A simple and free way for PCMA Convening Leaders attendees to get their finger on the pulse of San Francisco this week was simply to step inside the first floor of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to take in The Chronicles of San Francisco.
The interactive installation, the work of French artist known as “JR,” features interviews and photographs of more than 1,200 residents in 22 locations around the city. “It’s a mirror of San Francisco,” JR said when the mural debuted in 2019. “It represents from the richest person to the poorest. No one is more important than another. Everyone is under the same light.”
The oversized visual representation not only showcases the city’s diversity but puts its challenges in full view. However, it’s the interactive audio component that brings the installation to life. Visitors can use iPad stations to zoom in on each face, click, and hear their recorded stories. There’s Sister Mary Media, who helped found the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in 1979 to “bring a spiritually based consciousness to the gay community.” I listened to Robert E., who spent 22 years in prison, is now grateful for a second chance, and Candace C., who said she is “really proud to live in a state that’s had two female senators.”
All of the stories of everyday life — from positive perspectives of living and working in the City by the Bay to heartbreaking accounts of battles with drug addiction — are included along with more recognizable local faces, like Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff.
I lost myself for nearly an hour at the iPad station, drawn into those stories — zooming in, zooming out, studying the faces in the mural, and listening to each account. Some have lived in the Bay Area their whole lives; others have immigrated from Mexico, Greece, and other places around the world. Not every story is told through words — some sing, drum, or play the accordion to share their message.
Each of them gave me a better sense of the city that is helping the business events industry kick off the new decade. However, to my mind, Cory V. — a member of the Imperial Council of San Francisco, an organization that raises money for charities that do not discriminate based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or ethnic background — best personified the spirit of San Francisco.
“We live in San Francisco because we believe in people,” he said. “We believe in life. We believe in being who you are and what you were born to be.”
The exhibition is free to the public through May 31, 2020; a San Francisco CityPASS includes the option to save on admission to the rest of the museum.