It’s easy to think most artists court the muse by living monastically, locking themselves up in a room. But Tom Franco and Julia Lazar have other ideas.
Co-founders of the East Bay’s Firehouse Art Collective, artists Franco (yes, as in the Palo Alto Francos, brother to James and Dave) and Lazar seek collaboration and community.
“We’re breaking the typical stereotype,” says Franco, who with Lazar hosts Yerba Buena Center for the Art’s monthly public art event, ConVerge, today. The Firehouse version of the free night will include performance artists, music, visual art and artisanal food and drink.
“The typical mold of the visual art experience is to work in isolation and alone,” Franco says. “We create a collaborative scene that mimics what a performance artist would experience working with a group, an ensemble or a film.”
Franco and Lazar founded Firehouse nine years ago, after they met performing together in a dance troupe. The collective, which has live-work spaces and studios, currently hosts 75 artists in four buildings, and has its own gallery and event space in Emeryville.
“The mission of Firehouse is to create spaces,” Franco says. “That’s it. We’re not trying to do anything else but co-create spaces with all disciplines of artists, which creates an open box of possibilities.”
Firehouse’s housing is mostly in Berkeley, and Franco and Lazar are excited about their first curatorial opportunity in The City.
They seem to be off to a good, eclectic start. In addition to showcasing artwork from Firehouse residents, ConVerge will feature dancer Erica Blue from Auzzura Productions, East Bay Dumpster-refurbisher-sculptor Gregory Kloehn, sculptor-performance artist Sha Sha Higby and even Franco’s mom, poet and writer Betsy Franco, among the entertainment.
“Mom always said, ‘You can do it,’” says Franco, whose parents were both painters. He admits his brother James — a published author, visual artist and film star with multiple Ivy League degrees — is pushing the family competition up a notch.
“It’d be easy to feel like we’re not doing anything if we’re compared to him, but we value our day-to-day and find an art process that is self-satisfying, and from there it spreads to the community.”
In keeping with the communal vibes, Lazar (also a professionally trained chef) and Franco have organized top-notch catering for ConVerge, including oysters from West of Pecos, a new restaurant at 550 Valencia St. The community feast table will include homemade elixirs, organic food and cocktails from YBCA bartenders.
Stuffiness is not on the program: “Everyone coming to an art event should see themselves as an artist,” Franco says. “Art can be so many things, and at times it’s designed to be hard to understand. What we’re really good at is demystifying the art experience for people. We want to give people permission to have fun.”