Live at the Black Hawk

Interview with Julia Beabout

Between 1949 and 1963, the Black Hawk Jazz Club attracted the world’s top talent to the corner of Hyde and Turk Street in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Here, Jazz greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie played to packed houses, experimented with new sounds, and recorded some of their best works. During his time at the club, local legend Dave Brubeck reinvented the jazz genre with new time signatures gathered from his overseas U.S. State Department tours. “The Hawk” was well-known for its social progressiveness and racial inclusion. Today, a parking lot sits where “The Hawk” once stood. That lot is littered with needles, trash, and huddled bodies — evidence of the community’s disenfranchisement and on-going political, social, and environmental conflicts within itself and the city that surrounds it. Realizing the state of this historic landmark, Alumni TIES grantee, Julia Beabout, and her team began the process of brainstorming a creative way to reconnect the community back to its history.

After her attendance at U.S. Alumni TIES Santa Fe seminar in December 2019 on “Art, Culture, and Conflict Transformation,” Julia Beabout and her team were awarded an Alumni TIES small grant. Their project, “Live at the Black Hawk,” proposed to use Placemaking techniques to digitally recreate the Black Hawk Jazz Club in augmented reality (AR) within the neighborhood to reconnect the community to its own history and vibrant culture. Placemaking is an evidence-based methodology of engagement that has shown a reduction in conflict by improving the safety, well-being, and economy of communities. AR is an art-first, mobile-phone technology that can enhance Placemaking by revealing otherwise hidden qualities of spaces through visual and narrative storytelling. In collaboration with local organizations, Tech in the Tenderloin and Code Tenderloin, the goal of the project was to transform intra- and intercommunity conflict by rejoining the community with its innovative past and reminding the larger audience of the Tenderloin’s value and creative contributions to San Francisco.

In response to the pandemic and technical difficulties, Julia and her team relocated their vision for their virtual recreation of the jazz club from the original location of the club to a nearby park that increased accessibility and safe access to this AR experience. They also combined a project that they were already working on with the Tenderloin Boys and Girls Club. This project focused on working with Tenderloin youth to create a virtual tour of their own neighborhoods. Each child created artwork designed from stories that they connected to most with their neighborhood and created audio narratives explaining their selected stories. This artwork was virtually displayed on the outside of the AR Black Hawk along with other digital jazz-inspired artwork and musical compositions. Inside the virtual club, they invited local professional artists and musicians to contribute pieces to create an even more realistic ambience.

To showcase their creation, Julia and her team invited the local community and held a launch event in August 2021 with approximately 75 people in attendance. There, attendees saw first-hand how this virtual, Black Hawk Jazz Club served as both an educational avenue to share and expose this piece of underrepresented history and a gallery for local youth and artists to showcase their work.

An external view of the AR Black Hawk Jazz Club with artwork from the Tenderloin Boys and Girls Club displayed on the windows. Visitors can see these views through their own mobile phones as if the building was really there.
An internal view of the AR Black Hawk Jazz Club with artwork and music from local Tenderloin artists and musicians. Visitors can walk through and see these views through their own mobile phones as if they were inside the real, life-size building.

Since the launch event, Julia and her team are focused on maintaining the sustainability and growth of the project. Currently, the AR Black Hawk Jazz Club remains available for anyone who wishes to immerse themselves into this world. Going forward, the team intends to evolve the project into a rotating art and music gallery where a variety of local artists can continue to showcase their work. With each new rotation, Julia and her team will have a launch event to promote continued engagement with local artists and the vibrant history of the Tenderloin community. Additionally, the team acquired a partnership and funding from Niantic, famously known for their augmented reality work on Pokémon Go, which will allow the team to hold additional neighborhood digital story art and music creation workshops. They were also recently awarded multiple 2021 Vega awards for Augmented Reality, Culture, Service, and Innovation. Due to the strong support from the community and external stakeholders and the innovation of the project team, the growth for this project is immeasurable.

Live at the Black Hawk is funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State.

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Alumni TIES

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) are regionally focused seminars for alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.