San Francisco

San Francisco’s Cartoon Museum Reopens Two Years After Losing Its Space

There are plenty of stories of artists and art spaces forced out by San Francisco by skyrocketing rents. Mostly, they don’t come back.

Which makes the reopening this weekend of the venerable Cartoon Museum a check mark in the win-column for the art world. The museum, which was founded in 1984, was forced out of its longtime Mission Street location two years ago by a ginormous rent increase.

Executive Director Summerlea Kashar wondered if maybe it was time to close the book on the longtime museum devoted to the art of the cartoon.

“When we realized we weren’t going to be able to stay in the Mission Street space I met with the board,” Kashar said. “And ‘do we want to keep doing this, do we want to try?’ And we thought, ‘why not?’”

After a long search, the museum landed a large space on 781 Beach Street in San Francisco’s Aquatic Park — a location that looks out on the Bay. The landlord agreed to give the museum below-market-rate rent.

The new museum features about 5,000 square feet of gallery space with brick walls and steel earthquake supports that lend an industrial hue to the seamless white walls.

“It has all these wonderful elements,” Kashar said, “that bring character to these characters on the wall.”

Kashar said Mayor Ed Lee’s office helped connect the non-profit group with the Northern California Community Loan Fund which helped it navigate the swirling waters of finding a new space.

“They helped with real estate, they helped with finances,” Kashar said. “They helped with any technical questions we had.”

The museum has a long history of promoting cartoons, which Kashar defines as “a drawing with or without words.” Among the gallery’s initial offering in the new space is a series of drawings by Bay Area cartoonist Raina Telgemeier.

“To see kids coming into a museum,” Telgemeier said during a pre-opening party,” and seeing comics on the wall and knowing they’re a valid art form just fills me with happiness.”

The cartoon genre is often overlooked as valid art according to those in the cartoon world. But supporters say cartoons have the unique ability to cover a wide swath of the art world from children to adults.

“You get political commentary, you get newspaper strips,” said artist Gary Amaro. “You get graphic novels.”

The museum will host cartoon classes and promote emerging artists. During its hiatus, it created pop-up displays at other venues.

“A lot of people they want to buy the toy or the t-shirt or whatever,” Kashar said, “we’re here to show there’s artists behind all of this.”

As Kashar and her crew attended to the last-minute details before opening day; cleaning windows and hanging cartoons, a sense of home seemed to hover over the place.

“Everybody’s really excited,” Kashar said, “and ready to come back and support us again.” 

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