This year’s 5th annual Gray Area Festival once again brought together artists, designers, cultural organizers, and thought leaders to chart the future of the turn from objects to experiences in art. Our most impactful festival ever, the conversation not only set the stage for our ongoing focus on experiential and immersive art, but served as an ideal moment for a major announcement as Gray Area enters its second decade of redefining the relationship between art, technology, and culture.
With a deep admiration for her years of outstanding leadership and dedication, we announce Gray Area Founder Josette Melchor's transition from her position as Executive Director. Melchor will be joining the new future cities initiative at The We Company as their Head of Cultural Programming, while remaining a vital part of Gray Area's team as Artistic Director at large and member of the Board of Directors. As we conduct a search for a new, exceptionally qualified Executive Director, Gray Area will be led through its transition by long-time Board Member Barry Threw as Interim Executive Director.
“At a very young age, I set out to create an arts institution that could live beyond me,” Melchor said. “Gray Area has always been an act of community service to bridge fields in order to spark ideas into forward-thinking artwork, people, and action. As the Head of Cultural Programming for the Cities by We team I will be on an interdisciplinary team of engineers, architects, data scientists, biologists, and economists working alongside communities to develop new products to improve the lives of citizens. Effectively, with this shift, I am extending Gray Area’s model of regenerative culture to the corporate sector, in a broader investment to serve communities.”
Josette Melchor founded Gray Area over 16 years ago as a curatorial project and DIY live/work space created to serve communities. In 2008, she led the effort to incorporate the organization into a 501(c)3 nonprofit, while transforming a former adult theatre into a digital art gallery on San Francisco’s worst block in the Tenderloin district. From there, Melchor has stewarded the organization through several locations, culminating five years ago in the revitalization of the historic 1940s Grand Theater in the Mission District, its home to this day. Along the way, she enacted her pioneering vision of a living creative hub for the integrated practice of art and technology, a uniquely San Franciscan institution globally recognized for its forward-looking programming around events, education, and cultural incubation.
Melchor’s background as a queer, third-generation Mexican-American has grounded her deep commitment to safeguarding diverse communities in the midst of a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco. She led Gray Area’s role as a first responder to the tragic Ghostship fire, launching the Oakland Fire Fund to serve hundreds of those affected by the tragedy. Her direction resulted in many groundbreaking programs redefining the role of an arts institution in economic and civic fabric. In collaboration with the City of San Francisco, she created the first Urban Prototyping Festival in 2012, creating a platform for citizens to address civic issues through public activations, which has since been copied worldwide. In 2016, Melchor instigated the first exhibition that paired artificial neural networks with artists, which helped establish the Artists and Machine Intelligence program at Google, ushering in a new movement in Artificial Intelligence assisted artwork. She most recently spearheaded the development of Gray Area’s Knight Foundation-supported Experiential Space Research Lab, developing sustainable models for artists to work within the quickly evolving format of immersive experiences.
“I am forever indebted to all who have supported the vision of Gray Area and to those who carry it onward,” said Melchor. “It has become a place, a community, an ecosystem of its own, and its impact has exceeded my wildest expectations, making this the perfect moment for a new wave of direction to drive the organization forward. I am excited to remain a collaborator, Artistic Director, and a Board Member of Gray Area, but I couldn’t think of a more perfect human to lead the organization towards its next phase of growth than my confidant and colleague Barry Thew. In many ways, Mr. Threw has already been quietly driving the organization forward, through curation of the Gray Area Festival and continuous strategic support. The Staff, Board, and Myself have the utmost trust and respect in his leadership through this transition.”
Threw’s appointment as Interim Executive Director marks an acceleration to the next phase of Gray Area’s development at a crucial moment for San Francisco. He comes with over fifteen years of experience building innovative, influential products, experiences, teams, and businesses ranging across art, built environment, and creative technologies, with organizations ranging from San Francisco’s Recombinant Media Labs and Obscura Digital, to the Vatican.
He enters the Executive Director role with over a decade of experience volunteering with Gray Area on every level of its operations. With his previous focus on Strategic Partnerships, he has built relationships with artist institutions, corporations, and foundations internationally that will provide the network of collaborators necessary to elevate Gray Area’s presence as a global thought leader in the arts. In addition, his curation and development of the Gray Area Festival over its five year run has demonstrated an ability to lead the global conversation around arts, technology, and culture.
“Gray Area holds a critical role in the conversation around innovation not only because it safe-guards community and culture locally, but because San Francisco’s worldview is exported globally,” Threw said. “The extractive technology practices in San Francisco have caused an erosion of the cultural foundations that made us the global capital of technology. My friend and colleague Josette Melchor pioneered a better collaboration between technology and culture here, and I am honored and excited to carry our work forward, developing the infrastructure, business models, and partnerships necessary to continue our mission of applying art and technology toward engaging with the most important challenges facing us, and ultimately showing a more holistic and responsible way leverage the arts in building technology for the good of our world.”
These changes come as Gray Area enters a pivotal moment in our history. We have grown from a small start-up digital arts gallery, to an internationally recognized organization pioneering new models of regenerative innovation. Along the way, we have pushed the boundaries of what types of impact an arts organization can make, bridging creative communities while developing business models for artists to sustain their practice in a hostile economy undervaluing their role. Meanwhile, Gray Area has sustained itself as one of San Francisco’s few remaining independent cultural centers.
The wave of art and technology practice that we helped lead has gained global traction, resulting in a worldwide movement of artistic thinkers critically examining the effects of technology on our world, and creatively reimagining paths forward to some of the biggest problems facing humanity. To build upon this foundation and increase momentum into our next decade, we usher in fresh new ideas and leadership to remain at the forefront of the rapidly changing conversation around technology and culture. We thank our community for your steadfast support and for joining us in this next stage of our journey.