A reason to travel to San Francisco this month: the new Institute of Contemporary Art

Looking for a great reason to start planning your next adventure? In this series, we share the most compelling events, attractions and experiences that will have you booking a trip to the world’s most exciting destinations. 

Sitting on the dock of the Bay this fall, you can feel the creative tide turning. In San Francisco’s waterfront Dogpatch neighborhood, old port warehouses are suddenly overflowing with a new wave of art. The major force of nature at work here is artist Jeffrey Gibson, who has wrapped a massive warehouse inside and out with boundary-breaking art for the new Institute for Contemporary Arts San Francisco (ICASF), which opened October 1. 

The ICASF, a nonprofit, commissioned Gibson to cover their brand-new, factory-sized Dogpatch space with hundreds of video-art installations for its inaugural exhibition on the planet’s hottest topic: “This Burning World.” Gibson’s past installations have invoked the creative power of queer communities and evoked the All Nations Powwows of his Chocktaw and Cherokee heritage – but ICASF’s open-ended commissions make room for sudden breakthroughs on urgent topics. Instead of collecting art that mostly sits in storage like other museums, ICASF is committed to funding experimental, non-permanent exhibits that start timely conversations. 

A still image from a video shows a triangular slice of scenery on top of another image of scenery. A still from “This Burning World,” the inaugural exhibition at the ICASF © Jeffrey Gibson for the ICASF

You’re free to explore the artwork at ICASF, because there’s no admission fee or VIP-influencer guest list here. This non-commercial, non-celebrity model might seem strange – especially in San Francisco, where artists and techies have competed for space and attention since the Gold Rush. But old rivals are now creative co-conspirators in Dogpatch, where venture-capitalist arts patrons Deborah and Andy Rappaport opened Minnesota Street Project five years ago to house subsidized artists’ studios and galleries. Today Minnesota Street Project shares ideals, ideas and funders (including Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger) with ICASF and other neighborhood nonprofits – and Dogpatch has never looked more surreally Instagrammable. 

Even travelers familiar with San Francisco will discover a strange new world in Dogpatch, where art is being installed between futuristic tech startups, psychedelic music festivals at Pier 80 and Golden State Warriors games at Chase Center. Self-driving cars roam Dogpatch streets alongside concrete collage artist Anne Hicks Sibell, who’s collecting urban artifacts for her upcoming show at nonprofit Museum of Craft and Design. At neighboring McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, Clare Rojas is staging a colorful takeover of a stark gray warehouse with pop-art portraits of girls, looming large and in charge. Over at nonprofit Letterform Archive’s inaugural show of protest signage, punk ‘zine publishers, Adobe software designers and sundry other San Franciscans gather to admire 1960s Black Panther newspapers and 1980s AIDS awareness posters. 

Protest posters from history lay flat on a table. Associate curator and editorial director Stephen Coles (bottom right) shows different collections at Letterform Archive library © Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Now with the opening of the ICASF, travelers will find fresh inspiration along San Francisco’s weirdest stretch of waterfront. If you can’t go until 2023, watch this space: ICASF’s first group show from January-May 2023 will be “Resting Our Eyes,” featuring 20 Black artists celebrating Black women and offering an all-too-brief respite from heavy historical burdens.

All this goes to show that in San Francisco, art isn’t some precious collectible in golden frames – it’s an unstoppable tide, and watching it roll into Dogpatch this fall is a thunderous thrill. The incoming wave of site-specific artworks could signal a creative sea change, bringing in art as a cultural force instead of just another commodity. Catch it while you can.


Consider permission granted to discuss art with your mouth full at Besharam, located inside the Minnesota Street Project. Here, wine-and-cheese art openings are upstaged by Besharam chef/owner Heena Patel’s Gujarati-Californian cocktails and chaat: paratha with Point Reyes blue cheese, drunken pani-puri with gin-spiked tamarind water, and showstopping blueberry saffron cheesecake.

Cones of channa and other dishes sit on the table in a restaurant. A variety of dishes from the dinner menu at Besharam © Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

At Gilberth’s Latin Fusion, the wall-size rooster by muralist Lynne Rutter hints at the outsize flavors chef/owner Gilbraith Cab packs into every dish, drawing Pan-American inspiration from California and his native Yucatán. Lunch with Dogpatch gallerists on chile-lime Brussels fritas, guajillo-marinated fish tacos with pineapple salsa, and tangy achiote-laced pollo asado (slow-roasted chicken).

Drink, etc.

After Dogpatch gallery-hopping, head to Ungrafted to surprise your other senses with blind flights and compare wine-tasting notes on California vintages with somms Rebecca Fineman and Chris Gaither – top tasters earn prime positions on Ungrafted’s online leaderboard. Or head to Higher Purpose Cannabis, where high art takes on new meaning at this local Latina-owned weed startup, where artists get equipped for Dogpatch openings with THC-powered gummies and “Sativa Diva” tees. 


At Hotel Emblem, a freshly re-imagined Viceroy hotel, non-standard guestrooms provide amenities to start your own art movement: inspiration boards, meditation bowls, book butlers delivering Beat poetry to your door, and deliciously unpredictable open mics at onsite Obscenity Lounge. 

Or wake up inspired after a big night out in Hotel Castro, surrounded by iconic art installations. San Franciscan artist/designer Jon de la Cruz repurposed vintage Polaroids and San Francisco Public Library archive prints into sensational guestroom photo-mosaics honoring Harvey Milk, Sylvia Rivera and other LGBTIQ+ trailblazers.


Leave a Reply