R.I.P Jack Davis

Word filters in from friends that an icon of the local arts underground has passed away, that being a big man with big impact, Jack Davis.

Whether you remember him onstage coordinating acts at the early SF Blues Festivals, or from behind the scenes at The Farm or SOMArts Cultural Center or serving as Commodore of The Bayview Boat Club or perhaps on the Mayor’s recent Arts Task Force, he was a hard working, (for awhile hard drinking) and truly memorable spirit serving this city over at least the last 35 some years. He lived out by the houseboats near Pac Bell, in a community of renegade spirits, and was a true character, of the kind that cannot ever be recreated.

Not to be confused with the notorious local political consultant of the same name, this Jack Davis was known for his many contributions to the local arts scene, serving on the boards of organizations like S.F Mime Troupe and in the 1970’s helped get Intersection For The Arts off the ground. He was actually instrumental in helping so many groups and creative spirits it’s hard to document the contributions, including helping launch the four art cultural centers in the city, and he did so without divisive power squabbles, ugly ego or taking undue credit. The well liked guy’s heart just finally gave out last weekend, apparently while driving, almost a year to the week that a previous heart attack had set him back.

sadly, SOMarts annual Day of The Dead exhibit curated by Rene Yanez will have one more addition to mourn…

After the jump… there’s an excerpt of an excellent tribute piece written by John Law last year, after Jack had suffered his first heart attack.

In any town, any scene, any time, you can count on the fingers of one hand the largely unheralded folks that facilitate almost everything thing of note that happens. They are there early on, giving quiet, confident encouragement – and, as importantly for starving artists, the occasional big break in event cost or maybe various services provided but somehow unbilled. These two or three princes never expect anything in return other than to watch the blossoming and growth of what they consider to be (and usually are) the most worthy enterprises. Other’s who “make things happen” the individuals, deserving or not who do get the lion’s share of the credit – you know who they are – they’re in the papers, on the radio, these folks know who those two or three are and always owe them a debt.

Jack Davis is one of those princes. At crucial points in the life of almost any significant Frisco art endeavor/scene/ organization (underground or established,) Jack has, in some capacity, small or gigantic, been pivotal in its life and growth. As Director of SomArts Gallery in SOMA for the last twenty years, one of the largest, best and most easily accessible art/event/party places in the City, Jack and his wonderful staff have given untold thousands of nascent artists, community groups and provocateurs their first big or pivotal show and a grand forum for promulgating their ideas and spirit in the local scene. Many of these individuals and organizations have moved on to national prominence. Following is a very small sampling of groups that benefited from Jacks involvement and/or support: The Neighborhood Arts Program (one of the founders) this group kicked off most of local Cultural Centers, Intersection for the Arts (past Director,) S.F. Mime Troupe (Board Member,) Burning Man (first big in-town events in the early 90’s were at SOMARTs for extremely low cost,) Day of the Dead, The Farm, Pickle Family Circus, Make a Circus, DanceMission, Cellspace, S.F. Pride, Survival Research Labs (Jack held the cops off while Mark and crew got away!) The list goes on & on.

– John Law

5 Comments so far

  1. sf_mark (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 9:03 pm

    Courtesy the Chronicle, here’s the story on the infamous “performance art” performed at Jack Davis’s birthday party in 1997:
    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/examiner/archive/1997/05/08/NEWS7595.dtl
    for which he will always be remembered.


  2. John Law (unregistered) on September 25th, 2007 @ 11:05 pm

    Response to SF_Marks comment above: Wrong Jack Davis. Our friend Jack Davis who passed away this weekend was one of the most generous humans I have known. The guy in the articles you cite above is another person. This other Jack Davis is a hardball political consultant who is admired {by some} for the same reasons Karl Rove is admired. To quote Lil Mike’s sweet homage (see above) – “Not to be confused with the notorious local political consultant of the same name, this Jack Davis was known for his many contributions to the local arts scene….. he was actually instrumental in helping so many groups and creative spirits it’s hard to document the contributions.” So how did YOU, SF_Mark, confuse him with that other Jack Davis, the “notorious local political consultant?” It’s un-fortunate that our much loved Jack Davis of Intersection for the Arts, The Farm, Mime Troupe, SOMARTS, etc. shares a name with that other Jack Davis, the one that brought us Mayor Willie Brown. Please, for the sake of his memory and all who love him, don’t confuse our Jack with the other Jack if you can help it.


