Andrew Wood doesn’t shy away from a scrap. When the City of San Francisco tried to shut down the San Francisco International Art Festival’s outdoor programming in the fall of 2020, the executive director took the issue to federal court and won an injunction allowing the shows to go on.
But fighting city hall is one thing. Taming a university’s bureaucracy is a whole different kind of struggle. When I spoke with Wood in 2022 to see how SFIAF was faring with a second year of pandemic-curtailed performances, he was excited about the prospect of a partnership with San Francisco State University in 2023.
Priced out of its longtime home at Fort Mason, where Wood and his team had bootstrapped the shoestring organization into the region’s most exciting festival encompassing music, dance, theater, and performance art, SFIAF had hoped SF State would become a new cultural hub.
Instead, the festival’s 20th season, which runs through June 18, is taking place mostly in the Mission District — at the Brava Theater Center, Dance Mission Theater, Theatre of Yugen, and the Joe Goode Annex. This isn’t the story to explore the SF State implosion, but Wood credits his board of directors with pushing him to develop a plan B in case things went south with the school. South they went, so instead of transforming the campus’s sleepy summer season into an international destination, the latest SFIAF iteration adds to the cultural thrum in the city’s most creatively exuberant neighborhood.
“All the artists are happy,” Wood said. “They didn’t want to go to SF State, which is hard to get to and far from everything. In the Mission, there are two BART stations. Everyone loves the Mission.”
Plans are already afoot for next year’s festival in June 2024, though the larger vision is to move back to May and expand throughout the neighborhood. With a website that allows artists to load in their own shows with links to buy tickets, SFIAF has embraced a portal “that’s scalable, that can go from 40 to 400 companies,” Wood said.
“We’re looking at talking to all the people who run bars and clubs that present music. There are some venues we manage and run ourselves, but how do you build on this concentration of things that happen in the Mission? The city is making noise about how to revitalize the economy with the arts. That’s what we do. That’s how festivals work. You get this concentration of stuff going on, and it draws people in.”
With a particular focus on music, here are 10 events that will make SFIAF an essential part of the Bay Area’s cultural landscape this month.
Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, “Kaleidoscope! Jörg Widmann: Duos for Violin and Cello,” June 8 (7:30 p.m.), Brava Studio
The exploratory San Francisco consortium presents a diverse program of pieces by the prolific and widely played Austrian composer Jörg Widmann.
Piñata Dance Collective, “Cuatro Vientos: Middle of Nowhere,” June 8 (8 p.m.) and June 10 (6 p.m.), Joe Goode Annex
This multimedia dance-theater production explores the fear of walking alone and the strategies women adopt to claim freedom in the outdoors.
A tenor saxophonist, composer, activist, and founding member of the Asian American jazz movement, Wong mixes stories from his frontline life with original pieces inspired by the struggle.
Ensambles Ballet Folklórico de San Francisco, “Sones y Tradiciones,” June 10 (8 p.m.), Brava Theater
Now in its fourth decade, this acclaimed music and dance ensemble celebrates traditional styles from across Mexico.
The brilliant Spanish pianist has honed a breathtaking fusion of flamenco and jazz, sharing a repertoire steeped in the compositions of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk.
An accomplished singer-songwriter and composer hailing from Yamoussoukro in the Ivory Coast, Tchaco has built an expansive repertoire that flows from her West African roots through the diasporic traditions of Cuba and Colombia. The concert is part of her annual Modern Ethnic Fashion Week (MODEFA SF) celebration, which raises funds for African Arts Academy.
Dedicated to the incantatory marimba music of Colombia’s Pacific coast, Neblinas del Pacífico is devoted to a little-known Afro-Colombian tradition that’s a vehicle for spiritual reflection, cultural resistance, and communal celebration.
John Calloway, “Buffalo Soldiers in the Philippine-American War: A Crisis of Conscience,” June 17 (2 p.m.), Brava Cabaret
A central figure on the Bay Area’s Latin jazz scene for more than three decades, flutist-percussionist Calloway presents a preview workshop exploring the dilemma faced by African American soldiers involved in quashing the struggle for Philippine independence.
Spencer, a pianist and Bay Area jazz mainstay as both a player and longtime professor at SF State, accompanies a screening of the satirical 1976 Jamaican film Smile Orange with a live performance of the soundtrack, which was composed by legendary jazz trombonist and arranger Melba Liston.
Longtime collaborators who’ve pursued parallel paths as devotees of Carnatic music and jazz, alto saxophonist Prasant Radhakrishnan and percussionist Rohan Krishnamurthy are co-leaders of the Alaya Project. They’re at their most unfettered in a duo setting, though they’re both known for plunging into interesting projects. Krishnamurthy performs just days after accompanying sitar star Anoushka Shankar with the National Symphony Orchestra at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.