Thomasina DeMaio poses with a smiling group of San Francisco firefighters, each holding an Art Ignites SF gallery portrait she has painted of them in uniform.

A bit more about Art Ignites SF

Fueling a future of fire prevention and advocacy


On the heels of successful collaborative exhibitions “Visions Beyond the Badge” featuring the work of 30 San Francisco Police Department and San Francisco Fire Department photographers (2012), as well as “Art of Fire San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation Gala” (2017, 2019) – where Lt. Dwayne Newton (SFFD) and poet John Obermeyer’s writing and photography publication “Siren Call” debuted; the Art Ignites series will showcase the creative works of veteran and novice fine artists alike in Spring 2023. These initial iterations of the concept series wove together 84 participating artists and garnered a $33,000 donation made to the SFFD Cancer Fund from art sales.

Art Ignites San Francisco will expound on the theme, highlighting portraiture to be shown alongside live dance performances and spoken word. Community partnerships include Harvey Milk Photo Center, Tony Stefani (San Francisco Fire Cancer Prevention Foundation), Sally Casazza (SFFD Toy Drive), and esteemed photographer Billy Douglas. Pre-production efforts include documentation and interview of SFFD personal narratives, public live portrait sessions with Art Saves Lives founder Thomasina DeMaio, free painting workshops and Q&A engagement leading up to the events.


Art Ignites San Francisco aims to boost city morale through fine art events as San Francisco inches away from its long-held pandemic restrictions. San Francisco firefighters have flanked Department of Public Health efforts, operating as emergency responders in addition to their duties of maintaining fire safety. The colossal efforts of these civil servants is often underrepresented or overlooked, with current challenges faced including limited resources for uniforms and health care for PTSD or inherited cancer from inhaled dioxins, as well as the recognized need for racial and gender equity in the workplace – all exacerbated by COVID-19, statewide seasonal fires, and recent civil rights protests. As workers who have pledged and are expected to protect people and property, there has been a capacity and/or resource gap in being cared for themselves. Art Saves Lives programming will create a community platform to allow SFFD expressions to be honored, increase awareness of the history and achievements of this community, and celebrate the lesser known artistic contributions of SFFD workers while weaving in narratives of the public they serve. Showcasing a plethora of fine art photography, portraiture, and dance-theatre performance Art Ignites San Francisco will engage the city through three transformative immersive art exhibitions, each using the elements of the “combustion triangle” (oxygen, heat, fuel) as metaphors to illustrate the strength of these workers alongside the city’s history of collapse, repair, and post-pandemic resilience.

Jhia Jackson dances with flame-colored silk fans for Openhaus Athletics at Art Ignites SF 4/23/23 2pm.

Meet  the Curators !

Thomasina DeMaio
Thomasina DeMaioArt Saves Lives

An integral member of the San Francisco art community for over 50 years, fine artist Thomasina DeMaio (she/her) arrived in North Beach in 1973, attending San Francisco Art Institute in 1979 and earning both a BFA and MFA in painting. DeMaio studied under social justice activists such as Angela Davis and Robert Colscott, which shaped her approach to weaving equity into her creative practice. Later becoming a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, DeMaio’s work continued to straddle humanitarian efforts, removing the barrier of cost and location from her self-produced pop-up galleries and figure painting classes; inviting communities to explore social commentary through expressive arts through online and on-site events free of charge. DeMaio founded Art Saves Lives in 2004, contributing to San Francisco’s creative climate by showcasing over 450 events to date. Key accomplishments include offering programming for the women inmates of San Bruno prison from 1981-1982 in collaboration with former Intersection for the Arts Executive Director Randy Rollinson, receiving a 2nd place award in SF Art Fest 1983, hosting over 250 online gatherings in 2020 – bringing together a global network of artists during the pandemic timeline, as well as the De Young Museum displaying her 2020 work of the late George Floyd in the same year. DeMaio’s work through Art Saves Lives has been recognized with a Certificate of Congressional Recognition from Russian River Chamber of Commerce (1996), Sonoma County Special Project Award (1996), SF Beautiful (2000), and was awarded a Women’s History Month Certificate of Honor by the city and county of San Francisco Board of Supervisors in March 2022.

Lt. Dwayne Newton
Lt. Dwayne Newton SFFD (ret.)

Born in 1959 in the Presidio, co-curator and creative collaborator Lt. Dwayne Newton (he/him) is a retired SFFD lieutenant with a longstanding history of documenting the full spectrum of the human condition across over 30 countries. Newton’s perspective as a Black photojournalist and San Francisco native has bolstered the work of Associated Press, ThomsonReuters,, USA Today, Newsweek, Greenpeace, Wall Street Journal, Public Media Center, SF Chronicle, LA Times, Center for Investigative Reporting, San Francisco Magazine, Wine Spectator, American Airlines and more. His transformative years impacted by the city’s civil rights movement and the intimate knowledge of SFFD gained in adulthood roots the Art Ignites series in an authentic way to the mission of offering onlookers a clear glimpse into the landscapes, streetscapes and personal anecdotes of those who so dramatically affect the San Francisco tableau.

Jes DeVille
Jes DeVilleOpenhaus Athletics

Jes “Mojo” DeVille (they/them) is an Afro-Latiné choreographer, director, and visual artist working across mediums to explore physical fluency and environmental literacy. Based in the SF Bay Area, their decade-long history of self-produced fringe entertainment events primed them for the founding of nature-based performing arts organization Openhaus Athletics in 2017. Awarded the inaugural Updraft artist residency by aerial dance company Bandaloop in 2021, DeVille’s history includes the co-curation and production management of San Francisco Trolley Dances (2019-2021); fulfilling positions as a movement director for Funsch Dance Experience, choreographer for PBS series – Kids Do Science, as well as a production lead for Anon Events co-coordinating elements of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, San Francisco City Hall Centennial, MPI World Education Congress and more. DeVille has served as guest curator for ODC’s inaugural Queer & BIPOC Space Residency, a grant adjudicator for SFAC’s Cultural Equity Initiative award, and is grateful to be uplifted as a regenerative art fellow with Design Science Studio as well as a presenter for University of California, Irvine’s Emergent Media Research Group.