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The Cultural Mafia

With maybe one exception (OK, New York, you win), no city offers quite the mix of world-class, cutting-edge, and passionately gonzo culture that San Francisco does. We have superstars, inventors of new art forms, indie theater champs, and, naturally, the country’s first transgender dance company. But who, exactly, are the leaders of this tight-knit, crazy-quilt scene? We canvassed dozens of film capos, theater consiglieri, and foot soldiers of literature, dance, art, and music to come up with this list of the 63 most influential impresarios, mentors, fundraisers, and visionaries.

Sean Dorsey

Gregg Perloff

Robert Mailer Anderson and Nicola Miner

Michael Tilson Thomas

Jeffrey Fraenkel

Sylvia Lindsey

Deborah Cullinan

CAREER LAUNCHERS

Elaine Petrocelli
OWNER OF BOOK PASSAGE
When Petrocelli said that she didn’t think much of the jacket color of local author Janis Cooke Newman’s new book, Mary, publisher MacAdam/Cage had it reprinted, even though it meant taking a loss. The publisher did well to listen: Petrocelli has been the driving force behind more than a few literary success stories. Her picks for Book Passage’s First Editions Club, which can put an unknown author on the Bay Area bestseller list inside a week, have included Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone.

Michelle Tea
FOUNDER OF RADAR PRODUCTIONS
The launch of queer-lit legend Tea’s new Sister Spit imprint with City Lights Books this fall is the most recent in a long list of wins for Tea’s nineyear-old literary nonprofit, Radar Productions. Radar’s annual Sister Spit tour, hailed by a fellow lesbian author as "the underground railroad for burgeoning queer writers," has gained recognition for the many queer authors who have traveled with it over the years.

Aaron Axelsen
MUSIC DIRECTOR OF LIVE 105
Many major acts owe their first minutes of mainstream airtime to this prescient radio host, including the Killers, Coldplay, and Phoenix. Popscene, the nightclub that Axelsen sponsors each week, is a must-play for new musicians on tour: It brought the likes of Amy Winehouse and Muse to the Bay Area long before they were popular in the States.

Stephanie Weisman
FOUNDER AND ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE MARSH
Weisman is the unparalleled champion of the solo artist. The many performers she has propelled into the national spotlight since opening the Marsh 23 years ago include Josh Kornbluth (three of whose personal monologues have been made into films), Brian Copeland (whose Not a Genuine Black Man became the longest-running show in the history of Bay Area theater), political storyteller Charlie Varon, and Dan Hoyle (whose Tings Dey Happen toured Nigeria with the sponsorship of the U.S. State Department).

Jeffrey Fraenkel
CO-OWNER OF FRAENKEL GALLERY
In 1979, when Fraenkel opened Fraenkel Gallery with his partner, Frish Brandt, he had no idea that it would become one of the area’s most important places to buy photography. At the time, there was no real West Coast photography market: Robert Adams was selling his photographs for $500. Now they go for up to $60,000 a print and are currently the subject of a major international retrospective.

Jessica Robinson Love
EXECUTIVE AND ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF COUNTERPULSE
Love is the power behind the city’s scrappiest, most innovative performance space. To name just a few of the gifted artists whom she has championed, 2010 residents Violeta Luna and José Navarrete went on to produce their spoken-word and movement-based piece at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and 2007 resident Monique Jenkinson’s drag-inspired performance work landed her center stage at the de Young as a 2012 Artist Fellow.