Dorka Keehn’s one-story home is a mail-order box hiding behind a Victorian front on Bush Street. The interior isn’t mail order, and it isn’t Victorian. Keehn, 47, who describes herself as a conceptual artist and social entrepreneur, designed the furniture herself, and the decor is midcentury and beyond.
She has a logo – Keehn on Art – a new book, and a job on the San Francisco Arts Commission.
On getting the call: I was appointed to the Arts Commission by Gavin (Mayor Newsom) in January. I was one of his last appointments. I had served on the women’s commission for 12 years and was not planning to go on another commission. Gavin called me from his cell phone and said, “We need you.” Then the phone disconnected before I could answer. I called back, but he didn’t pick up … so I left a message and said, “OK.”
On answering the call: I had actually been an artist working on a commission by the Arts Commission, so I had fairly strong opinions on how we could improve relations with artists.
On being commissioned: I was asked by Brian Goggin to work with him on a sculpture in North Beach. We worked together to develop “Language of the Birds.” It is a flock of flying books taking off from the plaza on the corner of Columbus and Broadway. It was finished in the fall of 2008, and in 2009 it was selected as one of the best public artworks in the United States by Americans for the Arts.
On being commissioner: I sit on two committees. One is the Visual Arts Committee. We decide what public art will be built in the city of San Francisco and where it will be. The other committee is the Civic Design Review Committee. Any public structure that is built, from a bathroom in a park to the new Central Subway stations, we have oversight on.
On background: I’ve always been interested in the individual’s ability to effect change. I was raised by a father who was a product of the American dream and taught me that if I worked hard, I could achieve whatever I wanted to.
On upbringing: My father, Grant Keehn, was the 13th partner at Goldman Sachs, in the 1920s. I grew up in Manhattan. My parents got divorced when I was 12, and my father became my primary caretaker.
On coming to San Francisco: I moved to San Francisco and started working for the National Organization for Women. I’ve been active ever since in politics.
On finding a cause: How are we going to ensure a sustainable future for all of us? I started thinking maybe we can learn something from the women in the environmental movement.
On putting it in print: I decided to do a book that focused on women who were addressing the big problems in the environmental movement. “Eco Amazons: Twenty Women Who Are Transforming the World” (PowerHouse Books, $35). We have a website called www.ecoamazons.com.
On neighborhood: This is called Lower Pac Heights, which I always laugh about because when I moved here 15 years ago it was “the hood.” Now it’s been gentrified.
On home design: This house you could buy from Sears Roebuck. This was a house in a box.
On home decor: I had a bunch of antiques from my family. I really wanted a house that felt like me, so I went into this crazy mode of designing furniture, with Daren Joy of Lifefactory. I sold all of my antiques and pulled a lot of ideas from the 1950s and ’60s. I had a formal Victorian dining room, and now I have a Saarinen dining room table and chairs.
– Sam Whiting, firstname.lastname@example.org
This article appeared on page V – 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle