Tuesday, January 26, 2016

An Art Gallery that is Open and Thriving in SF: Meet Theodora Mauro of Ampersand International Arts

Theodora Mauro of Ampersand International Arts in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood in the gallery with her dog Yoko.
We had seen the art postcards next to the dog treats at Piccino Coffee Bar but our attempts to visit the art gallery on Tennessee Street with the unusual name of Ampersand International Arts were met with a "now closed" sign.  Just when exactly was this gallery opened we wondered.  It took awhile but finally one day a sandwich sign out front proclaimed that the gallery was open.  Up the steep wooden stairs and into a sparse room with floor to ceiling loft windows we went.  That day we met curator and owner Theodora (Thea) Mauro and was introduced to two contemporary artists whose many works were adorned with quite a few "sold" stickers.

Turns out the gallery is in a Live/Work building and the Live part of the building is occupied by Mauro's extended family and the Work part of the building is the gallery and a custom drapery business owned by her mother.  Since the family lives in the building, the gallery has limited hours that it can be opened to the public.  Mauro informed us that the gallery was the first art gallery in Dogpatch.

After our visit we reached out to Mauro to find out more about her and the history of the gallery. Dogpatch is quickly becoming an arts destination with the excellent Museum of Craft and Design calling the neighborhood home since 2013 and the soon to open Minnesota Street Project bringing numerous artists to the neighborhood.  We wanted to hear more about this pioneering gallery and its owner.

The rainy day we met with Thea we were greeted at the gallery door by the barking of her dog Yoko -- an adorable mix who promptly jumped in my lap and briefly settled in before she was off to see what that photographer was up to.
Art by Brian Perrin and Melissa Miller at Ampersand Gallery.

Why do you do what you do?

Well, it's a lot of fun and I love it.  I so appreciate the artists and love making a connection with them in order to get their work out into the world.  I'm not an artist but a curator although I like to call myself an art enthusiast.  Everyone has a different response to the art they see in the gallery.  I love it if the piece can make them think and they then develop their own relationship with the artwork and the artist.

My grandmother bought this building in the 1980s for her custom drapery business, MaisonTenn20 . My mother worked in the business with her and the business is still going strong today.  My sister now works in the business as well.

My father, Bruno Mauro, was originally from France and my mother from the middle east.  He came to the U.S. to study art and he worked in several galleries before he opened this gallery in 1999.

I'm so fortunate to have been brought up in the gallery world.  My siblings and I were gallery kids. My sister and my brother and I would often help out at openings with the food and cleaning up.

We lived in the Richmond neighborhood but in the mid-1990s we added a floor to this building to create a Live/Work space and we moved to Dogpatch to live.  I was in middle school when we moved here.

I studied in California and in Paris. When I returned to the U.S. I went to work at the restaurant Jardiniere in Hayes Valley where I stayed for about five years. I did many jobs there with one of them being front of the house which helped me learn how to engage with the public which has been a big help in the gallery business!

My father passed away in 2012.  The last show at the gallery before he died was in 2011.  Before he passed away he asked me to consider running the gallery.  He believed in me and he knew I could do it.  I had actually already curated a show at the gallery with several of my friends in 2009 and we eventually curated three shows.  We called ourselves the Young Ampersands.  Even so I wasn't ready to take on the running of the gallery without my father.
Theodora Mauro of Ampersand International Arts with artwork from Brian Perrin.

But in 2014 a light bulb went on and I left Jardiniere to reopen the gallery.  My light bulb moment was realizing that so many galleries were having to close in San Francisco because high rents were forcing them out of the area.  Ampersand didn't have to be one of those galleries.  I had the space and the knowledge to keep it open.  I also wanted to offer a space to other curators to show the work of the artists they represented since so many of the spaces they used were now gone.

I've keep the focus similar to what my father envisioned -- we feature conceptual art as well as more commercial art.  Often the conceptual art is more about the story behind the piece than the actual piece itself.  The public might not get the chance to see that type of work anywhere else.  I like to also focus on many mediums -- not just one style.

Now that so many galleries are calling Dogpatch home, it would be great to have a regular event for the public similar to the First Thursday that takes place among Downtown SF galleries.

We are limited by the hours we can be open but I hope to eventually work with other artists and curators in other galleries.  And as the name of the gallery indicates, we feature local artists but we also extend our reach internationally and hope to do more of that.

Currently I don't do any fund raising to support the gallery.  We rely on the commissions from each show to keep us going.  I also have other part time jobs as time allows.

Tell us more about growing up in Dogpatch

Well thank goodness for the 22 bus because when we moved here in the 1990s there wasn't much here!  No T-line and not many shops.  My siblings and I were not allowed to even go from our house to 22nd street by ourselves.  But it was a true neighborhood in the sense that we got to know all of our neighbors and still do.

In the early days of the gallery if someone came to the gallery it was because they truly wanted to be here -- we were certainly off the beaten path of the art scene in San Francisco! Once they were done there was no place else for us to tell them to visit in the neighborhood.

Now of course there are so many things to do here.  I love the Museum of Craft and Design, Workshop Residence and all the restaurants and shops.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

I would probably still be at Jardiniere!  It was a lot of fun and the people were wonderful and the food amazing.  But I would most likely be in the art world in some way -- either working in a gallery or a museum.

But Ampersand is where I want to be and need to be.  I'm not a political person, that's just not me, but I feel keeping the gallery open is my response to other galleries being pushed out.

Note:  Ampersand International Arts is located at 1001 Tennessee Street.  The gallery is open Thursday & Friday noon-5pm and by appointment.  Their current show is open until February 19 and features the artists Brian Perrin and Melissa Miller.

Roses at Ampersand International Arts in San Francisco's Dogpatch