Southern Exposure

[uds-billboard name=”SOEX”]

Southern Exposure

Address: 3030 20th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
Contact: Courtney Fink, director
Email: director@soex.org
Website: www.soex.org
Phone : 415-863-2141
Open Hours:
_____Office Hours: Monday-Friday, 10 am – 6 pm
_____Public Hours: Varies per project, but standard hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 12 – 6 pm.

Southern Exposure (SoEx) is an artist-centered non-profit organization that is committed to supporting visual artists. Through our extensive and innovative programming, we strive to experiment, collaborate and further educate while providing an extraordinary resource center and forum for Bay Area and national artists in our Mission District space and off-site, in the public realm.

An active presence in the Bay Area for 38 years, SoEx is continually evolving in response to the needs of artists and the community while engaging the public in artists’ work. Central to our mission is to remain the most accessible space for visual artists to produce and present new work, learn, and connect. SoEx provides visual artists with the tools and resources they need to experiment in an open and supportive environment. We also work to advocate to new, diverse audiences and build an ever-growing community of enthusiasts and supporters of the visual arts.


How is the project operated?
Southern Exposure is an artist-centered 501(c)3, non-profit organization.

How long has it been in existence?
It was founded in 1974 by a group of artists committed to exposing the work of emerging artists in addition to offering an alternative to the commercial gallery scene of the time. It has evolved and changed tremendously over the years, but our mission of supporting visual artists remains at the core of SoEx’s work.

What was your motivation?
SoEx was founded at the genesis of the artist space movement in the early 1970’s. The motivations of the organization have evolved tremendously over the years as circumstances have changed and  different generations of artists and leadership have run the organization.

SoEx’s current driving motivation is to remain a steady and energetic presence in the Bay Area and to strongly advocate the value of the emergent, risk-taking artist-centered community. Our job is to respond directly to artists and ideas, to experiment, adapt, and serve as a national model. SoEx focuses both on supporting Bay Area artists as well as bringing artists from outside the region to the Bay Area. We are extremely dedicated to education, and also to investing in projects and artists we think are creating strong systems of support on the ground.

Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
Southern Exposure has a full-time staff of five, a Board of Directors of fifteen, an artist curatorial committee of eight, an Advisory Board of over twenty, a very robust internship program, hundreds of volunteers, and many, many artists, teachers, students and supporters.

How are programs funded?
Southern Exposure has a very diverse base of funders and it is always shifting, especially in recent years as the sources of arts funding is changing, grants continue to diminish, and we rely more on individual supporters and earned income. Currently 50% of our funding comes from grants, 30% from members and individuals and 20% is earned. Our grants mainly come from private foundations and we have some public support from both the city and occasionally the National Endowment for the Arts. We have a broad community of supporters and donors and are always working to get more. We earn revenue from several fundraising events we do annually including our Auction and Monster Drawing Rally, as well as a limited editions program. The picture of where our funding comes from has dramatically shifted and SoEx is always thinking about how to change with the times so we can stay fiscally healthy while developing new models that will make it possible for us to continue on.

Who is responsible for the programming?
Southern Exposure remains extremely dedicated to our artist-driven model. A combination of our artist-run curatorial committee, the staff, jurors for several open calls for support, and many other people involved in the organization develop programming. The larger artistic direction for the organization is set by the executive director in conversation with the board, staff and artists. We want many voices and ideas flowing through the organization and healthy debate among our core community about what we should do and why we are doing it. SoEx also has quite a few program areas and very robust schedule of projects and activities annually and having a variety of people generating ideas results in a much more diverse and interesting program. Different programs need different models as well—we would decide what education programs to develop very differently than we would select new grantees or choose an artist for a large-scale public project.

Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year.
Southern Exposure does so many different things, so typically, there is no average! Our three core program areas—projects (both at our Mission District space and off-site), artists in education, and our alternative exposure grant program, all generate activities. We recently made a specific decision to evolve our exhibitions program to a project-based program, opening up the parameters of our program even wider, with no standard model or duration. SoEx commissions new work, and the ideas generate the model for each project. So, every project is different depending on how it needs to be structured, from one night to one week to one month and even year-long projects. We have events weekly, and work with upwards of 500 artists a year. We also employ 20 teaching artists annually and work with more than 200 high school students. Through our Alternative Exposure grant program, we give out $65,000 or more in grants to between 13 and 20 projects annually.

What kind of events are usually organized?
Each program area generates distinct programming, but they all connect and respond the same principles, goals and values. Everything and anything from projects, exhibitions, events, performances, residencies, talks, readings, workshops, summits, screenings, classes, public projects, and giving out grants and teaching skills. Through each program area, SoEx serves different communities, attracts different audiences, and works in multiple locations.

How is your programming determined?
By staff, artists, the leadership of the organization, and sometimes outside artists or jurors, depending on the project. When we develop new program models, such as when we created our off-site initiative or Alternative Exposure, those were developed by a small group of staff and board, led by the Executive Director.

Do you accept proposals/submissions?
Yes, we do. We just recently made new submissions guidelines to more accurately reflect how our programs have shifted. It is always free and open. We also offer up many opportunities that artists can apply to including teaching jobs three times a year, grants through our Alternative Exposure grant program, public art opportunities and specific calls for projects. It is a core value for us to remain accessible and approachable to artists.

What is your artistic/curatorial approach?
Programmatically, SoEx seeks to serve artists and youth in one space where these diverse groups converge. We also fund artist-driven creative projects, investing in ground-level activity that feeds all levels of the Bay Area creative culture. SoEx recently decided to expand the notion of our program model, from an exhibitions program to a project-based program that can more readily adapt to any format that suits the project or idea. SoEx always likes to commission new projects and shapes the format of the project to the idea, so there is a real openness and things change all the time.

What’s working? What’s not working?
Sustainability is really at the center of the conversation for us when it comes to figuring out how to make Southern Exposure work best, and also when we talk about what is not working. What does a sustainable small arts organization look like? Do they even exist? By all measures, Southern Exposure is a healthy organization, and fiscally stable. All the while, SoEx remains focused on programs, is extremely ambitious and has changed in order to remain relevant and stable in the face of great odds. That is what works, being willing to change.

I really believe there is a growing divide between small and large institutions, like many of the other growing divides in our culture and economy. The value and impact a small group like Southern Exposure has is unparalleled, but the recognition of that and the so-called “return” you get is hard to measure. The role of spaces like SoEx around the world is undervalued and yet, these spaces are critical to the development of artists. That is what is not working on a very large scale. If it continues, more and more spaces like Southern Exposure won’t be around.

What kind of role do you hope to play in your local art scene or community?
SoEx hopes that we are a defining visual artist space of our city, that we serve as a center of a visual arts community, and that our role is creating support and supportive systems for local artists. SoEx needs to challenge the role of an artist space plays, and also what a 38 year-old organization can look like. We are motivated by taking risks and we’re willing to fail at trying all of those things…and then try again.

What idea are you most excited about for the future?
We are always excited about the future. The potential in what we do, the possibilities, just how we are going to pull it all off. When thinking about the future, we often ask the very important question, “What if?”


Images courtesy of Southern Exposure.

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