important in their lives right now.

"We really want kids to feel like that art is essential. It's what helps bring us together as humans and connects us," adds DeCarlo, who is also partnering with San Francisco Unified School District to offer

seven internships for high school students over the summer.

They are learning how to build shelves, paint walls and prep a gallery for the next two art shows which will focus on the use of land and the threat to reproductive rights.

"I've learned about how to organize the space and make it like a safe environment for other artists," said Ito Han, an intern and rising senior at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.

Managing art gallery is not new to DeCarlo. In 2018, she opened a small studio and gallery on 23rd Street in the Mission District but she had to close it when her rent got too expensive.

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During the pandemic, she was able to occupy another space temporarily until the owner of 780 Valencia approached her.

Baskin Investment Group wanted desperately to reactivate the space so, in conjunction with 2B Living Property Management, they let DeCarlo rent it for $100 a month.

"This whole project is not done by the city. This is done by a building owner, a property manager and a business that was struggling," explained DeCarlo, who has since activated another shuttered storefront in the Inner Richmond.

She uses the space on Clement Street as her studio, but also set space aside to display artwork from other artists.

But, the future of the Valencia site is in doubt. Her rent has gone up, although it is not at market level.

She has been actively fundraising to keep it open. DeCarlo said she has enough money to pay the rent through December.

"I don't really want to let it go. I want to kind of see how long we can keep this going because it feels really necessary," she added.

Despite the uncertainty, DeCarlo is encouraged by the possibilities of a partnership like this one.

"We get an average of 50 to 200 people coming through the space every day," she explained. "I encourage artists to make deals with building owners that want their spaces to be rented."

The Drawing Room is seeking donations on its website through the nonprofit Intersection for the Arts to keep the gallery open.

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