NO. 20: WHAT IS THE VISION FOR YOUR TRAVELING ART SPACE, MISSION GALLERY?
MATTIE LOYCE (@YEA.MATTIE) ANSWERS
LOCATION: SAN FRANCISCO
INTERVIEW DATE: AUGUST 2016
Currently, I am with Mission Gallery. I’m focusing on creating a traveling art community and gallery. I’ve been pretty nomadic in my personal life. So I’ve tried to build a business, a community space, and an art space that can travel with me. My main goal is to support and work with emerging and local artists of color in whatever city or town I may be and to create art exhibitions focusing on them.
It’s called Mission Gallery because I am from the Mission District of San Francisco.
My most recent showcase was a part of the Luggage Store Gallery. They offered me space. I created a show called Frisco Zoo with a group of local POC (people of color) artists from San Francisco, Oakland, and the Bay Area that discussed their experience in urban life.
On conceiving the idea for Mission Gallery…
I went to Northeastern University for undergrad and lived in Boston multiple years. Being a native San Franciscan, I’ve always been interested in the arts. Whether it be dance or murals, things I see on the street or stickers. That has always been part of my life. And moving to Boston was a different environment in terms of public art and the way art is accessed.
After my undergraduate career, I started working full-time as a social worker. But underneath that, I was always doing arts organizing. I was in Boston searching for an experience that I hadn’t had in a long time. It was that space where emerging artists can be of community and be supported and known. I had a lot of friends who were artists. We existed. We complained. But there wasn’t an answer.
At the time, and still, now, I did not have the economy to rent a retail space. All these things that most traditional galleries are made of. That speaks to [many] emerging curators and emerging gallerists. I did not have the economy to do that.
But I did know people with space. I have an apartment. I know how to connect. Why can’t we take a space that isn’t so defined as an art space or a gallery space and make it into one?
I felt I could create the space I wanted regardless of where it was. I know all it takes is the artist, community, and the walls.
And now we’re in this age of technology where I’m sitting here in San Francisco and I could be connected to someone in Johannesburg by literally a click of an Instagram button. And that stuff is wild and that is really opening people up. Not a postcard which takes three weeks to send and three weeks to send back.
You are emailing this person and seeing them visually on a live feed any second you want. It’s really beautiful. But then, ‘I think we can take it a step further. Well, why not connect in a real way? Why not meet?’
Long-term, once I have a brick-and-mortar, I hope to branch out to non-profit concepts but still have the capability to travel.
On Embracing DIY-Culture…
Closed mouths don’t get fed. You might get a “No” and then maybe that “No” will drive you to figure out how to get a “Yes.” Or you might not ask anybody and you just do it.
It’s scary because I reflect on the generations before us and stability is a huge thing.
Even in my life of mobility I still try to find pockets of stability. What does stability look like when it is mobile? I think that’s one of the reasons why a lot of people don’t jump out and say you know, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to drop this job and do what my passion project is.’
I think also where I got this crazy missing link in my brain to really go for it is I grew up moving around a fair amount.
On the state of the black residents in San Francisco
I think our most recent quote of black people in San Francisco is around 3% [Editor note: KTVU reported in 2016 that the black population is less than 5%]. Sit with that.
And so that is the people that reside here. And in the 1970s you want to look at that quote and that number in the 1950s, and in the 1930s. In the middle of “Harlem of the West.” It was a much different story.
So you think about Why? How? And what happened? San Francisco has changed a lot. And it’s not just black folks, but black folks specifically have really really dwindled and you wonder why. You know, we like living here.
On connecting with black culture in Trinidad & Tobago and Brazil through dance and music…
After high school, I went to Northeastern because they gave us the capacity to do this thing called co-op. You can take a semester off school and get linked up with an internship or you’re own project.
While I was at Northeastern, I lived in New York for six months for one of my co-ops and I worked at a research firm and had to wear business clothes and flats and stockings. And I said this is not for me. My heart wasn’t in it.
I was interested in the concept but it didn’t jive. [Then] I did a music research project in Trinidad for six weeks.
Which was amazing. That was one of my first tastes of real international life and study. I was studying Carnival culture, specifically, mass. It was beautiful and we spent six weeks and we were talking to all the old heads in a community. And that really started to open my mind. And from there, I had the idea to do a research project in Brazil.
So I used one of my co-ops to spend five months doing a research project around black identity and art manifestation In Brazil. And so I lived in Salvador, Bahia, and that changed my life. So in that experience, I worked with a mentor, Ms. Santiago, she’s a dance teacher of mine.
And she’s from Salvador and so she helped me link up with music and dance groups and youth education programs. I got to live and learn from folks in Salvador. It was beautiful and I got to dance and be, and listen.
I went there knowing no Portuguese and I left fluent. If I wanted to eat, I needed to speak Portuguese. I was totally by myself. I went and did Carnival with a dance group from San Francisco and they all left and I stayed.
I practiced Afro-folkloric dance and I was a sociology major so I said let me put some pieces together and figure out how I can make this work.
Afro-folkloric dance is storytelling through African dances that have lived throughout the diaspora and how each part of the African diaspora has evolved from that.
So Haitian folkloric has a different movement then Afro-Cuban or Afro-Brazilian. It all comes from the bass. But each of these places in the diaspora is telling a very different story.
Overall what I witnessed in Brazil in comparison to my American context was that black identity – specifically the Black Power or empowerment movement – comes through music and arts and dance. That’s very different than legislation and institutions in academia, which we lean on in the United States or in many other countries.
But because of the history and the lack of the space and place and access to those institutions whether it be legal, academic or otherwise, it came from the one thing that you can’t take from people. And you can try to, but if I put out a song, people are going to hear it.
All of their popular music in mainly the seventies in Brazil, all the Carnival songs from these black bands, were about black empowerment and black beauty and ancestry. Like how beautiful our bodies are. Like how beautiful our skin is; how strong we were. Being in a carnival procession all day and that’s what you’re hearing and that’s what you’re saying.
That kind of expression and internalization of black power and movement is so different. And so that’s the main thing I witnessed. It is a different embodiment of what black power feels and looks like. Versus here, where we have some of those things but not as much.
And there is a need to work on the education system in Brazil. There is need to work on legislation. There is a need for all of those things.
But it was interesting because I struggle with waiting for government systems to give me social change. Or waiting for academic institutions to give me that. I don’t have to wait when it comes to dance or music. It’s direct action. And it is immediately felt. And it immediately changes people’s minds. A law doesn’t necessarily change people’s minds.” ###
[Editors Note: This article was edited for brevity]