by Jay Rice

This weekend hundreds of people will gather at Kelly Cullen Community Center on Golden Gate Avenue to enjoy the incomparable work of the Skywatchers Ensemble and imagine together a vibrant future for the Tenderloin.

You may recognize the name Skywatchers from any number of the unique performances and installations generated by the group in their storied history. Founded in 2011, Skywatchers “brings residents of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District into partnership with professional artists to create multi-disciplinary, site-specific performance installations that amplify the rich and complex stories, life experiences, and talents of community members.”

This past December, Skywatchers gained a lot of media traction for their procession at the annual Interfaith Vigil for our Homeless Dead. The group embroidered banners with the names of our neighbors who died on the streets in 2018 and carried these from Golden Gate Avenue via City Hall to UN Plaza. In March of this year, Skywatchers presented “Inside Hotel Iroquois,” which invited housed SF residents on a guided tour of the Iroquois, a Single Room Occupancy hotel run by Community Housing Partnership. Residents of the Iroquois told their stories, invited visitors into their rooms, and advocated for improvements to the building and its management.

At The Table: VISIONS is a free, three-day arts and performance festival that highlights challenges facing the neighborhood, inviting the community to discuss community-centered resolutions. This is the eighth successive At the Table festival and the first to take place entirely at one site rather than multiple venues across the neighborhood. The festival runs from Friday May 17 to Sunday May 19 and everyone is welcome to attend.

Highlights include a new performance work by the Skywatchers Ensemble, as well as a multi-media art installation, a community dinner, and a dialogue about the changing neighborhood. The festival will also feature presentations from community organizations that work with low-income and homeless Tenderloin residents. According to the press release: “The festival will convene hundreds of community members along with emerging and established artists and advocates from inside and outside the community for cutting edge and powerful performances that illuminate the beauty, diversity and challenges of the Tenderloin.”

The central performance, Came Here to Live “offers a vision of what it means to have a seat at the table, to dismantle the table, and to create inclusion through creative resistance to systemic disenfranchisement.” Another presentation, the Opulence Project, features large-scale photo portraits of community members rendered as the god/goddess of their imagination. Skywatchers will also present a short documentary about Inside Hotel Iroquois, as well as all 200 of the hand-embroidered memorial banners.

Saturday’s community meal will be hosted by a variety of local SRO tenant leaders and people who are currently experiencing homelessness. Food is provided by Glide, Imperfect Produce, and Farming Hope. Like the rest of the festival, the community meal will be completely free and open to all. Glide Daily Free Meals Program Director, George Gundry comments: “Here at Glide we understand how important the communal act of eating can be for the soul and to unify and connect socially.”

As part of the program, Coalition on Homelessness will be showcasing some of our recent work regarding property confiscation, our budget ask for homeless families, and our efforts to stop the sweeps. You can come and see us on Friday evening between 5:30pm and 7pm. Tenderloin Peoples’ Congress, TL Votes, Healthy Corner Store Coalition and many other neighborhood groups will also be presenting on Friday.

At the Table: VISIONS will take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 17 – 19 at the Kelly Cullen Community Center at 220 Golden Gate Ave. in San Francisco.

Melanie DeMore, musical director for artist collaborative Skywatchers, leads people in song as they carry banners with the names of people who died while living on the streets in 2018 for a vigil to remember them at City Hall on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Skywatchers Ensemble Members introduce visitors to the Hotel Iroquois for their project, Inside Hotel Iroquois, which took place in March 2019. Image by @EricaJSandberg on Twitter.