Gray Area started as a curatorial project of Founding Executive Director, Josette Melchor, a Queer Mexican Woman from the Coachella Valley in Southern California. She was raised by a single Hispanic Mother and wasn’t exposed to art spaces until she visited her first art museum when she moved away from home. After this initial visit Josette immediately dedicated her life to exposing as many people as possible – no matter their socioeconomic background – to the Arts. Understanding the value of artistic vision and spaces for experimentation, she leased her first warehouse in 2002 forming, Gray Area’s first gallery and studio program in Los Angeles.
A move to San Francisco in 2005, created an opportunity to nurture the intersection of art and technology.
In 2007, Gray Area was invited by SF Mayor’s Office to move its location from the South of Market (SOMA) District to the underdeveloped Mid-Market/Tenderloin area. Josette began to research what the curatorial focus area might be to develop a new arts center. Josette met Peter Hirshberg in late 2007 and begin discussions around the need for artists and engineers to collaborate.
In April 2008, Gray Area produced its first media arts show in a SOMA warehouse as a solo show for data artist Aaron Koblin. This exhibition brought together an important group of Founding Board Members including Peter Hirshberg, Chloe Sladden, Chris Delbuck and a partnership with Recombinant Media Labs including Naut Humon and Barry Threw.
Gray Area Foundation for the Arts became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 2008, while renovating a former porn theater, 55 Taylor, (now the Center for New Music) into gallery and studios. Several notable civic engagement programs were developed to activate local communities to respond to urban issues in Mid-Market, including the Urban Prototyping Festival in 2012.
In April 2014, Gray Area relocated its headquarters to the Grand Theater, a historic landmark originally built in 1940 based in the Mission District.
The building and location are ideal to support the sustainability and growth of Gray Area for years to come. After a successful crowdfunding campaign to support its revival, this 10,000 square foot building, leased for the next 10 years, is being transformed into a community center to further our mission and host our programming. In addition, the location further solidifies Melchor’s vision to reach diverse audiences as the organization has become a resource for the local community. As an act of community service during 2016 and 2017, Gray Area distributed over $1.5 million to provide relief and recovery efforts for the Oakland Ghostship Fire after losing many artists in our community.
In 2019, Josette continued her work connecting culture, cities, and communities to the corporate sector, and Executive leadership of the organization was assumed by long-time Gray Area volunteer, curator, and board member, Barry Threw.
In 2023, Gray Area celebrates it's 15 year anniversary as non-profit organization.