Michael Kershnar lets the cat out of the bag on how he convinced a nice lady to let him run an artist residency in her house in San Fransisco.
Hey Mike, what’s the Growlery?
The Growlery is an artist residency program, a live/work/show space in the Upper Haight district of San Francisco. It is located in a converted 1892 Victorian home nestled directly in the heart of the city. It is a place for culture and creativity, a safe and welcoming place dedicated to the creative lifestyle and spirit.
Where did the name come from?
The founder of The Growlery, Jean Chadbourne, was hip to the word ‘growlery’. Apparently Charles Dickens coined the term and it is an indoor place of respite. It is similar to a library, den or smoking room. A retreat from the hustle and bustle, a place to be with one’s creative thoughts and to be guided by them.
How did you get involved?
I was fortunate enough to cross paths with Jean high up in the Sequoia Mountains near Skate Camp. She explained that she had this space and was looking to start an artist residency program. I was so excited I couldn’t believe my ears.
I left SF in 2012 because of the skyrocketing cost of living there, and had helped launch and participated in residency programs in Paris, Vienna, Copenhagen and Illinois. It was amazing to get to return to SF and it turned out that I had been gathering the experience and training necessary for me to be qualified for this role.
You’re quite critical about art. How do you decide on which artists you want to curate?
Jean and I are co-curators. She has her own tastes, which lean towards the conceptual and technological side of art. For me it is about aesthetic truths. I like beauty and beautiful individuals. I like to show my heroes and help empower passionate emerging individuals who could really benefit from this place.
Does being in San Fransisco play a specific role in how you do what you do?
SF is the perfect American city for me. Car-free living; I skate, bike or walk everywhere. We have a rich history of skateboarding, arts and music. This is the city where the Beat writers did their thing at City Lights Bookstore, the city where the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane flourished, the city of Robert Crumb at his most freaked out. The city of Thrasher, Slap, Juxtapoz, Tommy G, Real, Anti-Hero, FTC, and The Mission School.
I am extremely inspired by the cultural history of this city, and feel honored and blessed to play an active role in creating more culture here for the current scene and the next generation.
Does what you show have to link to skateboarding?
I’ve been a skater for over thirty years so I can’t really separate my own being from the culture of skateboarding. Our first major show was a Thrasher Joe Brook retrospective with live music by Tommy Guerrero so that is pretty much as pure skate culture as it gets. However, the Growlery will have a great variety of shows here, and many will have nothing to do with skateboarding. But as an individual, all day every day I am culturally a skateboarder.
Have you reached the stage where you’re saying ‘no’ to people?
It’s amazing: while we can not provide housing for everyone who applies, we have been able to help and accommodate most people who are truly earnest on some level. We have ‘Wednesday Art Nights’, which is like a project-based open house, and people start to become regulars and submit proposals to Jean. We have already had multiple pop-up shows and zine launches for artists in the neighborhood and housed international artists. We launched January 1, 2016 and I like to think we say yes to many more people than we say no to.
Would you rather have fingers as long as your legs or legs as long as your fingers?
I would rather run as fast as a cheetah.
How do you expect to survive as a culture institution now that San Fransisco is evicting everyone who doesn’t write code for a living?
What is unique about this place is that it is actually privately funded on money that came from tech. Jean is not trying to survive, like many galleries, on taking half of the artists’ sales. In fact she revolutionarily gives 100% of sales to the artists. One of Jean’s goals with The Growlery is to help connect the worlds of contemporary art and tech, to create dialogue, understanding and mutualism.
You travelled extensively before you ran The Growlery. Has that changed?
When I was traveling the last few years I received tremendous hospitality and support from beautiful individuals around the globe. With The Growlery, this is a chance to shine that light back and create opportunities, culture and hospitality for others the next few years in my favorite American city. I am very grateful to be here.