Our Origin Story
The idea for San Francisco Art & Film for Teenagers came out of a conversation that artist Ronald Chase had with a student in the spring of 1993. Chase had been working as a volunteer at the San Francisco School of the Arts, planting gardens. He was outside a classroom digging a hole for a bush when a student offered their help shifting the large plant. They introduced themselves and Ronald started up a conversation:
"Let me ask you something. What do you do with yourself?"
The boy appeared confused. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, how do you spend your time. What's an average day for you?"
"Oh, well, I wake up in the morning, I have breakfast, then I go to school, I have lunch, I go back to school, I take a bus home, I watch TV, I have dinner and do my homework and go to bed."
"Well what do you do on the weekend?"
"I usually sleep till noon, I have breakfast, sometimes I meet friends to hang out, we watch TV, I sometimes go out, but mostly I watch TV, talk with friends, play video games, do my homework and go to bed."
The puzzled boy nodded. "Yep."
Chase checked with a few other students, and their answers were alarmingly similar. This was intolerable. These young people were studying at an arts school in the middle of one of the most diverse cultural cities in America and few of them had any contact with file beyond their teachers, friends and families. Somehow they needed to become connected to and be inspired by the arts in San Francisco.
Chase talked it through with Susan Stauter, the arts coordinator for the San Francisco Unified School District, and offered to take a group of students on art walks to local galleries followed by a picnic lunch and a challenging film. She supported the idea and with the consent of SotA's principal Art Saturdays began that fall. Eighteen students became the first subjects of this new program, giving up their Saturday afternoons to art. They met in downtown San Francisco, explored galleries and museums, picnicked on baguettes and cheese and watched classic and foreign films playing at repertory movie houses.
By the end of that school year the program had been given a name: San Francisco Art & Film for Teenagers, and the number of students had risen to 75. Adults who loved the arts joined as mentors including a local arts teacher (Andrew Kerja); a landscape artist (Alida Morgan), a theater press agent (David Hyry), a filmmaker (Christian Schneider) and a costume designer (Sandra Woodall).
By that point Chase was so busy designing flyers, sending out schedules, recruiting parents to help with picnics, and researching new shows and film screenings he realized the program must have funding.
Art & Film was established as an official 501(c)(3) non-profit with the help of an old friends Robert Walker and Huntly Gordon, the organization began with a three person board. Gary W. Ross, an investor, was the first donor and one who realized the possibilities of what the program might mean to future young people.
Chase the visited New York City and a friend, Michael Zimmer, threw the first benefit evening for the program. New Yorkers were enthusiastic. Mary E Kaplan and artist Caio Fonseca and obtained grants from their family foundation, the J.M Kaplan Fund. Back in San Francisco, funds came from the Walter and Elise Haas Fund and Chevron.
By 1995 Chase had convinced both the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera to offer free seats to the program. Other organizations including A.C.T., Cutting Ball Theater, San Francisco Performances and the Silent Film Festival also volunteered seats.
Chase was constantly concerned about what students thought, asking them "what are you getting out of this?" Students responded that they were excited to be taken seriously as individuals and to be pushed to think critically in ways they weren't at school. They asked for more frequent trips and so Art Saturdays became weekly events.
In 1996 Art & Film was opened to all Bay Area students. A number of foundations began offering grants, including the Walter Haas Fund and The San Francisco Rotary Club
Students kept asking for an opportunity to see more classic films, the kind not shown in many theaters. In 1997 Cine Club was created. Chase was introduced to Tom Bruchs of Dolby Labs. Bruchs' enthusiasm for the idea led him to offer the use of Dolby’s beautiful screening room, and the San Francisco Recreation and Park department offered the Randall Museum as alternative screening space. Polish filmmaker Agneiszka Holland contributed Cine Club its first funds.
That spring Art & Film arranged a week in Paris for its most dedicated students. Chase and Joe Rosenblatt (then principal at the San Francisco School of the Arts) accompanied 33 students for a week of museums and culture. The idea of a European Summer Studies Program was born.
In the summer of 1997 Art & Film sponsored it’s first public mural at the School of the Arts. Four student artists worked with Chase for three weeks to create The Seasons, a succession of four arches evoking Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.
Now Art & Film’s goal was becoming quite clear. To make all the arts—visual arts, music, dance, theater and film—an important presence in young people’s lives. Through art we help them learn about themselves, develop critical judgement skills, excite their imaginations, and broaden their worldview.