From its beginnings in the coffeehouses of the 1960s, Intersection for the Arts has always been a space for artists to gather, create, and make change. Founded in 1965 as a coalition of three groups sponsored by the Glide Foundation, Intersection for the Arts was originally a space where conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War could find alternative service, using the arts to reach historically excluded youth in the Tenderloin.
Over the past five decades, Intersection for the Arts has stayed true to our original mission—providing people in arts and culture with resources to create and grow—while evolving to respond to our communities’ changing needs and concerns. We convene emerging and established artists, offering them support, space, and opportunities to experiment in poetry, music, theater, comedy, dance, and other artistic disciplines. In doing so, Intersection for the Arts has become a bedrock Bay Area arts nonprofit providing critical support to artists and small arts organizations and an essential element of the arts ecosystem. Today, Intersection for the Arts has grown to be a fiscal sponsor for 170+ Bay Area-based members.
Please read about our storied legacy below. Intersection for the Arts also boasts a stunning archive of ephemera from our readings, exhibitions, and events, which you can view here.
1965 - 2023
“Intersection” began as a merger of several faith-based experiments using art to reach underserved youth. Three church groups, sponsored by the Glide Foundation, organized artists who were conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War to teach art to youth in the Tenderloin. The organization quickly became an epicenter of new music, theater, comedy, and other arts in the Bay Area in the 1960s.
“Intersection had just taken over St. John’s Methodist Church at 756 Union in North Beach. It had been an active church, but the attendance was so bad they closed it. The Methodist Church said Intersection could have it for a dollar a year. I took the pews out and got seats from the old Surf Theater. We turned the lower-level social hall into a coffeehouse. We had art exhibits there. We built a light-projection booth for Canyon Cinema. In the sanctuary, they showed experimental films—short, personal films by artists like Bruce Conner. There were poetry readings: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Kenneth Rexroth, and Josephine Miles. We had wonderful plays like “Slow Dance on the Killing Ground.” There were so many programs going on simultaneously.”
Intersection’s poetry series began in 1966 and was the longest continual reading series in California outside academic institutions. The longevity of the series attracted several high-profile writers. Still, it remained dedicated to regularly showcasing the work of emerging and local writers in the San Francisco Bay Area. The series featured poets like Gregory Corso, William S. Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Ishmael Reed, Margaret Atwood, and Audre Lorde. This poster was printed by the San Francisco Art Commission’s Neighborhood Arts Project.
“I read there a lot in the late 70s. We had something called the Bay Area Poets Coalition, and we had a symbiotic relationship with Intersection. One weekend, we had 24 hours of poetry all over the city—in Laundromats, grocery stores, on cable cars, and street corners. It culminated with a reading at Intersection Sunday night. The weekend was wonderful, an enormous amount of fun, and it reflected what we believed in—that poetry should be an active part of people’s lives.” Photo Credit: Ntozake Shange by Barnard College; digitally restored by Chris Woodrich.
“In the late 70s, a lot of talent emerged at Intersection that later became part of the establishment. Intersection was on the cutting edge. They were open to people from different backgrounds. Merging multicultural alliances were forming. Things were really jumping.” Photo Credit: Ishmael Reed by Anthony Barboza.
“In 1994, Intersection had had a near-death experience. But funders bailed it out. It was in chaos, so it was lovely to reinvent from scratch. I was so behind the curve, and it was great to get on my feet at the same time as the organization. I didn’t know any better, so I just held out my arms to the artistic community and said, ‘Come! Help me create something that can belong to this group.’ This company belongs to all our artists—and our audience.” Image Credit: Deborah Cullinan by Christina Koci Hernandez.
Intersection for the Art’s resident theater company, Campo Santo, is an award-winning multicultural ensemble dedicated to creating new performances that reflect our world. Since 1996, we have premiered more than 50 new performance pieces, working with renowned playwrights, poets, novelists, screenwriters, musicians, and choreographers.
The Erika Shuch Performance Project (ESP) became Intersection’s resident dance company. “Through metaphor and theatrical alchemy, the work is a mirror, a lens, an opportunity for reflection, a brainstorm, a meeting place, a prayer, a conversation, and a confession.” Image Credit: Erika Such performing “Sunday Will Come” by Park Han.
In the early 2000s, Intersection launched the Artist Incubator Program, offering its members fiscal sponsorship, coaching, professional development, and performance opportunities. Most artists in residence at the 466 Valencia Street location were members of the Artist Incubator Program.
Intersection was one of the early adopters of fiscal sponsorship for the arts. When Frances Phillips was the Executive Director in the 1980s, she and a cohort of other folks worked on developing and articulating the models for fiscal sponsorship and establishing best practices. But even before that, the organization worked to help artists have sustainable careers. At one point, Intersection hosted a radio show about opportunities in the Bay Area and professional development workshops on topics like developing contracts and copywriting your work. Because it wasn’t lively and outward-facing like the visual and performing arts, artist resources were a behind-the-scenes project we did to build the capacity of individual artists and small to mid-sized organizations. When the organization’s financial circumstances called for a change in 2014, we entirely pivoted to artist resources and services to rebuild Intersection as a sustainable, community-oriented organization.
“Because of the amount of time Intersection has been around, its history is a complicated story to tell. It’s always going to be seen through the lens of how you experienced it and when, so there is a certain amount of refraction that takes place during each of our reflections. A poet reading in front of a packed audience in an old church in North Beach in the sixties would see it from a much different perspective than a visual artist whose work was installed in one of the spaces in the Mission in the eighties. Given that time bends and sometimes warps memory, a historical record will never be precise, and something is bound to be left out. What is presented here is drawn from the archives, which, although they contain such minutiae as old phone messages and reservation sheets, is by necessity a broad stroke approach to telling the history of this enduring and complicated organization.” — Randy Rollison, Executive Director of Intersection for the Arts, 2014-2021 (In reference to the Intersection’s archives, which were donated to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley in 2018)
…with all of our coworking members in tow. This is Intersection for the Arts’ current home. We are thrilled to have a gorgeous, sunlit space with comfortable and spacious desks, meeting rooms, and more. We offer low-cost coworking and rental options for the arts community, and we can’t wait to welcome you in!
Intersection continued providing its services through these challenging quarantine times, and our members pivoted their programming to continue virtually. Intersection’s Fiscal Sponsorship Program thrived as funders shifted to provide emergency relief grants, and Intersection sponsored re-granting programs such as The Safety Net Fund. Intersection’s professional development programming expanded through its virtual platform to offer new renditions of The Accelerator Program and launched a new cohort learning model with the Arts Finance Empowerment Camp.
Intersection for the Arts moved to a shared leadership model that distributes vision, responsibility, trust, and decision-making across a diverse staff led by Executive Co-Directors Allison Snopek and Scott Nielsen. Learn more about our talented team and board members here.
The above representation is a broad-stroke approach to telling the history of this enduring and complicated organization, and we acknowledge that there are many important contributors, leaders, and movements that are not included. We plan for this project to grow in content and functionality over time.
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Intersection for the Arts respectfully acknowledges that we are based in Yelamu: the traditional, unceded lands of the Ohlone people. We pay our respects to elders both past and present.