“This is not normal,” is the phrase artist Danielle Satinover has been repeating to herself when pandemic life gets to be all too much.
As the primary wage earner and caregiver in the Bayview household she shares with her teenage son and her mother, Satinover is grateful to have a place to live and work, though she finds the new demands of sheltering in place aren’t always conducive to creating.
“I totally appreciate everyone trying to find normalcy,” said Satinover, who remains an after school art instructor and still serves on several community boards and committees, working remotely. As each entity strives to achieve their goals, “I have to keep reminding everyone this is a crisis. I can see it in my kid, carrying the stress of the crisis as we all are.”
Satinover is a sculptor who often works in metal and found materials; her abstract pieces echo patterns repeated in the natural environment while issues like displacement and resistance to oppression fuel her curatorial and sculptural work. One of her pieces, “Totem; Moon” is on view in the online gallery created for “The Ground On Which We Stand,” a regional juried exhibit with a climate crisis theme, sponsored by The Northern California Women’s Caucus For Art in collaboration with the Abrams Claghorn Gallery. Despite art being better appreciated in person, there was a hidden gift in it for Satinover when the epidemic necessitated the show transitioning to a virtual format.
“My work is large and heavy and would’ve required a truck to move it in the midst of everything else going on,” she said.
Back in the ‘90s, Satinover worked in Los Angeles as a professional photographer, working among the biggest names in show business. “I could rattle off the names and you’d go, ‘Wait…what?’ But I wasn’t happy. I was really, really miserable. The essence of Hollywood is so not what I value.”
Packing everything in her car, she crashed with a friend in Oakland until she could find her own place here. She found her community among artists, the kind she was seeking but never found in LA. Though inevitably, things changed with gentrification.
“The vibrancy of the art community has suffered. People I know had to leave and are still leaving and not just to the East Bay,” she said. “I’m able to stay because I have my studio and a studio I can rent. It’s not like I got a free pass. I still have to work. And the community work I do is still here,” said Satinover, who serves on the planning committee for ArtSpan’s annual SF Open Studios. “The heart of what I came for is still here.”
There are moments when she worries about what’s going to happen in three or four months from now when the art markets open up again. “We’re likely to get hit really hard,” she said. “We’re not essential. Purchasing art is a luxury. As much support there is here for art, artists don’t really have a safety net,” she said.
In her role as vice-chair of the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education with the San Francisco Unified School District, Satinover advocates for gifted students and those who are dyslexic or diagnosed with ADD. In the time of COVID-19, the committee’s work has turned to necessities, “Making sure people are fed and OK, implementing support and activities, making sure everyone has wi-fi, making additional effort to reach immigrant, marginal families and homeless students,” she said. This would not normally be the work of a committee charged with championing special education, but these times are “not normal,” as Satinover reminds herself.
For Anthony, her 15-year-old son, the transition to online learning was immediate. “Friday he was in a classroom and Monday he was at home,” she said. “It started OK because it was new and novel, but some of the novelty has worn off.” Spring break didn’t help with continuity.
“I give everyone kudos for trying to make school as much like school as possible but it’s hard,” she said. The lack of social interaction has taken a toll on teens like Anthony.
“He’s not a phone person,” said Satinover of a situation further complicated by the fact the young man cannot see his dad, who’s an essential worker.
“As his parents, we made a decision it would be safest for Anthony and our household if he stays here and not at his dad’s,” said Satinover. “His grandmother, my mom, is in the highest risk category with a heart condition.”
Satinover’s experience living on the edge as an artist has given her an ability to weather storms: She almost lost her home in the crash of 2008 but saved it. “I’m thinking about how we’re going to hold it together for the long haul,” she said. She’s keeping faith that she and her community of artists and residents will pull through this time around too.
“The Bayview is a long, deep-rooted community. People have lived here forever. Kids buy a house down the street from their parents. Five languages are spoken on my block,” she said of those qualities, among others, unusual elsewhere though perfectly normal here in The City.
“I can go to the woods or to the beach in 10 minutes from my house or be downtown at a major art museum. Where else would I go? Who wouldn’t want to live in the middle of San Francisco?”
Denise Sullivan is an author, cultural worker and editor of “Your Golden Sun Still Shines: San Francisco Personal Histories & Small Fictions.” She is a guest columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Follow her at www.denisesullivan.com and on Twitter @4DeniseSullivan.