The live multimedia storytelling event Pop-Up Magazine has amassed a huge following in San Francisco over the past decade. And like other forms of entertainment, their team was forced to adapt to a virtual world when 2020 came around. Now, as things start to open up, the Pop-Up folks have pivoted a third time, bringing their brand directly to the streets.
On Friday, Pop-Up Magazine’s “Sidewalk Issue” unveiled its latest collection of stories scattered among businesses and restaurants in Hayes Valley (with similar iterations in New York and Los Angeles). Viewers can pick up a map at Ritual Coffee Roasters, which then guide them through a series of installations, from graphic novels sprawled across colorful murals to takeout menus studded with stories. Famed authors Tommy Orange and Chanel Miller contributed their work, along with the comedian Margaret Cho and National Geographic photographer Anand Varma.
“There’s so many businesses and arts organizations and performers who have had to figure out what creative things we can do given the constraints of the pandemic,” said Doug McGray, Pop-Up Magazine’s editor in chief. “If you imagine taking a walk in a neighborhood, everything you see is potentially a medium that we could use to tell a story. It invites you to pay attention and be curious about your surroundings.”
Bringing storytelling to the streets was not without its challenges. The boutique store Peak Design, for example, agreed to present an audio-visual experience centered around jellyfish. While the video could be easily installed in their store window, audio speakers on the sidewalk were a no-go. Instead, the team designed a QR code that can be scanned, and audience members can choose which audio, whether nature documentary or fiction, they want to accompany the jellyfish visuals.
“One of the things [Pop-Up does] so well is catching you off guard,” said Varma, who filmed the hundreds of jellyfish in his garage in Berkeley. “I think what changes here is the what kind of agency in what kind of story and order you want to experience, and which stories you want to linger with. That’s a really novel way to experience Pop-Up and stories more broadly.”
Organizers hope the show attracts people to the neighborhood or gets passersby to stop and experience the magic of the area. Obie Hamrick, program manager at the shipping container consortium Proxy, helped the Pop-Up team connect with local business owners who are eager to bring events back to Hayes Valley.
“We really, really like to bring programming and arts to the community for free,” Hamrick said. “It makes it like there’s something happening. Hayes Street has seen a lot of businesses shut down; it’s a bummer to see it all happen.”
Proxy will display one component of the magazine, a graphic novel-style mural that Hamrick said has a “dark undercurrent” but ends on an uplifting note.
Christine Zona, general manager of Peak Design, added additional photography from Varma to their gallery space that people have repeatedly asked about. Later in the summer, the photographer will come back to speak about his “mind-bogglingly neat” photos of hummingbirds, bees, carnivorous bats, and other wildlife. The store also has a coworking space and free wifi.
“The community pretty much stopped dead in the water once COVID hit,” Zona said. “To me, it’s way more important to bring life back to the neighborhood than to put a bag in a window. A nice thing about this experience is forcing people to interact with objects in a fun way, not a scary way—like hand sanitizer.”
Pop-Up Magazine runs in Hayes Valley through June 20.