Southern Exposure was founded in 1974 on the premises of Project Artaud, the oldest artist-owned live/work space in San Francisco. The building was the former The American Can Company factory. Originally, the organizing collective assumed their name from the company and were called the ‘American Can Collective Gallery.’ They were subsequently sued for use of the name and in February 1976, the collective changed their name to Southern Exposure. The name was selected as a reference to the location near the artistic activity of the south of Market district and its commitment to exposing the work of emerging artists.
Southern Exposure was established as an artists’ collective, committed to exposing the work of emerging artists in addition to offering an alternative to the commercial gallery scene. Early shows were dedicated primarily to members of the collective. Interspersed, however, were shows from outside artists. A strong sense of community is the overwhelming feeling of letters and articles generated from the first decade.
The early administrative structure of the organization was loose, bordering on anarchistic, as a strict structure would have been contradictory to the collective's ideals. Members paid $12 per month in dues and everyone was a volunteer. In 1988 a separate board of directors was created to take responsibility for the business aspects of Southern Exposure. Southern Exposure did not became an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization until 1999, 25 years into its history.
The period of 2006 to the present represents a time of tremendous growth, change and revitalization for Southern Exposure. After leaving our home of 32 years at Project Artaud in 2006, Southern Exposure became a nomadic organization for three years and had the opportunity to radically reshape our programs while occupying two small Mission District storefront spaces and presenting off-site public projects. Through that process, Southern Exposure emerged as a re-energized organization with new audience members, greater capacity and an expanded program. In October of 2009, we opened our 20th Street building, and have worked to incorporate the experimental programs that became the hallmark of our nomadic years with longer-running gallery-based programs, all while continuing to innovate new models for providing direct, accessible support to artists.
Since opening our 20th Street space, and as we look to the future, Southern Exposure recognizes that we are a critical institution for visual artists in the Bay Area, and a national leader among similar organizations – by virtue of the huge number of artists we have served and launched, the models we have created that are used by groups nationally, and our longevity and reputation. Southern Exposure seeks to provide deep and comprehensive support to visual artists and youth as well as access for diverse audiences to new ideas and towards engagement and participation. Despite the extremely challenging economic climate, Southern Exposure remains a steady presence and works to advocate the value of the emergent, risk-taking, artist-centered community.
Southern Exposure is an important hub for the visual arts community and provides a vibrant set of resources for artists in the Bay Area. We seek to build, create and connect the community of artists together and to a diverse broad public. Our programming, which includes an incredible diversity of approaches, opportunities and forms, allows Southern Exposure to support visual artists on many levels. Artists are a part of Southern Exposure on every level. Southern Exposure commissions artists to develop major new projects both at our space and in the public realm. Artists access Southern Exposure through one of our many open calls for work, awards and submissions opportunities, all of which are free. Artists are hired to teach through our education program, gaining valuable job training, teaching skills and employment. Artists receive funding and support through our Alternative Exposure grant program, allowing Southern Exposure to invest in ground level creative activity that makes the Bay Area a vibrant place for culture. Volunteering and interning are other ways for Southern Exposure to provide training and learning. On every level, Southern Exposure exists to create a comprehensive set of resources, points of entry and access for a healthy creative community.