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    Donna’s Chronicles: Shelter in Place

    By Donna Sachet–

    When Shelter-in-Place was first announced and most businesses were asked to close operations, San Francisco took on a very different appearance. Most startling to us was the frequent boarding up of storefronts with huge pieces of plywood, leaving even the most charming shopping and walking neighborhoods looking like the Apocalypse had arrived. We shared our observations on various social media tools, conceding the need to provide protection of one’s assets, but pointing out the ghastly look that boarded up windows and doorways portrayed. Neither charming Victorian architecture nor sleek modern designs withstood such insults easily.

    The public reaction to our observation was largely empathetic, although a handful of critics assailed our negative thinking. Why are some people so quick to negate visceral emotion, an undeniable reaction to depression, isolation, and helplessness? Having performed in The Starlight Room of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in Sunday’s a Drag for nearly 15 years, we were particularly devastated by the plywood covering windows on Powell Street. When a stately hotel of such historic significance and personal pride for all intents and purposes closes up shop, emotions are bound to explode. It seemed that plywood boards were adding to the new alien San Francisco of which so many have written.

    Out of the blue came an idea from good friend Joanie Juster: why not create art on these eyesores, thereby not just disguising the harsh look, but also adding some beauty for all to enjoy? Exchanges back and forth supported the idea and within a few days, we began to see the first attempts all over town. Vistas from faraway fantasy worlds, gorgeous colorful florals, iconic and recognizable figures, and pithy slogans all popped up, provoking thought, amazement, and amusement.

    Perhaps you’ve seen the video we posted of boarded-up storefronts, empty shelves, and abandoned streets giving way to cartoons, hearts, and sappy, but optimistic, aphorisms. The magic of spray paint, oil brushes, acrylic pigments, and even wheatpaste appliqué is transforming blight into refreshing hope.

    Some of our favorites are the honey bear (Fnnch) wearing a face mask, the familiar koi fish (Jeremy Novy) swimming up from the sidewalk onto the building, kaleidoscopic hippie-like images, graphic reminders of San Francisco’s resilience, and even the beloved Brown twins arm-in-arm, faces covered, holding signs that read, “Stay Home,” and “Stay Safe.” As you begin to notice these creations, take note that some artists (Max Erhman, Nora Bruhn)are including their websites or even VenMo accounts should you feel a generous urge to contribute towards their art supplies, talent, and time. We understand that two organizations, Building 180 and Art for Civil Discourse, created a fundraising effort ( ). Especially at a time when visiting a museum, attending a concert, or even enjoying theatre is not a public experience, viewing these ambitious murals and whimsical characterizations reminds us of the power of art.

    This being San Francisco, of course there are those who object to this manifestation as street art or graffiti, unauthorized by building owners. We even found a quote from the Department of Public Works that reads, “There is a graffiti law on the books that addresses stencils, paint and the like. One person’s art may be another person’s blight and vandalism.”

    We’ve seen vandalism, haven’t you? As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said about obscenity, “I know it when I see it.” In these turbulent times, can’t we find some common ground and celebrate this humble, but powerful, attempt to mollify the effect of business closings and boarded-up store fronts with beauty, whimsy, and optimism?

    Judge for yourself from some of the images pictured herein and let your feelings be known. From the vivid murals of the Mission to the depictions of Juanita More! in SOMA and JR’s famous San Francisco mural long displayed at our Museum of Modern Art, we can find room for the joy this art form provides. The next time you walk by an artist in the process of creating an image on the plywood boards covering a building, express your thanks and support and maybe even make an online financial contribution!

    Donna Sachet is a celebrated performer, fundraiser, activist and philanthropist who has dedicated over two decades to the LGBTQ Community in San Francisco. Contact her at

    Calendar a la Sachet

    Every Sunday
    Quaran-Tea Dance
    Popular DJs, high energy music, benefiting the SF Queer Nightlife Fund
    1–6 pm
    Twitch and Zoom

    Every Wednesday
    Virtual Musical Wednesdays
    Host Brian Kent, Edge regulars, sing along at home
    7 pm
    Twitch and Zoom

    Friday, May 22
    Happy Birthday, Harvey Milk!
    Hosted by SF Queer Nightlife Fund
    Sponsored by Golden Gate Business Association
    Music, DJs, drag performers, and more
    5:30 pm–9 pm
    Twitch and Zoom

    Saturday, May 23
    PV Strong, a Vallarta Pride Benefit for the PV Nightlife Fund
    Brian Kent Productions, Sutton Lee Seymour, Shangela, Kim Kuzma, Debby Holiday, Nina Flowers, Kinsey Sicks, Hedda Lettuce, Amy Armstrong, and more.
    2 pm–5 pm
    Facebook and YouTube

    Published on May 20, 2020