A mural by the artist fnnch is shown painted over at the SF LGBT Center at the corner of Market and Octavia Streets, with an anonymous message on the white wall. (Sarah Hotchkiss/KQED)
The San Francisco LGBT Center on Tuesday painted over a mural by the street artist fnnch that had become a flashpoint in a heated debate about representation and gentrification in San Francisco.
Installed in June 2020, the mural had for the past 10 months showed three of fnnch’s trademark honey bears facing a busy Market Street intersection on the center’s large purple building.
In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, the center cited a planned annual rotation of murals on the East-facing wall (prominently on view from the 101-N Octavia Street exit), but also acknowledged “the fact that fnnch has engendered a host of opinions and that some of his recent comments about being an immigrant have brought pain to many members of our community.” The statement emphasized “the Center does not agree with fnnch’s recent comments, and we have shared our concerns about the impact of his comments directly with him.”
In a confrontation uploaded last week to Instagram by street artist DoggTown Dro and filmed outside the LGBT Center, fnnch, who is white and straight, identified himself as an “immigrant” from Missouri. The footage fed a flurry of social media activity as users voiced their opinions for and against fnnch’s work, which has proliferated widely across the city in the past year in the form of paper honey bears installed in home windows.
“I have been creating Pride art and donating to LGBT charities as long as I’ve been creating street art,” fnnch said in a statement provided to KQED, noting that 2020 held special importance to him as the 25th anniversary of his uncle’s death from AIDS. fnnch said the design of the three honey bears, painted in the colors of the Progress Pride Flag, the Bi Flag and the Trans Flag, was created in consultation with the LGBT Center. He also noted he “helped fundraise over $20k for the Center through T-shirt sales, painting donations, and my partnership with Humphrey Slocombe.” He did not the address the recent confrontation or social media criticism of his work.
The mural project “was already an idea the Center had conceptualized” before June of last year, Danielle Siragusa, the LGBT Center’s director of development and communications told KQED in an email. “As we were beginning to put an implementation plan in place, we were approached by fnnch at the beginning of shelter-in-place who offered to do the mural cost-free for us. We then decided this would be a great fit to be the inaugural mural to kick off the annual rotating mural project.”
Over time, though, the fnnch mural became the site of contrasting visions of San Francisco. It was both a background in photo ops for local leaders and the repeated target of graffiti, with San Francisco street artists focusing on the honey bears as a symbol of gentrification. Before it was painted fully white on Tuesday, messages written across the mural read “Dissolve the Honey Bear” and “Learn Our Culture B4 U Wreck It.”
When asked how the controversy over the LGBT Center mural might change the way he approaches future projects, fnnch wrote in an email, “I am still learning from this experience. The clearest learning so far is to collaborate with artists from the communities I hope to uplift.”
An open letter to the LGBT Center, written by “members of the native SF community and those fighting to preserve it” and distributed by hand during a Wednesday afternoon gathering across from the site of the fnnch mural, called for the center to “reevaluate who you choose to represent the city you service.”
As part of yesterday’s statement, the LGBT Center added that the next set of artists have been selected (a yet-unnamed collaborative duo) and that “they are both members of the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC community.” Their mural is scheduled to be unveiled in June for Pride month. The center also plans to hold open applications for future murals. “Our goal is to showcase a variety of perspectives, art and artists representing our diverse communities,” the statement reads.
Read fnnch’s full statement provided to KQED below.
A year ago I brainstormed with my publicist, a community leader in the LGBT community, how we could celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pride. I have been creating Pride art and donating to LGBT charities as long as I’ve been creating street art, and last year was of particular importance to me as the 25th anniversary of my uncle's death from AIDS. We decided that a mural was something people could enjoy in a socially distant fashion, and so he approached the SF LGBT Center, asking if we could paint one there. Their wall, like most walls, had sat empty for over 100 years, and while they had discussed the idea of a rotating mural there, they had no concrete plans to do one but were generally open to the idea. I worked with them on the design over the period of months and we settled on one that they not only approved but ran by members of their community. I painted it for free, donating my time, team and materials, and it was generally well received. Throughout the year, over 100 community leaders came out to take photos with it, including London Breed, Mark Leno, Deborah Walker, Sister Roma, Paul Henderson, and Clair Farley. I also helped fundraise over $20k for The Center through t-shirt sales, painting donations, and my partnership with Humphrey Slocombe. The plan was always to rotate the mural after a year. It has now been a year. I am thankful to the SF LGBT Center that they let me paint this mural, and I am proud to have helped kick off a program that will bring public artwork to this incredible mural wall.
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