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Gregory Gavin

Gregory Gavin is a carpenter, visual artist and filmmaker who grew up in Northern California where as a child he began a lifelong pre-occupation with creeks.

While in graduate school in the early 90's at the California College of the Arts, he began a series of installations, public art projects, and artist residencies in Oakland, San Rafael, Boston, Las Vegas and San Francisco. These projects often included wood working, film making and the construction of large scale environments in collaboration with community and youth. In 1994, Gavin founded Will Power Motors, an art studio dedicated to teaching design and carpentry skills to children. Here he collaborated with over 160 youngsters to build and race full sized, unique Soap Box cars. He began viewing his projects as providing children and families with a material antidote to the uncritical hype surrounding digital technologies during the dot com mania of the 90's.

Inspired by the trust and confidence gained through woodworking, Gavin invited his young carpentry students to star along with their home made cars in BERNALTOWN, a narrative video set in a fantastic, idealized and comedic version of their own neighborhood. BERNALTOWN, premiered outside on a playground to a vast audience of neighbors before appearing in the Mill Valley Film Festival. The last project Gavin completed before losing his storefront studio in 1998, was River-in the-Hood, a 100 foot long fully operating model river built in collaboration with youth and adult volunteers in a little known working class San Francisco neighborhood.

Towards the end of the 90's Gavin developed several classes and seminars exploring issues of community, authorship, landscape, tourism and media theory, teaching them at the San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco State University and the California College of the Arts.

In 2002 Gavin returned his attention to building "art rivers" as a way of bringing the evocative properties of running water to the city. The project has emerged as Riveropolis — a business serving children, families, neighborhoods, schools and museums. The business involves public art, kid's camps and the design, production, installation and facilitation of portable, interactive, waterworks equipment.

Gavin is married to Bambi Menes, who has counseled him on many projects and with whom he is raising a daughter. He continues to visit creeks and streams for artistic inspiration.

Gavin's work has been supported by the Potrero Nuevo Fund Prize, the Bay Area Video Coalition Artist's Access Award, the California Arts Council Artist-in-residence Award, the Seattle Arts-Up Public Art Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Challenge America Grant. He is a California Arts Council Fellow.

Earlier Folly of Youth Story: 1980's

Profoundly distraught by the election of Ronald Reagan and the direction of the country, Gavin applied for and received a fellowship from UC Berkeley in 1981 to hitchhike across North America to study the architecture of rural communes. What was intended to be a four month interruption of his architectural studies at Berkeley ended up lasting several years. He visited and nearly joined intentional communities ranging from an organic farm in Oregon to a Trappist monastery in Massachusetts. Eventually he found a group called Synergia in New Mexico, which seemed to celebrate the creative powers of the individual while realizing outlandish and ambitious collective projects. Gavin joined one of Synergia's projects in 1982, a round-the-world expedition onboard a Chinese Junk style ship, the R.V. Heraclitus, which was specially outfitted to travel up tropical rivers and conduct ethnobotany.

After sailing half way around the world on a primitive ship with an international crew of twenty, Gavin came to realize he'd joined more of a cult than a scientific expedition and jumped ship on the same obscure island in the Marquises island where Herman Melville had done so a hundred years earlier. Physically drained and disillusioned after his shipboard experience with a utopian community, he made his way back to the Bay Area where he moved back in with his parents and found work building trade show exhibits for a Silicon Valley defense contractor.

Eventually his wits returned. Rather than returning to architecture school he began studying film/video at San Francisco State University where he was introduced to a body of theory associated with mid-century theorist Walter Benjamin. It was there studying the potentially deadening effects of mass media that Gavin made a commitment to using craft materials in a community context.