Studio Bongiorno

A place for misfits, wanderers, and seekers

The moment you step into Studio Bongiorno, you know you’re in a place you won’t soon forget, a place meant to stand out, rather than fit in. You might expect a certain air of morbidity just across the street from Santa Clara Mission Cemetery, in the very building where tombstones once were made, but Studio Bongiorno is the exact opposite. There’s a wild eclecticism inside, a celebration of art, creativity, and the unbridled chaos that is life. It’s the kind of place where inanimate objects come to life when the doors close each night. And the ringleader of all this bristling activity is owner-curator Phil Bongiorno.

Phil created Studio Bongiorno as a place for the misfits, wanderers, and seekers of the art world. His studio now features 40 different local artists and offers art shows/salons, poetry, music, book signings, and theater, as well as private and public rentals, among other things. “I also do found object art and once put out a call for doll parts,” Phil says. “Somehow this has blown up into folks bringing in all sorts of oddities they are getting rid of or just want to donate. And so we’ve decorated the space with everything from old trinkets, oddities, mannequins, even a coffin that was being thrown away.”

Studio Bongiorno dedicates an entire month to a single theme. “The studio has taken on death, the environment, depression, HIV, cancer, politics, alcoholism, addiction, spirituality—and Studio Bongiorno was the first to host a Death Cafe locally,” Phil says. “Death Cafe started in Europe. It’s where folks gather over tea and cake to discuss not only what death has looked like in their life, but what they want their own death to look like. Studies have shown that when people understand that death walks in the shadows, they are able to live more in the now and to have fuller lives.”

Phil’s advice to visitors? “It takes about three visits to take it all in, and by that time everything has changed. It’s always evolving.”

Written by Chad Hall
Photography by Daniel Garcia

The full article originally appeared in Issue 8.3 Show


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