A Neighborhood Thing: The Mission Art Scene in the '90s

The 1980s and 1990s saw the rise of a new approach to art that was influenced by street culture and folk sensibilities as well as the Internet, which was becoming an increasingly pervasive force in mainstream culture, and which brought artists notoriety faster than ever. With its long history of progressive politics and populist values, San Francisco nurtured these trends, and young artists from the city's Mission District opened new doors in the world of contemporary art.

In 2002 San Francisco art critic Glen Helfand coined the term "Mission School" to describe the unique set of artists working in or around the Mission beginning in the 1990s. Although many among this group have gone on to become internationally recognized under the "Mission School" moniker, the community wasn't limited to practitioners of visual arts in a single neighborhood, but included many people living across the Bay Area.

San Francisco, and particularly the Mission District, has seen many major cultural shifts, most recently in the form of exponential growth triggered by the technology industry, which has had a significant impact the local economy since the early dot-com boom of the 1990s. The city is currently undergoing another social and economic sea change as artists and long-time members of many communities have been forced out of San Francisco for financial reasons. While the spirit and energy of the still-influential Mission School remain relevant for many artists, the accessibility of the city wanes. On the occasion of the exhibition Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California at the Oakland Museum of California, KQED Arts and SFMOMA spent some time reflecting on a golden age that launched a number of successful careers and left a legacy of good vibes.

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