Experts young and old — working with passion in art, architecture, food, social work and science — are doing their best to improve not just the Bay Area, but the world.
Father David and Elaine Lowell
As Raphael House, San Francisco’s first and largest shelter for homeless families, marks its 50th anniversary in 2021, the beloved couple received its Community Impact Award. (They will be officially feted at the nonprofit’s gala in May.) The Lowells met working at RH more than 30 years ago and went on to marry in the chapel, which is now a children’s library named in their honor. Their children Gregory and Victoria grew up at RH, remaining integral to the organization until they went to college, which was around the time Father David retired from his post as RH’s executive director after 25 years. During his tenure, Father David and Dr. Francis Rigney, Jr., son of RH founder Ella Rigney, created a pioneering system by which homeless people could access myriad health care services, including for mental illness. Today Father David is the group’s historian. “To say they are uniquely wonderful is an understatement,” notes Kate Smith, former chair of RH’s board of directors. “They are probably the most humble people you will ever meet.”
“Advocacy by design is our mantra,” says the founder and president of Studio-MLA, winner of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum 2021 National Design Award for landscape architecture. With offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the firm has worked on projects from Levi’s Plaza and Cargo Way Railscape in San Francisco, and the Morgan at Bay Meadows in San Mateo, to Dodger Stadium and Vista Hermosa Natural Park (the first new park in downtown Los Angeles to open in a century). Lehrer told 2021 graduates of UCLA Extension Studies: “In my profession, we work each day to promote a lively dialogue … to build places that unite communities and balance natural processes. We commit to the search for scientific, technological and cultural truth. We commit to innovation and overcoming environmental constraints. We look to harmonize the demands of culture and art, sustainability and resiliency.” The architect — a native of El Salvador, wife, mother, grandmother and proud member of an all-female Los Angeles Department of Water and Power board of commissioners — emphasizes collaboration as a key to her studio’s success.
Fundraising, especially during a pandemic, is no easy feat. Yet that’s exactly what Gass was able to do, drumming up $2.5 million to create the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco. Called “brilliant” by artists and colleagues, the forward-thinking curator and museum administrator will serve as director for the non-collecting center, which is slated to open in 2022 in the gallery- and studio-filled Dogpatch area. A Bay Area native, Gass earned art degrees from Columbia and New York University before working at the Jewish Museum in New York, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago. Locally, she’s done stints at Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and, most recently, as chief curator and executive director of the Institute of Contemporary Art San José.
This spring, the 4-year-old entomology enthusiast, with a little help from her naturalist caregiver Targe Lindsay, discovered two colonies of stingless bees in trees in her Palo Alto neighborhood. Native to Brazil, the bees are rare in the United States. “I climbed the tree and I saw the black bugs,” the tot shared with the website Bay Nature. “I scratched myself on my hand right here. But it was no big deal. I couldn’t tell if they were bees or wasps.” After Lindsay removed the insects, they were identified by California and South American scientists as descendants of a population introduced here decades ago in an attempt to improve food crops. Dr. Martin Hauser, a senior insect biosystematist at California’s Department of Food and Agriculture, said Annika’s discovery “highlights citizen science at its best.”
Named one of Food & Wine magazine’s 11 best new chefs of 2021 last month, the chef de cuisine at State Bird Provisions curtailed school as a teen so she could work at two Japanese restaurants in her native Hawaii. Soon after, she studied at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, then made her way to a five-year stint at swanky Gary Danko before touring Southeast Asia for further food inspiration. She was promoted to chef de cuisine after a year on the job at State Bird Provisions, famous for its Michelin star and $45 three-course meal. She told F&W, “I would hope that in 10 years, I would open my own restaurant. I will only do it if I can do it right.” In the meantime, she’ll continue to innovate with homey dishes like corn mochi (with goat gouda, fresno chile and cilantro) inspired by her childhood and melting-pot heritage.