Diamond in the Rough: Justin Giarla Brightens Up the Tenderloin

Written by Rachel Michelle. Posted in Arts and Entertainment

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Published on February 04, 2013 with 7 Comments

Justin Giarla.

Justin Giarla. Photo by Mike Cuffe.

By Rachel Michelle

February 4, 2013

Justin Giarla, owner of The Shooting Gallery, White Walls and 941 Geary, is making the Tenderloin look pretty good.

Justin Giarla made a bold choice to open a gallery in the Tenderloin district back in 2002 when he opened The Shooting Gallery. He knew enough about the art world to know you need cheap rent, so he ventured into the TL. He knew right away that the empty space was perfect and within two weeks the lease was signed. Completely on his own, Justin did everything from hanging artwork, accounting, shipping and cleaning. Anxious, stressed and excited, he slowly began transforming this rough neighborhood into one of the hottest gallery spots in town.

Other than the occasional drunks that may stumble in, Justin has had a great response from the neighborhood. They got to know him as the mellow art guy and appreciated someone who liked their neighborhood and wanted to have something nice on their block. He wants anyone from anywhere to come and check out his space, always making sure people feel welcomed and comfortable.

Being in the Tenderloin was like the wild Wild West. Justin had a freedom to do whatever he wanted there and was able to put on shows that would never be seen in a gallery Downtown, like his erotic gun show for example.

He states: “I have a love-hate relationship with the Tenderloin. It’s a coin toss everyday as to how I’m gonna feel. I feel like I grew up here, I became a better person here. What I am today has been from being in this neighborhood for ten years, I keep wanting to give back to it. I’ve put so much into it and I want to be here when the tenderloin becomes a great spot in the city again.”

Although Justin’s background was in the nightclub industry, he has always had a passion for the arts. Being an artist himself, he started building a personal collection of artwork at the age of 23 that now reaches up to over 500 pieces. He has no guidelines when selecting artists to show at his gallery, he just has to like it and know he can sell it.

Giarla saw a need for an edgy, street art market that not many were supporting but has now become a wildly popular genre of art. Being a major role in supporting these artists, he worked with well-known artists such as The Clayton Brothers, Mike Giant and Shepard Fairey. Justin had been apart of Shepard Fairey’s journey since 2004. Having done 3 solo shows for him, he has watched his career grow exponentially, including his 2008 Barack Obama “Hope” poster.

Justin describes his passions best, saying, “I love the San Francisco art community. This is my town and I want to give something back to the city that has given so much to me. The SF art scene stands apart from any other city. San Francisco is less about an institution and more about people coming together who really love art. We choose to be here because we love this city.”

After the Shooting Gallery’s success, Justin opened White Walls in 2005 and in 2011 he opened 941 Geary. His plan now is to consolidate all 3 galleries into one beautiful and massive space right around the corner. The new gallery, located at 886 Geary, is modern yet rustic, with skylights, brick walls and old wooden beams lined up high.

The grand opening is on February 9th at 7pm.  You won’t want to miss this diamond in the rough.

Rachel Michelle

Rachel Michelle

Rachel is a noted art advisor and writer. One of her ambitions is to educate the people of the Bay Area in supporting local emerging artists. She does this by writing about upcoming artists and working with private venues, buyers and galleries to introduce these exceptional artists and showcase their work.

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  • kenni c

    nice article..gona have to check out this gallery..!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/debbie.m.bieber Debbie Mayberry Bieber

    Great article. We will be traveling to SF this summer…would love to check out the new gallery! Thanks for the info!

  • Kellie

    What a great writer! Makes me miss all of the art community and all of the amazing galleries in SF. Good luck in your consolidation Justin, looking forward to seeing it when I make it back to the states :)

  • Vickie Bonine

    Great article Rach. I love how you capture an artist and tell their journey

    I always feel like I know them and excited to visit their galleries. The Tendorline is a must see my next time to S.F

  • Montana

    We need more writing like this to show how bright and dynamic the independent art industry in SF really is.

  • Sloane

    He has created one if the top cutting edge gallery/ies in the city.

  • adam

    just stumbled on this article; i look forward to checking out the shooting gallery this week.