Kate Connell and Oscar Melara, collaborating as Book and Wheel, have rooted their practice in Southeast San Francisco since 1996. Native San Franciscans, they met as artists in San Francisco’s Mission District, where Oscar co-founded La Raza Silkscreen Center and Kate worked for the Galería de la Raza. The name of their collaboration, Book and Wheel, comes from their past professions as a librarian and a bus driver. It reflects their interests in artists books, bicycling, and mobile art: art aboard buses and art carts. They collaborate with visual and performing artists, writers, libraries, archives and trade unions. As long-term union members, they consider the community of colleagues and neighbors they work with as their Laborhood.
Book and Wheel employs various strategies– mobile cultural platforms (buses, carts) with tours and live events, participatory maps, games, public murals and a growing regional print portfolio. Their most recent project, Chispa, is an art cart the size of a parade float, which debuted at the Visitation Valley Greenway and appeared again at the 2019 Chispa Autumn Moon Celebration in McLaren Park, both in San Francisco. Their pandemic swivel project, We Trade continues the Chispa art trade practice, offering contact-free art trading to promote cultural production during shelter-in-place and into the future.
Book and Wheel has been supported by the Creative Work Fund, San Francisco Arts Commission, Southern Exposure/Alternative Exposure, Zellerbach Family Foundation, Fleishhacker Foundation and numerous local institutions. They were commissioned artists of the 2012 Havana Biennal. They’ve been in residence at Blue Mountain Center in New York and their work has appeared in Public Art Review, Race, Poverty and the Environment and the San Francisco Chronicle and on KQED Arts and Culture.
Between them Connell and Melara have degrees Community Arts Management, Political Science, Library Science and Art History. Their individual work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Melara’s work is currently in ¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now) Berkeley Art Museum, The Alternative Museum, NYC, and LACE, LA, among others. Connell founded and directed the Library Exhibition Program at City College of San Francisco, 1998-2017.
“Can we build a collective cultural life in Southeast San Francisco?” This question has guided our work since 2014. Our goal is a regional grass roots cultural life that embraces our differences and our commonalities. We’re motivated by the creativity of our neighbors and engage in collaborations across the four working-class neighborhoods of the Bayview/Hunters Point, the Excelsior District, the Portola District and Visitacion Valley. The vitality of our region is expressed in new work we commission from a multigenerational roster of local artists. It is reflected in our personal studio practices of drawing and sculpture.
We began our careers as community-based artists and continue to embrace many forms of collaboration. We’re committed to community engagement, cooperatively building projects with fellow residents, local organizations and our branch libraries. Our public projects address the lack of permanent cultural institutions in our district. We love to engineer opportunities to interact with each other in unexpected ways by staging situations, here in the Southeast swathe of the city. Our work is social practice. Especially in the face of aggressive gentrification, we promote placekeeping through our work to collectively sustain the distinct traits of Southeast San Francisco.
Thank you: Sibila Savage, Ann Carroll, Andrew Venell, Jo Ellen Brainin-Rodriguez, Reanna Tong and Ernic Franic
We are a member of Intersection for the Arts. Intersection for the Arts is a historic arts nonprofit that provides people working in arts and culture with fiscal sponsorship and resources to grow.
We’re lifelong guests on traditional, unceded Ramaytush Ohlone Land.