Michelle Vignes and ArtSeed
French-born photographer, educator, and long-time ArtSeed friend and advisor Michelle Vignes (1928-2012) photographed major social movements starring in the mid-1960 when she moved to San Francisco. Recording important events of political and cultural change, she captured Native Americans’ 1969-1971 occupation of Alcatraz Island, the American Indian Movement’s 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, Vietnam War protesters burning draft cards, Black Panthers, daily life in Mexican pueblos, Oakland’s vibrant blues scene in the 1980s, and gospel singers in Berkeley. Michelle’s acclaimed black-and-white photographs have appeared in publications around the world, including Time, Life, Vogue, and Newsweek. She received numerous awards, including the Chevalier des Arts des Lettres by France’s Minister of Culture and the Oakland Museum’s Dorothea Lange Award for distinguished work by a woman photographer. In 2003 Michelle’s archives were acquired by UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library.
My husband, Charles Boone, had known Michelle for decades before I met her in 1991. I struggled, at first, to feel worthy of her friendship. After I founded ArtSeed in 2000 I began to relax around her and at dinners, we often had at her house, I summoned up the courage to hand her ArtSeed’s Annual Letter of Appeal. Michelle listened attentively to my updates on programs and received ArtSeed students on field trips to her home studio. But I can’t recall her ever giving ArtSeed money. But then, when she died she donated her home/studio to ArtSeed. What an amazing gift and sign of her confidence in this organization’s future and goals!
From the Summer of 2013 until January 2017 ArtSeed shared that Diamond Heights property — its library and spectacular garden view of the city — with families and artists from the poorest and most marginalized sectors of society. It was San Francisco’s only live-in artist residency program that also offered intimate classes, readings, and art exhibition receptions for the public. Our neighbors loved us! Then, when looming upkeep of Michelle’s ArtSeed Cottage property became prohibitive, we found an artistic couple to purchase Michelle’s home. That made it possible to set up four years of year-round studio programming in a spacious old church with a labyrinth garden on Geary Boulevard, ArtSeed’s Labyrinth Studios.
We are proud of the hard work and magical art-making that Michelle’s Legacy Gift inspired in so many participants. We are also very pleased to have won an unprecedented City of San Francisco property tax exemption that forged a legal path to this sorely needed allowance for other smaller charitable organizations to win. Previously this relief had only been granted to hospitals, universities, and churches. Now, seven years later, her gift is still giving! Since 2005 our Presidio WorkSpaces at Tides Converge have grown increasingly central to educational outreach, artistic endeavors, and arts administrative internships that culminate in annual public events here in the park. In the advent of COVID-19 we moved our programs online immediately using the internet to achieve sociopolitical climate activism and optimism. Our teens, with guidance from a small staff and board, seamlessly learned to create online weekly classes, an all-day Art-a-thon, a three-week Summer Intensive, and now a gallery in Michelle Vignes’ name. How fitting! Michelle loved to teach and her favorite subject was how to choose works for display! Saturday, October 3, 3-5 p. m. is the Grand Opening of ArtSeed’s Michelle Vignes Virtual Gallery. Save the date! Visit www.artseed.org to preview the Gallery. To celebrate with us during our Grand Opening Reception use this link: https://meet.google.com/avh-imhd-vjy
–Josefa Vaughan, ArtSeed Founding Executive Director
September 22, 2020