.Connecting Art & Community: Santa Rosa’s Strange Constellation

A new storefront in the heart of Santa Rosa’s Arts District on A Street offers so much more than hip products for cool kids.

True to its namesake, Strange Constellation is a place where art, community and commerce intersect in ways that support and uplift a culture of care and mutual aid, particularly for Black and queer people.

Creators Dani DiAngelo, Lee Johnson and new artist-in-residence Taylor Goethe described Strange Constellation as “a Black, femme and queer led art space and boutique that offers vintage clothing and accessories, locally-made and curated goods, and products from QT-BIPOC and femme created brands that we love and who share their ethos.

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

“As the only Black-owned business in Santa Rosa’s Art District, Strange Constellation is committed to featuring work from local BIPOC artists, for whom there is a serious lack of local representation, and hosts various creative workshops and events in our ever-evolving workshop space,” continued their description.

I came on assignment for the Bohemian, but I’ve wanted to visit Strange Constellation since meeting DiAngelo at a business workshop at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts in January. DiAngelo’s description of Strange Constellation reminded me of the Third Places I frequented in New York City when I lived there. Third Places are much harder to find in Sonoma County.

“Third Place” is a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg to describe spaces where people can go to in their leisure time to relax, learn and have culturally meaningful exchanges with others in their community. Those unfamiliar with the term can think of it this way: A First Place is one’s home, a Second Place is where one goes to work or school, and a Third Place is where one hangs out.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in late April, I walked into Strange Constellation. Johnson and Goethe sat at a large table in the middle of the space, surrounded by Goethe’s art supplies. They were making a TikTok for Cute Coffee, a Marin County-based Black roaster, and Flowerhead Tea, a woman-owned tea company started in Oakland, now based out of Los Angeles.

The room radiated holiness reminiscent of Louse Bourgeois Sunday Salons in Chelsea. Before even asking my first question, I understood that Strange Constellation is a place to come in search of care and wisdom, which is how it transcends consumption as a Third Place. “It’s a refuge,” Johnson explained. DiAngelo and Johnson didn’t know what Strange Constellation would become when their doors opened last November.

From a place of compassion, DiAngelo and Johnson present some of the nicest, highest-quality products created in and around Northern California. The aim is for Strange Constellation to expand its selection of Sonoma County-made products and art. During my visit, I discovered my new favorite tinted lip balm by Fat and the Moon, a woman-owned skincare brand based out of Grass Valley and created by herbalist Rachel Budde.

Local writer Jess D. Taylor walked in with her family a little while later. Goethe invited the children to make art at the table while Taylor shopped.

Johnson told me that Strange Constellation is DiAngelo’s brainchild. They met while working at Spinster Sisters, a chic restaurant down the block, and together, DiAngelo’s dream became a reality. When an opportunity availed itself on A Street, they took the plunge. “We didn’t know what was going to become of the space,” Johnson said, but people were at the core of their vision.

Shortly after opening, DiAngelo and Johnson met Goethe, a graduate of UCLA’s MFA program in animation, and invited them to be Strange Constellation’s artist in residence. DiAngelo and Johnson offer Goethe a rent-free space to create work. Goethe also provides community workshops, offers 1:1 art classes for kids and adults, creates portrait commissions for the community and makes their own art.

Goethe’s work table is cocooned by the creations from the Strange Constellation community. They work surrounded by racks of vintage clothing for adults and children curated by DiAngelo and Johnson and other vintage sellers and artisans. A cabinet of skincare, candles and vintage mugs is behind them.

“This is a safe space,” Goethe said of their residency. As a Black woman in Sonoma County, where the Black population is less than 2%, having a safe space to exist and to create is vital.

Of Johnson, Goethe wanted me to know that “the community is coming to [them] because [they] are coming to the community.” The back of the shop serves as another community space where Strange Constellation hosts additional art workshops, night markets and even concerts to raise mutual aid funds and to support local businesses such as the Palestinian-owned Santa Rosa eatery, Falafel Hut.

Strange Constellation offers sliding scale fees to events and workshops, which they advertise on social media (@__strangeconstellation on Instagram). At the end of each post, they request folks DM them when admission is cost prohibitive. “If we can show a space like this is possible, more places will show up,” Johnson explained.

When I first conceived of this profile, I wondered if the increasing popularity of the term Third Place emerged from Gen Z’s desire for connection over consumption. In the past year, many outlets have produced explainers on the term, including major media sites like Today and The Atlantic, and these explainers often feel like they are attempting to help older generations understand the youth’s values. But Goethe was quick to reframe my thinking.

As a Black-owned business, community is a given. It’s not just that Sonoma isn’t New York City. It’s that spaces like Strange Constellation that prioritize and support community aren’t everywhere. At least yet.

Visit Strange Constellation at 300 S A St., Suite 1, Santa Rosa, and follow @__strangeconstellation (double underscore) on Instagram to stay up to date on workshops and events. View Taylor Goethe’s work at @inspectornerd on Instagram.

Jen Hyde is a writer from Sonoma. Read more of her work at jenhyde.substack.com.

Jen Hydehttps://jenhyde.substack.com
Jen Hyde is a writer from Sonoma Valley. She writes about Asian American life at jenhyde.substack.com.


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