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    Devlin Shand and Rhys Oisin of Queer Arts Featured (Queer AF)

    Photos by Drew Altizer Photography

    Queer Arts Featured, at 575 Castro Street in the historic storefront that once housed Harvey Milk’s Castro Camera, is an inviting community space that is both an artist-led gallery and a boutique. It reflects not only the evolving legacy of that landmark location but also the creativity and talents of Co-Founder and Owner Devlin Shand and Rhys Oisin, Queer AF’s Magician of Operations. Members of our San Francisco Bay Times team recently went to Queer AF and enjoyed spending time with both, learning more about this unique Castro treasure.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Please tell us more about Queer AF, including your vision for it and what makes it such a distinctive space in what was already a well-known location.

    Devlin Shand and Rhys Oisin: Queer Arts Featured is The Castro’s artist-led boutique, gallery, and event space located in the historic storefront that once housed Harvey Milk’s camera store and campaign headquarters. We build on this profound legacy by providing space to celebrate, support, promote, and connect people across the 2SLGBTQIA+ spectrum and intersectional lines. The ethos of the space is born out of this legacy, and as Harvey and his peers did here, we are building a community hub in the heart of The Castro that centers queer voices not given the space they deserve in the neighborhood, the larger community, and the national stage.

    We showcase art across mediums, with a focus on the work of underrepresented, disenfranchised, and emerging Bay Area queer artists and makers. Our aim is to reduce barriers that creatives face by offering a reduced commission rate of 25% for Black and US Indigenous creators and 35% for all others. Our events, which range from monthly live model sketch nights to spiritual healing for Palestinian, SWANA and BIPOC folks to live music, to queer student film screenings, are all open to the public and by donation. 

    What sets us apart most strongly from other retail and art spaces is our prioritization of people over profit, and the freedom we give our community to safely experiment and connect creatively, socially, and spiritually. We are so much more than can fit in an article. Ya just gotta experience it.

    Rhys Oisin and Devlin Shand

    San Francisco Bay Times: We agree! What inspired you to create Queer AF?

    Rhys Oisin: Initially, Devlin was looking to mount a series of photography in one of the many vacant storefronts in the Castro. When connected to the recently vacant 575 Castro Street, he and the team realized the opportunity at hand. The historic legacy of this storefront reaches well beyond the images it developed, and we decided to refocus the lens onto the community that keeps the heart of this city alive. 

    Being in a space with such an important legacy in the queer community has driven us forward in making Queer AF into a hub of expression and connection. This address was the center of the neighborhood, and (we desired) to reinvigorate the space and build the current structure of the business to include a wide array of local queer artists and makers. 

    Devlin Shand and Rhys Oisin: As a team of multidisciplinary artists living in the Bay Area, we understand how difficult it is to survive and thrive here as a creative. We all have friends who have left or been pushed out, and many of us struggle to make ends meet as rents rise and resources dwindle. With so many factors accelerating displacement, we understand firsthand the dire need to invest in queer artists, especially those facing compounding systemic oppression because of their race, gender identity, and/or disability.

    Art has been a central part of our lives as an outlet to process, provide clarity and perspective, expand our community, and heal. We know the importance of art in the lives of those who create it and experience it, and we wish to share that with the Castro from a queer (and not just gay) perspective.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What do you most enjoy about the landmark location of your business?

    Devlin Shand and Rhys Oisin: It’s absolute magic to be in a space with such a rich and vital history to our community. We remember every day how lucky we are to steward space within these walls. Our ability to operate as we do, champion the kind of art we do, and host the events we do is in part because of the people who worked out of this very spot to move the needle forward for queers. 

    Meeting queer people from all over the world who come to pay homage to Harvey and the Castro of the past is a gift, and sharing the work of the queers who are still in the Bay Area continuing to push the boundaries of self-expression has made a lasting impact on so many, not least of all us.

    San Francisco Bay Times: During our recent visit, we were mesmerized by all of the incredible items in your boutique and gallery. A member of our team bought a beautiful and reasonably priced pair of earrings handcrafted by Rhys! Please mention some of the other new items at Queer AF.

