Windows into the Tenderloin is a mural in, for, and about the Tenderloin District in San Francisco. The mural has several "windows" that show various views of the neighborhood, each with intricate descriptions of the street scene there, and different references to history, local legends, and a collaboratively envisioned future dreamscape of the community.
Countless little details in this mural were added in direct response to spontaneous interactions with the local population while painting. Among other things, they include just under 300 little figures based on real people of the neighborhood: not civic notables and heroes, but anyone there who wanted to be a part of it.
This mural is therefore a time-capsule documenting this neighborhood’s street life during a time that narrowly preceded a period of accelerated change in this City.
Due to the miniature scale of the detail, I invite you to take a closer look by perusing these “chapters” (also found on the navigation above):
- The Street: this is where the mural introduces you to the street corner it is situated in, and to the people who live, pass through, or spend time here. In this section I describe the spontaneous participatory process that populated the painting with hundreds of mini-portraits of local residents, along with storytelling details gleaned from conversations with them. (Go!)
- The Ghosts: here the mural describes the past, the architecture, and the history of the establishments that were replaced by the many parking lots in this neighborhood. (Go!)
- One way / Another way: this is where the mural served as a sounding board for the community to envision an alternative, improved neighborhood for themselves and their community: a DIY utopia by and for the people who live here, signifying improvement without gentrification. To represent the bridge to get us from here to the envisioned dream, a closer acquaintance with some of the residents allowed the depiction, in the mural, of their true talents and passions that are often suppressed by the more urgent daily necessities of having to survive within the current society. This part of the mural depicts people's ideas and passionate skills being fully utilized and flourishing for the betterment of the whole community. (Go!)
- Seeds of dreams: In this part of the mural, neighborhood children and adults participated hands-on, creating tile "seeds"at Hospitality House Community Art Center, and at the Boys and Girls Club Tenderloin Clubhouse Art Program, located across the street from the mural. here you can read about their symbolic meaning in the mural, and see the process of installing them together. (Go!)
The mural was painted from right to left, and its general narrative roughly follows this inverse direction from the normal English reading one.
How the project came to be:
The project was spearheaded by the North of Market/Tenderloin Community Benefit District, who invited Mona to create a public mural at this location. The main, initial design was inspired by research through community meetings, and through neighborhood walks with residents and organizations.
Of the gathered research material, items were picked to be represented based on the degree of engagement they seemed to elicit amongst the neighbors who contributed them. The mural also references urban legends, when these appeared to be particularly popular and thus meaningful tales in the community.
The painting started in 2009, and the mural was dedicated in March 2010, many months later than expected due to the unusual intensity of the social interactivity of the process, which is the actual conceptual core of the artwork, the painting being merely its byproduct.