  3. George (unregistered) on September 27th, 2007 @ 8:43 am

    TODAY WAS A BEAUTIFUL DAY (for Jack Davis R.I.P.)

    Today was a beautiful day. Blue sky, warm sun. It soon turned into the darkest day on earth when I learned my friend and mentor, Jack Davis, had died unexpectedly over the weekend.

    The news hit me the same way it hits a 9 year old when he learns the biggest kid in class, his friend, is moving to another city, never to be seen again.

    Jack Davis was one of the only people I trusted whole-heartedly, and he never let me down.

    I would seek out his advice about some aspect of life not because I was expecting an answer, but because being in his very presence reassured me that the answers always rested within myself. He was a boulder, holding more of the sun’s secret than a diamond. And I need only touch him to find my own answers.

    After my father, Jack Davis was the greatest man I’ve ever known. Working behind the scenes, he helped stimulate a vibrant community-based arts atmosphere in SF by providing a home for the unaccepted, the under-appreciated, the under-funded (and under-fed) artists trying their best to bring life-giving, vibrant art to a society that seems to care less and less about meaningful culture.

    It is in this climate that Jack brought rich artistic treasures into the hearts and minds of everyone who attended a SomArts event. As the video documentarian for the center, I was privileged to witness a vast array of artistic wonders unseen in most traditional museums and galleries with 10 times the budget. I got to witness first hand how appreciative artists and audience were to seeing, hearing and feeling something new, alive and wondrous in the cavernous space of the old machine shop on Brannan St.

    And like so many of these people who came before me and after, we could then try to explore our own creativity in a safe, welcoming space, and, if we are lucky, find our own muse and follow her to the ends of the earth. Knowing, unconsciously, that we could always go home to SomArts to renew our reasons, our ways to once again continue the impossible task of “art”.

    I mostly admire Jack for his ability to navigate the growth of the space through the waters of self-indulgent, self-absorbed and self-deluded artists while beating back the bureaucracy, the political, the cynical and the petty who thrive in our “me-me” and “cover-your-ass” society.

    Jack worked to give me, and others, a home for our minds. A place that allowed true freedom of expression untied to how much money it could make. A place to imagine new beauties, new ideas and then take them into the world to see if they can swim on their own. And like the salmon, return once again to spawn.

    Because of what Jack helped created in San Francisco, I’ve found my true calling in life:
    Someone who uses his imagination and skills to help people like him and others who teach, and who work hard to provide food for our starving minds. In his honor, I shall continue along this path all the days of my life.

    What can I ultimately say about what this man who has meant that much to me? I could only hope and pray to have an epitaph like his. I would voice it in all sincerity, in all honesty and it would read:

    “He was a good man. The very best kind of man life could produce.”

    So now today has become one of the most beautiful days in my life. The blue sky and warm sun has new meaning given to me by you, Jack, once again.

    In closing, I will say the following only to myself whenever I have future success and only say now out loud for the last time: “Thank you for everything, Jack.”

    George Aguilar
    September 25, 2007


  4. Lil Mike (unregistered) on September 28th, 2007 @ 2:39 pm

    Mike Dingle sends word that :

    … there is an informal open house/potluck at SomArts Friday evening from 5-8ish honoring Jack (there will be a grand celebration on November 18!) … http://www.somarts.org for more on that and the Day of the Dead exhibition opening October 12 …

    we all learned from Jack. He once told me that if you don’t say goodbye, no one knows you left … and that’s how I feel about him … he’ll never leave me.

    love to all and as Jack would wish – ENJOY!
    md


  5. josie grant (unregistered) on September 29th, 2007 @ 3:44 pm

    jack was truely a gracious and helpful being-
    and will be missed by the arts community-
    he helped me enormously and with a great spirit, along with ernie rivera when i created CETA murals for the art commission-
    I am sorry to hear about this-
    3 cheers- for jack



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