    Devlin Shand and Rhys Oisin: We just got in a new line of incredible hand-cut and molded leather chest plates and corsets from Brazilian artist Victor Puglielli. They’re beautifully crafted, avant garde, and all one of a kind. Their IG is @hausofpuglielli

    We have a new series of prints from Nathaniel J. Bice, a location-based painter who captures iconic scenes from the Bay Area in new and intriguing ways.

    Our current gallery show, Sum of Our Parts, is a beautiful exploration by six artists of the body, our relation to it, and how we are shaped physically and emotionally by our experiences. The show will be up until June 2, and will be followed by a collaborative communal living art piece created with a piece of history from the Castro Theatre.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Are most of your customers locals, from other parts of the Bay Area, tourists, or a mixture of all these? And are most of your customers repeat visitors?

    Devlin Shand and Rhys Oisin: We are privileged to encounter a cross section of the community, from tourists who come to pay homage to Harvey Milk, to locals invested in the local queer art community, to folks who come for our diverse programming and would not come to the Castro otherwise. We have many wonderful regular clients who love the art and the mission, and are lucky to meet new folks from around the world every day.

    San Francisco Bay Times: The San Francisco Bay Times is by and for the Bay Area LGBTQ community. Queer AF appears to be too.

    Devlin Shand and Rhys Oisin: In every way, shape, and form.I mean, it’s in the name, darlings. 

    San Francisco Bay Times: Please give a shout out to any members of your staff, repeat customers, mentors, or anyone else whom you wish to thank for their support.

    Devlin Shand and Rhys Oisin: This space would not exist without the incredible community that has formed around it, and been essential to its creation. From customers to facilitators to donors, we could not keep the doors open and this space thriving without the generosity and vision of our community. We, as the stewards of this space, invite everyone to come and see what is growing here, and can’t wait to welcome you.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Outside of your own business, what other businesses/restaurants do you recommend?

    Devlin Shand and Rhys Oisin: We love so many spaces in the Castro! Local Take has been a wonderful and supportive neighbor since we had the seed idea for Queer AF, and also carries local art and goods you can feel good about buying. We always enjoy a Turkish coffee and baklava from Aegean Delights, and at the end of a long day a delicious glass of wine from our neighbors at Swirl and a sandwich from Heroic Italian always hits the spot.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced, in terms of your work?

    Devlin Shand and Rhys Oisin: We are a brick-and-mortar retail art space in San Francisco. You’ve read the articles. It’s incredibly difficult. We are also a hybrid space, and as two people we manage exhibitions, consignment retail with eighty individual vendors, and host an average of ten events a month. With our fiscal sponsorship, we are grateful to start building the financial support network needed to grow our team, keep our commissions low and events accessible, and expand the reach of our mission.

    We also work in a historic location with strong emotional connection for the community, which is both beautiful and difficult as the Castro comes to celebrate not only the past, but also the ever expansive and inclusive present and future of queerness. This is a challenge we are honored to accept, and are grateful to feel supported in.

    San Francisco Bay Times” What are your plans and goals for Queer AF in the year ahead?

    Devlin Shand and Rhys Oisin: We could not be more excited for our upcoming exhibition, a remount of last year’s Wet Paint: A Work in Progress. Opening Friday, June 7, 2024, this exhibit is an invitation to the public to create as a community. The gallery will begin as a blank canvas and an array of multimedia materials, and all those who attend in the course of its two-month run are invited to express themselves artistically throughout the gallery. This year, we honor the history of the iconic Castro Theatre, as the canvas for the show will be the former screen that has held so much entertainment for us all, donated by Another Planet Entertainment. This piece of history would have otherwise been discarded, and we are honored to bring new life to such a meaningful object. At the conclusion of the show, all the art created will be auctioned off to support Queer AF.

    We also have many new and ongoing collaborations in the works with local artists and organizations, from performance to education to community healing, and we can’t wait to share all of them with you.

    Come visit! Attend an event, buy some art, meet a new friend or collaborator. Queer AF is here for you, our community. If there’s anything we are reminded of lately, it’s that all we have is each other, so let’s create, connect, and heal together.

    Queer Arts Featured (Queer AF)
    575 Castro Street
    Open Thursday–Saturday 12–7 pm and Sunday 12–6 pm

    Supporting Small Businesses in the Castro and Beyond
    Published on May 23, 2024