By Kat Anderson
December 17, 2011
Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA) held its second annual gala Thursday, showcasing performances from virtuoso artists, ELEW and Garibaldi, while raising funds for a new technology center.
The well-attended event, dubbed “Galvanize”, was held at the historic and handsomely-decorated, 1920s-era Warfield Theater.
GAFFTA is the nation’s leading organization dedicated to furthering the use and advancement of art and creative technology for social good. GAFFTA maintains relationships with the world’s top academic researchers, innovative corporations, visionary artists and civic leaders. Indeed, GAFFTA Executive Director Josette Melchor and Board Chair Peter Hirshberg introduced several high-profile individuals to the Gray-tie audience, including Aaron Koblin (Google Creative Lab), John Gage (former Chief of Research, Sun Microsystems), James Gosling (inventor of Java), Jay Nath (Director of Innovation, City Hall), and Chloe Sladden (Director of Content and Programming, Twitter).
FCJ attended the gala as guests of venture capitalist and recent mayoral candidate, Joanna Rees.
Asked why she supports GAFFTA, Rees told FCJ: “I started to support GAFFTA when they launched the Summer of Smart, an intensive three-month experiment in urban innovation. Over the course of this summer, urbanists of many disciplines – developers, designers, planners, journalists, civic leaders, community activists, and more – came together to address the most pressing issues facing cities today with a specific focus on San Francisco.”
“San Francisco is perceived as the innovation capital of the world,” Rees added. “We need to embrace innovation to solve some of our persistent problems and improve transparency in city government to strengthen the bonds of trust between city government and the community. GAFFTA has been a catalyst to achieve this goal. . .The multi-disclinary approach at GAFFTA will result in innovative solutions no one working in a single discipline would dream possible.”
The three-hour program included dinner and cocktails as well as the unveiling of GAFFTA’s plan for its new Gray Area Creative Technology Center, located on the corner of Taylor and Market streets in the Tenderloin (Hirschberg shared with FCJ that this was formerly the “speakeasy” of Al Capone). Three floors will offer a Fab Lab, Media Lab, Exhibition/Event Space and a Collaboration Space. The plan is to combine cutting-edge physical and digital tools, world-leading creative technologists and civic and community leaders to create grassroots urban innovation.
“Some of the best ideas don’t necessarily come from government,” Nath said. “I am able to look outside of City Hall to get inspired. The relationship that I have found with GAFFTA is so important. There is now a civic lab to continue experimentation in the innovative, for example, in the form of the “Hackathon” which GAFFTA co-sponsored that brought in 10,000 hours of civic participation and resulted in the creation of several apps.”
Guests were also introduced to truly spell-binding entertainment. ELEW, a revolutionary piano “iconoclast,” thunderously banged out his style of ragtime, rock and pop that he calls “Rockjazz.” Playing on a slightly elevated grand piano, no seat, legs akimbo, ELEW threw his head back, eyes turned upward, and seemed to travel to a different plane while he transfixed the audience with his music.
ELEW was joined by painter/performance artist, Garibaldi, who hales from Sacramento. Garibaldi combines music, painting and dance as influenced by Denny Dent. While the audience was treated to medleys of Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elton John music, Garibaldi painted and danced his way to finished portraits of John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Elton John – all completed in about 5 minutes flat. Each painting was auctioned off at the end of the live program for thousands of dollars. The funds will go toward the new Creative Technology Center.
An impressive array of sponsors supported this GAFFTA event including Google, Stamen Design, Adobe, Splunk, Waze, TechValidate and Bhava Communications. In addition, individuals including art aficionados David and Jamie Addington (owners of the Warfield building and other nearby properties), Ron Conway and Joanna Rees, sponsored tables and brought in such high profile guests as Gosling, Hooman Khallili of Radio Alice 97.3 (who just released his first film, Olive, shot completely on a cell-phone camera), and Luke Thomas, editor of Fog City Journal.
It was exciting to see some of the ideas for revitalizing the mid-Market area come to fruition in the form of the “urban pioneers” that forms GAFFTA. The Creative Technology Center is going to bring the tech and art communities together in ways that are going to benefit residents of San Francisco, from young students who will be able to make whatever they can dream up in the Fab lab, to civic leaders who will have the chance to work with innovators to build apps that will make government run more transparently and efficiently.
For more information about GAFFTA and ways you can donate your time, treasure and/or talent, please visit www.gaffta.org.