Growing up in the desert, the daughter of a single working mother, Josette Melchor didn’t visit a museum until she was 17 years old. But from the very moment she set foot inside San Diego’s Contemporary Art Museum, she knew she wanted to devote her life to art. “I kind of had my mind blown,” she recalls. “I had the thought that artists could see the future.”
Melchor was still a teen when, as a 19-year-old art school student, she used her own savings to lease a warehouse with a group of friends in Los Angeles to produce music shows and exhibit the work of local artists. Three years later, she headed to San Francisco, first opening a location in the SoMa district, then renovating a former porn theater to create a digital art gallery in the Tenderloin and launching her nonprofit Gray Area.
Now occupying the former Grand Theater in the city’s Mission District, Gray Area continues to work at the intersection of art and technology to provide educational opportunities and studio spaces for residents in the increasingly gentrified neighborhoods of San Francisco. For example, Melchor’s organization helped raise $1.5 million for victims of the 2016 Oakland Ghost Ship fire.