‘Energy Resonates Throughout’: A Q&A with Youth Art Exchange’s Departing Leader Reed Davaz McGowan

Reed Davaz McGowan, second from left, is leaving Youth Art Exchange after six years. Mayor London Breed visited YAX's [x]change in the Excelsior.

Reed Davaz McGowan, second from left, is leaving Youth Art Exchange. Courtesy Photo

After more than six years, Reed Davaz McGowan, executive director of Ingleside-based Youth Art Exchange, will leave the organization. She set up an arts gallery in an Excelsior storefront and an arts program at San Francisco’s Boys & Girls Clubs while doubling YAX’s capacity to serve high quality arts courses to name a few achievements. What follows is a lightly edited Q. and A.

Where and why are you going?

I am moving to Eugene, Ore. to be closer to my family. I grew up there and know it’s a fantastic place for my husband and I to raise our little one. My husband is a chef and was offered a great position in Eugene and we decided to take the leap back up north.

The Bay Area is where I would love to live forever, but the cost of living is so high and my commute seemed to be getting longer by the minute. With an eviction from my home in Oakland last year, we moved further out to the edge of East Oakland and I was spending more time with my carpoolers each day than my family! Something had to change.

What were you able to accomplish in your time at YAX?

Wow. So much. In addition to doubling our budget and the number of youth served (more about that in the next question), we moved into two new spaces: [x]space on Mission Street at Geneva Avenue and Youth Art Exchange Studios at Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco. We did a lot of public projects throughout the city and started initiatives like ArtE: Arts in the Excelsior and the Excelsior Public Art Project. I worked with great partners as a steward for Arts for a Better Bay Area and increased funding for the arts through advocacy and community building. We also launched (415) Public Gallery and that has opened [x]space up to being a citywide venue more than ever.

I think when I look at YAX now, I think that my proudest feelings around the culture and identity of YAX. We are creative and innovative and not afraid to experiment. It’s a pretty radical space to be in and energy resonates throughout the organization. We have an amazing faculty of artists, staff and both youth and adult advisory boards that all contribute to a thriving creative community. We have partners at [x]space like Green Art Workshop and ArtSpan that bring in their communities too.

How many students did YAX serve during your tenure? And how many courses were offered?

When I started, it was around 200 per year, but now we serve over 400 enrolled students and a significant number of audience members per year — around 8,000 through events, public projects and community activities.

We expanded programming to include in-school residents that reach students during the school day who otherwise may not be able to attend after school as a part of our work to increase access to the arts.

What’s the future hold for YAX? What course did you set?

I’m so excited that Raffaella Falchi Macias is going to be the new executive director. We have worked together so closely over the last 6.5 years on the vision and work of the organization that I’m excited to see her trajectory based on the momentum that we already have. I would say that the biggest impact that I would have is probably within the collaborative nature of the staff and the embracing of experimentation.

Any moment or event stand out in your memory we ought to highlight?

Is this where I give the pitch to donate?

We’ve hired alumni as staff and faculty. Mayor London Breed came to visit [x]space and loved it.

I think that there are a lot of people that haven’t known our work over the past 2 decades, and I’m hoping that the do! We contribute a lot to our community and to the arts landscape of San Francisco.

I think that I’ve really enjoyed being a creative person behind a lot of the work that we’ve done. You might not see me at the forefront all the time, but I’ve loved designing and conceptualizing a lot of what we do and our visual aesthetics.

On Tuesday, Dec. 10, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the The Dark Horse Inn (942 Geneva Ave.) have a Happy Hour Send Off to say goodbye. No RSVP required.