The booming property market in San Francisco is making it increasingly difficult for established galleries, arts organisations and artists to afford to remain in spaces they have used for years, and for new artists to find space to work and exhibit. Several San Francisco galleries have been forced to move out of their homes in Union Square, including the Rena Bransten Gallery; a staple of the San Francisco arts scene since 1974. The loss of such a prominent institution highlighted an urgent need to prevent artists being priced out of the city.
The Minnesota Street Project is a 100,000 square foot arts space housed in three converted warehouses in the Dogpatch neighbourhood of San Francisco. It provides space for ten independent art galleries as well as for artists and arts organisations, with rents offered on affordable long term leases. Unlike most affordable arts projects, which are run by non-profits and depend on grants or donations, Minnesota Street Project is fully privately funded and run. Entrepreneurs and collectors Andy and Deborah Rappaport made the initial capital investment in the site and building, while software company Adobe Systems provided significant support towards the cost of providing below market rents to the studio artists. Although privately owned, the project retains a non-profit ethos, aiming for financial sustainability rather than maximum profit.
The project involved two years of planning. There was some scepticism from galleries as to whether visitors would travel to Dogpatch, a gentrifying, traditionally working-class area not known for its arts scene. However, enough galleries took an interest to enable the project to go forward. Tenants in the space are intentionally diverse in terms of disciplines and career stage. One of the most innovative features of Minnesota Street Project is its use of shared services. Stand-alone galleries often have underused spaces for packing, shipping, and installation, which does not generate revenue. At Minnesota Street Project, the owner takes on the cost of these shared spaces, providing large shared exhibition and packing spaces, a kitchen and a media lab for everyone to share. This helps to lower the rent for artists and gallerists. Rents are also kept low due to a business model which provides storage and shipping for art collectors, feeding the revenue straight back into the business.
Since it opened in March 2016, the Project has welcomed more than 30,000 visitors per year and expects to reach full economic sustainability. A restaurant, Besharam, opened at the space in May 2017, in collaboration with the Daniel Patterson’s Alta Group.