Deep engagement with neighbors and residents in the Portola District of San Francisco is the origin of Made in the Portola which currently includes three projects: Portola at Play, Crossing the Street and and the Alemany Island Project, a collaboration with the Portola Neighborhood Steering Committee to be unveiled in 2012.  Portola at Play and Crossing the Street resulted in artist-made resources that explore the neighborhood for the new local branch library. The projects are built collaboratively with Portola friends and neighbors and the library staff. The Portola District, located in San Francisco’s Southeast section is little known to San Franciscans outside the District and its history is almost undocumented.


Alemany Island

Alemany Island
Alemany Island lies directly across from the Alemany Farmers Market in San Francisco. An island in imagination only, it’s located at the edge of a freeway maze, on the site of culverted Islais Creek. Alemany Island is a 3-part project: a native garden, a soaring freeway support mural and a multipanel mural at the entrance to the Portola District on San Bruno Avenue. Using Book and Wheel Work’s Porto-Lotería Game, neighbors in the Portola created a 48 panel mural next to a 50 foot high freeway support painted with images also represented in Porto-Lotería: the Mission Blue Butterfly, lupine and the San Francisco garter snake.  Community activist Lia Smith and the Portola Neighborhood Association devised a unique method so that 44 households, 3 classrooms and 1 fire station, many first time painters, could each paint a 4′ x 5′ panel with an image from the game. Icons of the Portola District–greenhouses, windmills and McLaren Park as well as local heroes, athlete Sululagi Palega, street cleaner Mike Goff and librarian Roz Chang–are represented. Nature, history, local institutions and beloved community members fill the 48 panels painted by volunteers aged 12 to 80+.


Crossing the Street


Crossing the Street investigates and describes the Portola District in a collection of handmade reference books created by Connell and Melara for the new Portola Branch Library. The artists began by investigating their own one block street in the Portola, engaging with neighbors to learn their stories and to explore the history of one city block. They offered their garage as a polling site and, with the neighbors they met, planned a series of events and celebrations. Next, they engaged with residents of the larger Portola District working together to build the new Portola Branch Library. In the process, they collaborated with a filmmaker and musician/composer to create Portola at Play, meeting more neighbors, learning their stories. These explorations resulted in a collection of new, interactive artists books by, for and about the Portola. Made for all ages, the books draw on research, conversation, meandering walks and shared family photographs. The reference works in Crossing the Street an atlas, a pair of graphic novels, a trilingual silk book, a diorama and tunnel boo, Inside these books you’ll find historical maps dating back to the Portola’s history as Rincón de las Salinas y el Potrero Viejo, silken pages of Portola sky, botanical notes on local flora, drawings of a young girl who fell in love with horses at the old stables, photographs of busy San Bruno Avenue and a butcher delivering a whole hog on his shoulder. Each book is mounted on a handmade stand and two of books replaced dictionaries in the library’s reference collection.


Portola at Play


Connell and Melara collaborated with musician/composer John Calloway and with filmmaker Gustavo Vazquez to create a four-part portrait of the Portola District: a book, movie, original musical collection and a board game, Porto-Loteria, based on the Mexican game of Loteria. With 30 copies circulating in the San Francisco Public Library, this is the first time that San Francisco artists, the San Francisco Arts Commission and the San Francisco Public Library have collaborated to produce art that circulates in the public library system. Portola at Play investigates icons of the neighborhood: explorer Gaspar de Portolá, for whom the District is named, community heroes—our street cleaner, our librarian—native flora and fauna, and the greenhouses, windmills and corrals that filled the Portola’s hills and valley until recently.

All photographs © Sibila Savage.