Portola At Play


Kate Connell and Oscar Melara collaborated with musician/composer John Calloway and filmmaker Gustavo Vazquez to create a portrait of San Francisco’s Portola District in 4 parts: a board game, video, original musical collection and recording and a small book.  Portola at Play investigates the history and vibrant present of the District. All four artists have deep connections to the neighborhood.


Portola at Play debuted at the new Portola Branch Library in 2009. Our Library is the center of pubic life! More than 800 folks attended, playing the game, winning prizes donated by local residents, watching the video and listening to the original music. Porto-Lotería was called in Spanish, English and Chinese, voicing the three primary languages of our District (Vietnamese and Tagalog would be great additions!). Longtime residents whose oral histories formed part of the video brought their families to the event. Musical Reflections of the Portola filled the Library that day and on many days since.

The Game: Porto-Lotería: Kate Connell and Oscar Melara

Connell and Melara’s Porto-Lotería, is based on the Mexican game of Lotería. It includes archetypes of the neighborhood: the Ohlone, whose unceded Ramaytush land we occupy, community heroes—our street cleaner, our librarian—native flora and fauna, explorer Gaspar de Portolá, for whom the District is named, and the greenhouses, windmills and corrals that filled the Portola’s hills and valley until recently. The Lotería images were vetted by neighborhood residents in practice games where they had to suggest  new ideas for the game in order to win. Residents nixed possums and requested skunks, wanted more Italian images and felt skateboarders didn’t make the cut! The game images were later painted by residents of Southeast San Francisco and installed in a continuous mural, The Alemany Island Project, near the Alemany Farmers Market. Cynthia Vazquez, the Spanish caller, created the Spanish versos/verses printed on the back of the Porto-Lotería game cards. The versos are key to the game and give clues to game images. Students at Hillcrest School on Silver Avenue also contributed to the versos.

The Video: Out the Road and other Portola District Stories, Gustavo Vazquez

Gustavo Vazquez interviewed Portola residents of the last 5 decades, including their oral histories and family photographs in his video Out the Road and Other Portola Stories.These selected video stills show some of the Portola neighborhood mainstays and Gustavo Vazquez interviewed many other Portola residents, including Rayna Garibaldi, who wrote the Arcadia book on the Portola District as well as community activist Lia Smith and Barbara Fenech, whose family emigrated from Malta to the Portola in the 1970s. More about Gustavo Vazquez.

The Music: Musical Reflections of the Portola, Dr. John Calloway

The original music and recording by John Calloway, Musical Reflections of the Portola, weaves musical influences of the community together including African American gospel and Maltese music. His CD includes the tracks “Before the Portola” with indigenous reeds by Dr. Josê Cuellar; “Settlement House” in homage to Yiddish music and the Jewish community that settled in the Portola around the turn of the 19th/20th century; “The Hall” incorporating Maltese music; “San Bruno Avenue East” reflecting the Asian majority in the Portola, “The Nite Life”  a tribute to the nightclub that was home to Latin Rock in the 1970s and “Portolo boogaloo” a hip hop composition. The collection includes tracks from Portola neighborhood schools where Calloway has taught music. Visit Dr. John Calloway’s website.

Enjoy Portola at Play

Portola at Play Booklet Download this small book on Portola at Play with information on the neighborhood and the project.

Checkout the DVD, CD and booklet from the San Francisco Public Library
Portola at Play is the first art to check out from the library supported by The San Francisco Arts Commission and the San Francisco Public Library.

Play Porto-Loteria at the Portola Branch Library where public games are offered.

Photographs by Sibila Savage.