Cohen Alley was a dead end alley, used for dumping, defecation and other such activities….
In 1989, rather than “putting up” with the alley, Lazer and Smith energized and transformed the alley by staging day long multidisciplinary site specific events that addressed socio-political issues affecting residents of the Tenderloin..
The annual event “Performance in the Gutter,” was iinspired by Oscar Wilde’s, “we’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Pearl Ubungen, Alvin Tan, Jack Hirschman, Ledoh, Johanna Poethig, Brett Cook, Kevin Leeper were among the first artists to be involved with this project.
Because the Tenderloin is one of the most densely populated and poor neighborhoods in San Francisco, and many families were living in studio or one bedroom apartments, we began to use the alley as a stagefor monthly childrens’ birthday parties. We gained permission from the City to close the alley to cars the last Sunday of every month.
Somewhere around this time, we contacted the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners to explore the possibility of closing and converting Cohen Alley into a community gardens. Together with Mohammed Nuru , we drew up designs and plans. Neighborhood residents were surveyed and wanted a gate to enclose the Alley. We raised funds for this and commissioned SOMA resident and SFAI student (at the time) Kevin Leeper to build “The Cohen Alley Gate.”.
We raised funds from the Mayor’s Office of Community Development and the Columbia Foundation, The Potrero Nuevo Fund and the San Francisco Art Commission for the initial project, but a Supreme Court decision was pased soon after the gate was built, that stated that a city street could not be gated. This held the closing of the alley in limbo for many years.
Nevertheless, we continued to stage monthly events and in 1995, co-produced the first In the Street Theater Festival with Wise Fool; using the alley as a stage for over 20 performing arts groups.; and approximately four large scale events annually.
In 2000, we obtained permissioin from Mayor Willie Brown and the Board of Supervisors to lease the Alley for $1.00 per year.
Cohen Alley continues to be used as a staging area for multidisciplinary arts events, site specific work, neighborhood activities and now is the site of GreenLab.
Each year, we present an average of 4-6 events, stage over 25 performances during the annual In the Street Festival, and “house” Michael Swaine’s “Sewing for the People” project on the 15th of the month.
GreenLab is an ongoing collaboration with artists and community working together on environmentally conscious project. GreenLab hosts artist in residencies, classes, performances, art projects, and other events that explore urban ecology.
A Redwood tree, Japanese maple, Ginko, jasmine and other plants now live in cohen Alley.