Gallery to Move Into Harvey Milk’s SF Shop Soon

Queer A.F. has already raised nearly half of its fundraising goal

Harvey Milk in front of his shop Castro Camera in 1975. (Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images/Janet Fries)

Harvey Milk’s legacy lives on in physical flashes and winks across San Francisco and elsewhere in the Bay Area.

(If by some weird magic you weren’t aware: The San Francisco International Airport has an entire terminal named in honor of the late San Francisco Board of Supervisors member, who served almost eleven months in office as California’s first openly-gay politician and, among a long list of achievements, sponsored a bill banning discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment on the basis of sexual orientation.)

But no where in the region is Milk’s honor more present than in SF’s gayborhood, the Castro. The nexus of his mark on the city and world is no more evident than at his former photography shop, Castro Camera, at 575 Castro Street.

And tarting next month, a queer arts collective and gallery — aptly named Queer Arts Featured, a.k.a. “Queer A.F.” — will move into the space that also once housed the former Human Rights Campaign merchandise store for over a decade. But in parallel to existing on this mortal coil over the past two years, the idea for the pop-up pivoted from its earliest idea.

“Originally, I was looking for a space to show a series of photos I had planned to mount on March 13th, 2020,” queer photographer and co-founder of Queer A.F. Devlin Shand tells The Bold Italic in an email. “When I was steered toward this space because of the camera connection, I realized that a legacy like that of 575 Castro Street should be celebrated in a far more community-centered way. More than a camera store, Castro Camera was a space for young gay men in the ‘70s to come to find community, organize, and be seen for who they were just as The Castro was becoming welcoming.”

Along with their partner, Fadi Salah, and close friend, Erika Pappas, the trio decided to build on Milk’s legacy by creating a space with the same core idea of bolstering a broader spectrum of creativity from local queer artists.

“We want to showcase the work of Queer folks who are trying to build a platform, thrive in the Bay Area, and who still don’t see themselves represented,” Shand continues. “We want to build this community with intention, and we know that takes time and trust. We’re hoping to reach as broad a group of LGBTQIA+ folks as possible, especially to apply as artists and vendors, and growing that has been a process.”

As Hoodline noted: The Pride Flag pop-up art exhibit “In Their Own Voices’’ was installed in the windows at 575 Castro Street last year. The exhibit, which was a partnership between the Gilbert Baker Foundation and the GLBT Historical Society, was as socially distant blam passersby could enjoy amid another pandemic-defined Pride Month. But in order to make room for Queer A.F., Shand and the other two co-founders needed to take down the skeleton design work left from the exhibit, leaving it up “as long as they could.”

In lieu of the pride flag display, Shand told the hyperlocal news outlet they intend to have historical reminders and easy-to-follow timelines included in the gallery to guide visitors through not only Milk’s significance in the gay rights movement, but the important role San Francisco, as a whole, plays (and continues to play) in the fight for equality, too.

The co-founding trio has noted they’re all wearing many hats at the moment — “the learning curve is steep, but it’s been incredible!” — as it’s their first having done something of both this scale and scope.

The space, itself, was also a touchstone for Harvey Milk throughout his political career in San Francisco. Castro Camera served as a campaign headquarters for Milk’s various drives for elected office. With his then-partner, Scott Smith, Milk opened the store in 1972, using the last $1,000 of the pair’s savings. Up until Milk’s assassination in 1978, the photography shop operated as a social center, an inclusive refuge for new arrivals to SF, and later became an official City polling station for San Francisco elections; the shop, too, could become a City-designated landmark in the future.

It was bastion for all the gay things and stuff that Queer A.F. co-founders want to see it exist in the future. “We want to do everything we can to create space for Queer arts in The Castro,” Shand adds.

To ensure that Queer A.F. can best support artists while maintaining its financial solvency, they began raising funds earlier in the year: “We’ve been fundraising to cover startup costs, which will allow us to take a 20% commission rate as opposed to the standard 40%, and we aim to provide financial assistance to artists who apply for it to cover material costs in their practice.”

Shand tells TBI that the three co-founders will be hosting “a variety of events” in the space. Since moving in, Queer Arts Featured has done minimal physical updates to the space — “we refinished the walls, which were in a bad state, as well as done other than painting” — and the idea is to curate the space “to feel like home,” without any major renovations to the historied address.

Though expected to run for six months after it debuts on June 10th, Shand hopes to negotiate an extension with the property’s present landlord sometime in the near future. But in the present moment, we can look forward to Queer A.F. offering a much-need conduit for local queer artists to mingle; to meet; to marinate on their creativity amongst like-minded kin — all inside a space that if those freshly-painted walls could speak, would be elated it’s being used in such a manner.

Queer A.F. is still fundraising to cover our startup costs and reduce as many financial barriers for our artists and vendors as possible. Every dollar donated will help its cofounder build something lasting to support queer arts in the Bay Area. Thus far, the initiative has crowdfunded nearly half of its $70,000 campaign goal with over 140 indivual donations already given; for more information on Queer Arts Featured, including how to support the collective — as well as find an application for vendors who wish to show thier work in the space — visit queerartsfeatured.com.

Anita Shire

Next Post

For local music stages, summer's already here

Sat May 28 , 2022
The season doesn’t officially turn until June 21, but Memorial Day weekend is often considered as the unofficial start to the summer season: The air is warmer, the lake is busy, and many a venue (such as CMAC, which hosted The Lumineers on Friday) is starting their busy season.  Case […]