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With their project Crossing the Street, artists Kate Connell and Oscar Melara used collaborative artmaking as a means of building community in San Francisco’s Portola District. They produced a set of handmade books that explore the the neighborhood’s geography, natural history, history, and present stories. The books were celebrated at an opening for the neighborhood’s first and new Portola Branch library and were exhibited there for many months.

Content for the books came from ideas and oral histories generated by the artists’ neighbors and invited by both the artists and the branch library staff. Staff of the San Francisco Library’s History Center also suggested themes for the books and identified complementary resources. The artists matched content to accordion, tunnel, comic, atlas, pop-up, and other book structures.

The project was the third artistic collaboration by Melara–a busdriver, silkscreen printer, illustrator, and cartoonist–and Connell–a librarian, mechanized sculptor, and curator. Their first collaborative work, The Nacimiento Project, draws on the community storytelling tradition of Central America. Our Work Life highlighted local labor history in colorful murals displayed first on SamTrans commuter buses and later in locations around the Bay Area. It was developed in collaboration with the Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University and supported by the Creative Work Fund. Connell and Melara have continued to create projects in the Portola since finishing Crossing the Street.

The San Francisco Public Library is dedicated to free and equal access to information, knowledge, independent learning, and the joys of reading for San Francisco’s diverse community. The branch libraries strive to maintain grounded in their communities. The library system receives community support through the non-profit Friends of the Library.