Open Your Heart to Art: Free Art to See in “The City by the Bay”

Naya Bihana by Martin Travers: A mural in Balmy Alley located in San Francisco’s Mission District.
San Francisco, The Golden City, The City by the Bay, the Paris of the West. Whatever the name you know it by, we can all agree that is a city filled with opportunity. San Francisco has always felt like a second home to me even though I’ve never actually lived there. Part of what makes San Francisco feel homey, despite being a large bustling city, is the fact that it always has so many events and places that seem as though they were designed specifically for you. You could think of the most obscure interest and still find like-minded people and interest-oriented places within the Golden City.

So for me, a broke college student who unfortunately has a collection of interests that don’t exactly match her budget, what can I do in the city that both won’t break the bank and will also be fun and rewarding?

Well to those who are in a similar boat, have no fear! San Francisco is home to an amazing array of free, yes you read right, FREE artwork exhibitions. Some conventional, some unconventional, but all F-R-E-E free!

The Man Who Was One With Nature

Tree Fall by Andy Goldsworthy
My first stop on the tour of free art was at the Presidio of San Francisco. The Presidio is a national park in San Francisco which runs along the shore of the bay. As a former U.S. military fort, the park has many historic buildings which now serves different functions: like museums and art exhibitions.

Enter Andy Goldsworthy: an internationally renowned artist who is known for art which incorporates many natural elements. The purpose behind his art is to “make connections between what we call nature and what we call man-made.” Between 2008 and 2014, Goldsworthy and the Presidio joined forces to create four art installments located around the park.

After finding myself lost for about 10 minutes once arriving at the Presidio, I finally stumbled across one of his installments in the least likely of places. I looked up from my map to find myself staring at a completely unremarkable small white building. I found myself thinking “This can’t be the right place,” but it was which goes to show you can find beauty and art in the most unusual (or in this case usual) places.

Situated in a small historic building that used to hold ammunition and gunpowder, Tree Fall is an indoor installment which is made up a suspended tree trunk covered in clay. The cracks in the clay, which you can see pictured above, happened organically over night after the wet clay dried. Stepping inside the small building to view Tree Fall felt a lot like stepping into a large heart.

The room is only illuminated by natural light, so it takes a minute for your eyes to adjust to the room and all you can see is a looming forked shape above your head. As you adjust, you can make out the delicate intricate details of the cracks in the clay. The trunk rises up like a vein from some unseen heart, while the cracks appear like small vessels connecting the entire room. Similarly, this art piece made me feel like I was in the presence of something bigger than life and gave me a greater feeling of connectedness with nature.

Earth Wall by Andy Goldsworthy
Located quite close by to Tree Fall located in the Officer’s Club is Earth Wall. Similar to Tree Fall, this installment is constructed with ‘rammed earth’ and eucalyptus branches. If you go to see this piece make sure to ask the front desk to see the pictures of the building process. I was so surprised to learn that Goldsworthy built the sphere of branches first, then packed the wet earth around completely covering it, and then finally dug the branches back out!

Lastly, we visited Spire which was Goldsworthy’s first piece installed at the Presidio. Encountering this piece of art for the first time was awe-inspiring. First seeing the top of it peeking over the tops of the surrounding trees gives the viewer the impression of just how immense it is. Standing at 100 feet tall and made up of 37 cypress trees, it is a very impressive structure. Looking up at it, I had the conflicting sense of feeling both very small and also quite connected to the larger world. Eventually, as the trees around Spire grow, it will become overshadowed and meld into the rest of the forest, just as Goldsworthy intended it to be. Unfortunately, I was unable to see the last of Goldsworthy’s installations at the Presidio, Wood Line, but I suggest that you go to this amazing piece set on in the park’s oldest path.

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

All around San Francisco you can find beautiful heart sculptures, all unique and waiting to be discovered. So, why are there so many heart statues all over the city? Well, in 2004 in order to raise money for the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation commissioned 131 heart sculptures to be decorated by local Bay area artists. Then the hearts were placed around the city so that all passersby could enjoy them for a year until they were auctioned off. Hearts were chosen as the base of the sculptures because of the song by Tony Bennett, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

Dynasty Memory No. 8 Heart
The original project eventually gave birth to the Heroes & Hearts fundraiser, which began in 2006, and continues the Hearts in San Francisco project. If you interested in seeing which hearts in the city are near look up “hearts in San Francisco” and you will be able to bring up a Google Map of some of the public locations. For those of you who are short on time, I would suggest going to Union Square. There you can enjoy the hustle and bustle of San Francisco’s downtown shopping area and there three hearts located at the corners of the square, which are the three featured in this article.

America’s Greatest City By the Bay Heart

Art in the Least Expected Places

The final spot on my free art journey took me across town to the vibrant Mission District in the eastern part of San Francisco. Within this area, which is San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood, there is a hidden treasure of artistic gold. Balmy Alley is hidden away amongst the shops and parks of the Mission District located between 24th Street and Garfield Square. The art started appearing in Balmy Alley in 1972 and by day the block is now home to a wide variety murals which constantly changing and being added to. Many of the murals are inspired by social and political movements such as protest to the wars in Central America in the 1980’s and police brutality in the early 2000’s. Walking down this alley, I was struck by the vibrant colors, conflicting art styles, and social messages invoked by these murals. Don’t let the short length of the block deceive you, there is a lot to discover here!

So go out and enjoy some of the free attractions the Golden City has to offer and don’t forget to post about your experiences on GLYD!

The Culture contains the seed of resistance by O’Brien Thiele and Miranda Bergman
Mission Makeover by Tirso Araiza and Lucia Ippolito