If you’re a regular of Pill Hill you probably noticed the scaffolding covering the Post Office unit box building on the corner of Hyde and Golden Gate since May. It was a mural in progress by local artist Johanna Poethig, who you might now from other community art projects around the Tenderloin such as the tile murals on apartment building at the corner of Mason and Ellis, or the Tenderloin children’s playground on Ellis between Leavenworth and Hyde. After a couple of months of work, the scaffolding went down last week allowing for the full enjoyment of a colorful scene of flowers, musical instruments and hummingbirds. The formerly grey building looks so different now and it’s a shame that they might be closing it.
The mural is aptly titled ‘Humming with life’. Johanna Poethig explains that she intended it as a “light-hearted greeting to a heavy-hearted site”. The humming bird’s heart is half of its weight, “it brings delight, energy and hope when it appears”. Actually, her whole blog documenting the process of making the mural is worth a read. In much the same way as Mona Caron’s ‘Windows on the Tenderloin’ mural at the corner of Turk and Jones, many local residents and street regulars have enjoyed watching this mural evolve and have been giving their opinion about it:
Choice comments overheard by the small legless man with the big personality “I am not a heart attack, I am a coronary arrest!!!” Or by the passing poet. “That green is mean. That white is tight.” Or the two corner customers “ They can smell the junkie on you. And that’s just a fact.” I neglect to mention the continuous heartfelt thanks we get from people passing by all day. “You are so talented. Hollywood is going to discover you” Or from the Native American man “When the Hummingbird appears it brings good times.”
This site is mixed in with working people, elderly, children, tourists, immigrants, neighborhood residents, artists, students, post office employees and people picking up their packages. And of course the broken and discarded people, the drug dealing, the violence and anger. The ranting and raving. Can the moments of shared appreciation of color and image, of creative activity alleviate the pain of poverty on this corner in America? Probably not by much. But what I do know after 30 years of scaling inner city sites is that these images take their place in the public consciousness and in our social imagination. Images are powerful.
Poethig also writes about all the drug dealers hanging out at that corner, and the junkie customers. Meanwhile, the police mostly ignores them:
The police are not around this week. People are corralled into this neighborhood. Arrests seem very arbitrary. There is no space in California prisons and clearly not enough mental health services. An anti Drug War demonstration came down the street last Friday. The police were all around that. There was also a bomb scare at the Federal building 2 blocks down so it crowded up on our block that day. A little too cozy. A blind man knocked over a blue jar of paint and it splatted on to the sidewalk.
If you’ve found all of this inspiring, or if (like Mike Kershnar) you’re also a fan of hummingbirds, you can get involved in the final touches of the mural by signing up to paint your own hummingbird on August 3, from noon-5pm. Johanna Poethig is offering several 20 minute one-on-one session with her, in which she’ll help you chose the colors and guide you in the painting if needed. Obviously, space is limited so hurry up and reserve your 20 minute session. Contact Dina Hilliard at (415) 292-4812 or firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for your chance to be part of the neighborhood’s street art landscape.