“How can we make this as interdisciplinary as possible?”

That was the challenge Amy Kisch, head of art and public programming at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, met while working on “Bay Area Now 9.” The ninth iteration of the popular triennial exhibition, which showcases 30 artists from nine Bay Area counties, opens Oct. 6 and runs through May 5, 2024.

The momentous return of BAN, coupled with celebrating YBCA’s 30th anniversary and three decades as a go-to San Francisco artistic hub, prompted considerable thought about how the exhibition should look. One thing was clear: it had to go beyond visual art.

“One of the value adds of YBCA is that it’s an art center that in different ways has tried to deconstruct, reconstruct and suggest new ways for the art world to be, how institutions can function and the role we can play. … We wanted to use this as an opportunity to realign with what YBCA was founded to be,” Kisch says.

Since its opening in 1993, YBCA has explored how it as an institution and artists contribute to society and culture and connect with community.

BAN9’s curatorial team — Kisch, YBCA Director of Curatorial Initiatives Martin Strickland and independent curator Fiona Ball — found diversity to be key in developing the show.

“In the past, BAN included architecture [and] design, but it hadn't really spanned the disciplines. We also wanted to make sure we were expanding the reach and the voices. ... For us, it was, ‘How do we really shine a light across the nine counties to make sure we're including artists that are maybe not yet known in certain self-selecting circles?’” says Kisch.

YBCA established a curatorial counsel of eight local artists, activists and cultural workers from various disciplines. Its members, including film curator Gina Basso and Nile Project CEO and ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis, also helped design the public programming accompanying the exhibition.

During the selection process, which included numerous studio visits and conversations with artists, a theme emerged.

Kisch recalls, “We were really noticing that there were artists who were like, ‘Well, people know me for my paintings, but I'm also a musician’ or ‘People know me for my sculptures, but I really want to do this print work.’”

That theme dovetailed with what the show’s creators were seeking: artists who would incorporate new elements in their pieces.

“BAN provides the opportunity for us to say, ‘Well, then do that thing. Not the thing that your gallery is telling you you need to do. Not the thing that people know you for and so you need to keep making the same thing. This is the moment where we would love to support you to push your practice and show up as your whole self,’” says Kisch.

Curators and the counsel also learned about artists’ ties to the Bay Area. When asked why they continue to live and work here (despite the high cost of living and lack of infrastructure and support for artists as in places like New York), the artists pointed to their connections to the community.

Leila Weefur (whose 2022 installation “PLAY†PREY” is pictured) is among the 30 artists participating in “Bay Area Now 9.” (Courtesy Leila Weefur)

One BAN9 participant, Oakland-based Leila Weefur, whose work centers on film and video and features large-scale installations, performance and writing, said, “It’s quite an honor to be recognized as a Bay Area artist in this way in this triennial. I've been in the Bay Area as an artist for close to 10 years now, and I think it's really a deep recognition of my practice and growth as an artist.”

In their BAN9 installation titled “The Chapel of Becoming,” Weefur is turning a section of the YBCA gallery into a small chapel in celebration of the transgender community.

“The chapel is being erected to resist spiritual practices that are typically centered on cisgendered and able-bodied folks. I wanted to create a transcendental space dedicated to this overlooked community in the religious space. It celebrates our ability to become closer to ourselves despite the exclusions,” says Weefur.

Leila Weefur's “Bay Area Now 9” installation is a chapel celebrating the transgender community. (Artist photo courtesy Dina Paola Rodriguez)

Weefur, whose piece “Tillage & Fury” is in the exhibition “Resting Our Eyes” at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco, says their practice conceptually addresses systems of belonging.

“I think about what it means to belong to something, especially when you're queer, Black, transgender—all of the intersections of my own identity. And I think about the way that I engage with people who either identify with me or outside of those identifiers and what it means to belong to specific groups,” Weefur shares.

Indira Allegra, another featured artist whose work is often site-specific, created “Texere,” which will be installed on YBCA’s Mission Street plaza.

“I am thrilled that it gets to be in such a public space,” says Allegra, who’s based in Oakland.

An interactive piece, “Texere” weaves together images and text from people's experiences of loss to create a digital tapestry. If offers visitors the opportunity to contribute personal stories of loss and memorialize them via threads, resulting in a tapestry that evolves over time.

Says Allegra, “The way that most people think about ‘memorial’ is a bronze statue in the middle of a public square that they pass by and probably forget about. But when I ask people what is most precious to them when remembering people or things that they have lost, it’s stuff that is close to hand. It's on the mantle of the fireplace, it's on a bedside table or dresser … or it's pictures in your phone of a loved one who's no longer here.”

Allegra intends for the weaving project to serve as a kind of “grief hygiene,” enabling participants to address and tend to their losses. At the same time, they connect with others via an exercise centered on a universal human experience.

“What ‘Texere’ does within a digital space is to say, ‘Here's a gentle thing that we can do together. And just by virtue of doing it, you're actually caring for your own grief hygiene today’” says Allegra.

Indira Allegra’s “Bay Area Now 9” work “Texere” which addresses grief, invites participation. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

The piece also addresses the either-or separating of weaving and digital media. Allegra explains, “Many people like to think in terms of binaries and they'll be like, ‘Whoa, isn't weaving over here and computer stuff over there? I don't understand how they're connected.’ And I think a huge part of my consciousness as a nonbinary person is to actually look for connection and actually look for ways that there can be creative participation between the two.”

Weefur’s and Allegra’s installations both exemplify the interdisciplinary diversity of work in BAN9 and the artists’ communal interest in establishing a sense of belonging and connection.

“We are thrilled, elated and honored that these folks are here,” says Kisch of the selected 30.

“Bay Area Now 9” runs Oct. 6 through May 5 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., San Francisco. General admission is $9; free for youth, students, educators, seniors, military and caretakers. For tickets and more information, visit ybca.org.

An opening night party starts at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6; tickets are $20.

Curator-led tours are offered from noon to 1 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month from Oct. 8, 2023 through May 5, 2024.