SAN FRANCISCO -- A San Francisco woman has helped keep alive a vibrant art community in the Hunters Point Shipyard neighborhood.
The serenity of water and wildlife at the Hunters Point Shipyard make it a perfect backdrop for artists like Barbara Ockel.
"It has this incredible beauty, this industrial decay with the bay right behind it. It's so unique that you just don't have this anywhere else in the world," she observed.
So her life's mission is to help its arts community thrive, even as she says artists are leaving the Bay Area in droves because it's too expensive to live and work here.
Since 2018, Ockel has served as President of the Shipyard Trust for the Arts. The nonprofit advocates for some 300 artists in the decommissioned shipyard and Islais Creek Studios.
"At this time, there's no other space in San Francisco for artists that's becoming available where artists can afford to work, have event workspace and be creative," Ockel said.
She brought in more artists of color and opened more opportunities for exhibits at places like the Bayview Opera House, which she helped renovate before retiring as executive director.
When COVID shut down in-person Open Studio events, Ockel got grant funding to build virtual stores so artists could still sell their work. She also helped start and expand the Artist in Residence program so visual arts painter Malik Seneferu had free use of a studio for 18 months before he found a permanent space.
"She really is very driven in making sure that artists get their due justice," Seneferu said. "The moment that San Francisco loses its artists is the moment that San Francisco no longer exists."
Through Ockel's leadership, public school children get free art lessons.
Geri Hill and other senior citizens volunteer in the Intergenerational Art Program.
"What do you teach them? I teach them they can be great as they want to be," Hill said.
LEARN MORE: Jefferson Awards for Public Service
Ockel secured grant money so artists like William Rhodes can get paid teaching the weekly program in the Bayview. He's the intergenerational program's coordinator.
"She's amazing getting grants, knowing how to make things happen when it comes to that. I guess that's her secret sauce," Rhodes said.
When asked about her commitment to the art community, Ockel said, "I just wanted to do something right here where I lived. I saw so many things that could be improved. That's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."
So for building a thriving art community for the Hunters Point Shipyard and its neighbors, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Barbara Ockel.
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