Art, politics and Instagram backdrops in San Francisco’s Clarion Alley

Peninsula Press


On Nov. 9, 2016, the day after the presidential election, 15 Bay Area artists-cum-activists sat down in a kitchen in San Francisco. Some of the younger ones, students at the San Francisco Arts Institute, struggled to find words to encompass their outrage and confusion over the election of Donald Trump. But the more seasoned artists focused on action.  Their goal: ten poster designs by the next day.

“This is how revolution starts,” one of the art students said.

This kitchen gathering was a meeting of the SF Poster Syndicate, which creates and distributes screen-printed political art live in the streets of San Francisco, and the designs they drafted in an act of protest that post-election night have evolved into a full-scale mural. Since December, Clarion Alley in San Francisco’s Mission District has featured an image of President Trump, mouth spewing Twitter-logo birds, accompanied by other bogeymen in the background, all bearing into a huddle of community activists who shelter a sapling with their bodies.

In this moment, “people are really hungry for political art,” said Christopher Statton, a co-director of the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP), which oversees the alley. But political commentary is nothing new for the 560-foot-long walkway, which houses over a hundred murals, large and small, alongside the Trump piece. For more than 20 years, through changing times and gentrification, the Clarion Alley Mural Project has provided wall space for social and political commentary via paint.

Clarion Alley encapsulates San Francisco’s Mission District, a neighborhood that is culturally rich but also rife with tension. Situated between 17th and 18th Streets, it bridges the neighborhood’s two arteries, Mission and Valencia. On the corner of Clarion and Mission, you can buy cream, plastic-looking heels for $6.99 from Footwear City Express/Ciudad de Zapatos. It houses what FiveThirtyEight deemed the nation’s best burrito, and when I visited, it was noisy with the sounds of passing buses and hip-hop blaring from a speaker someone lugged down the sidewalk. Valencia, meanwhile, has a high per-capita number of tungsten bulbs and juice shops.