A new species of bear can be spotted in Santa Rosa: the “fnnch” Honey Bear. The Missouri-born and San Francisco-based artist, fnnch, recently gained notoriety for plastering much of San Francisco with the Honey Bears during the past year.
The artist’s work struck a nerve with some Bay Area artists and residents, expressing concerns that the wheat-pasted images are the new “poster child” for San Francisco’s rapidly accelerating gentrification, particularly in the city’s Mission District. The bears debuted in April 2020, and are something of an invasive species throughout the Bay Area.
The fnnch Honey Bears can be found in the window of The Pharmacy, a breakfast and brunch cafe on Sonoma Avenue in Santa Rosa. The Pharmacy is participating in fnnch’s “Honey Bear Hunt ” project, where businesses and residents tape the bears to their windows for people to find. According to fnnch’s website, the project is a way to create a “fun, safe activity for individuals, couples and families.”
Barbara, an employee of The Pharmacy says the business felt, “it was good to support what fnnch is trying to do.” She says the cafe staff has seen people travel from as far as San Francisco to snap a photo of the bears.
“I would have a mural done if I could. We would love it,” Barbara says. “I think if anyone tries to do something to bring people together that’s a good thing. We know some people felt like fnnch was gentrifying the Mission District, but we didn’t feel that way.”
Barbara cites proceeds from the Honey Bear Hunt being donated to nonprofits, community organizations and struggling Bay Area artists as one of the main reasons why the bears are displayed, another is the exposure the art generates. Businesses participating in the Honey Bear Hunt are found via the Honey Bear Hunt map on fnnch’s social media, which pins the addresses for scavenger hunters.
“It’s fun for people to find other businesses and see what’s out there,” Barbara says. “I think it’s a shared experience, and you find something you never knew business-wise.”
Barabra says the bears have been up for at least four months and plans on keeping them up for another four months, saying the business has yet to receive any negative feedback on the bears’ presence. There are two bears on display at The Pharmacy: the “Ballet Bear”—50% of the proceeds generated by this bear’s sales are donated to the San Francisco Ballet, and to support COVID-19 testing for the ballet’s dancers and staff. The second is the “Bowtie Bear.”
Sonoma County-based street artist, The Velvet Bandit, a single mother of two, became something of a local celebrity during the pandemic by displaying pieces across Northern California. The Sonoma County artist feels fnnch and his work is being unfairly targeted.
“People in the Bay Area accuse him of gentrification and pushing BIPOC artists out of the spotlight. In reality, it’s the people who live in San Francisco who are buying his art and displaying it all over,” The Velvet Bandit says. “He may have said some insensitive comments, but I see him trying to take ownership of his mistakes and pay it forward by doing good things for his community.”
The bears were recently removed from San Francisco’s LGBT Center on Market Street following a petition from incensed community members who believe fnnch’s work highlights the disparity of inclusion and visibility among disenfranchised artists in the Bay Area. The artist is a white male in the tech industry and self-described as an “immigrant” from Missouri in a recent viral video encounter.
The Velvet Bandit says they don’t see a problem with the bears in Sonoma County. However, the local artist notes that the bears have, “left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, so I’m not sure I’d be quick to display one at my house.” As a street artist, The Velvet Bandit says there will always be critics and that, “Haters gonna hate, potaters gonna potate.”
Photos by Michael Avina