New Inner Richmond Art Studio Space is a ‘Work In Progress’

By Gui Oliveira

Usually when a new business opens up in the neighborhood, it does so with the intention of making a profit. Work in Progress, a new community hub located in the Inner Richmond, takes an alternative stroke at defining success. 

Nora Bruhn is the co-owner and operator of Work In Progress, in the Inner Richmond. Photos by Gui Oliveira.

“Work in Progress has many faces,” said Nora Bruhn, co-owner and operator of Work in Progress. “It’s our studio, but we also host events here; music, we had a story night, poetry night. We just really want this to be a place for art and creation, and a place for the community to come and host, if they’d like.” 

Bruhn and her partner, business and romantic, Joel Millikan, are San Francisco working artists. Bruhn, a native Minnesotan, attended graduate school at USF for a brief 30 days before dropping out to pursue a different career path in art. She is currently working full time painting murals. Milliken grew up in Texas and went to art school in San Francisco. He’s a fabricator who often works with metal and wood to create architectural pieces. Millikan is also part of the Burning Man community.

The studio used to belong to San Francisco painter Jay Mercado, who worked out of the space for 16 years. Bruhn met Mercado in a serendipitous moment when she went to see her friend perform at the space. She had already been looking for an art space. Her friend introduced her to Mercado and the two grew to be kindred spirits. Mercado mentioned that he was going to be moving. After a couple weeks Bruhn inquired about the studio to Mercado, who chose her to be the new owner.

“They’ve brought magic to that corner at a time when magic is needed in the community,” Mercado said.

The interior of Work in Progress serves as Bruhn’s and Millikan’s studio workspace. They decorated the space with a collection of furniture, plants, objects, art pieces and more, in a way that’s vibrant, casual and welcoming. In addition to being a muralist, Bruhn is also an herbalist. She loves taking people on smell tours of the plants and introducing them to  different fragrances.

“Let’s embrace the old, so then I wanted to paint this wall and I wanted it to sort of feel distressed,” Brun said. “I wanted to make some exposed brick thing. And one thing led to the next and led to the next – it all informed the next decision we made – and I knew I wanted to lean into natural fibers, natural materials, non-synthetic stuff, but we just wanted it to feel comfy and homey.”

One central objective of Work in Progress is to blossom into something that is meant to serve the community in a meaningful way. For the owners, seeing a positive change in the community takes priority over meeting a profit margin. Bruhn said it is not a “stuffy gallery” for the art enthusiast.

“Yeah, we’re not super defined here at Work in Progress, so we’re going to evolve,” Bruhn said. “What we’re really open to is responding to what people want and what’s successful, rather than trying to make a hard number of sales. The money isn’t really the intention. It’s more about growing community. A lot of people don’t start businesses like that.”

Since opening day on Feb. 18, they have hosted various community gatherings: a movie night, live shows, an open mic night and more, with more events in the future to include family activities.

With no official business hours, they decided to just stay open on Sunday so people can walk in and say hello.

“I hope to just be a space that helps people lean into their imagination more and just to be a hub for people to express themselves and be together at intimate hangouts, Bruhn said. “I want to teach people about plants, herbalism. I want this to be a welcoming space. When we’re here, we have the doors open. if someone wants to come in and chat with us, if I’m here I’m available for that. I will give you my attention if you want to stop by.”

Work in Progress is located at 4752 California St. at 10th Avenue. Learn more about Work in Progress on Instagram @workinprogress_sf.

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