Pride and Polaroids: a review of Homo File by Cleo Dubois

by seth ~ July 26th, 2014

Here is a moving article about Homo File by BDSM educator, coach, scholar and advocate Cleo Dubois. What an honor to have had her come see the show two times and to have participated on our panel discussion on June 6th.



Transition announcement from Jessica Robinson Love and the Board of CounterPulse

by Jessica ~ July 16th, 2014

From Jessica Robinson Love,
Executive & Artistic Director

Dear colleagues, artists, supporters, and friends,

I could scarcely have imagined when I ascended the long stairs at 848 Community Space fourteen years ago to become its sole staff member, that “the little space that could” would become a bustling professional theater and a nationally-recognized model for building community through socially-engaged art.

CounterPulse is thriving. We have a visionary and strategic board of directors, a dedicated and experienced staff, a financial reserve that’s rare for an organization of our size, and a real estate partnership with the Community Arts Stabilization Trust that provides tremendous opportunity toward long-term security.

That’s why after fourteen years at the helm of CounterPulse, I’m preparing to pursue new professional challenges. On October 1st, I’ll step aside so that the organization can begin a new chapter under new leadership. I’ve carefully chosen this time after months of planning in consultation with our board and staff, to coincide with several major benchmarks we’ll reach in September in our journey toward securing a permanent home.

I’m thrilled that our Program Director, Julie Phelps, has agreed to serve as Interim Executive & Artistic Director and support the organization and community through this transition. Julie and I have worked side-by-side for seven years, and she did a remarkable job serving as interim leader during my sabbatical in 2012. I have boundless faith in her aptitude to lead the organization during this transition. Under her leadership and with the partnership of Shamsher Virk, Jeanne Pfeffer, Zoë Klein, and Jason McArthur, CounterPulse’s programming will continue to be vibrant, relevant and responsive to our communities of artists and audiences.

CounterPulse has been my life’s work. I’m particularly proud of building Performing Diaspora, of overseeing a successful move to Mission Street 10 great years ago, and of helping create a strategic plan that enshrines support for artists, social change, and equity in the heart of what we do. Of course, none of this would have been possible without visionary funders who have supported this work, a superhero board, the world’s best staff, and the countless hours of sweat equity that our communities have put in over many years. While I’ll miss being at the center of this incredible hub of art, ideas, and people, I plan to remain involved as a lifelong advocate for CounterPulse and as a champion for the move into its beautiful new home.

But I’m not gone yet! We have much to accomplish in the next three months, and I’ll be calling on all of you to join me in further securing the organization’s future as we launch an amazing fall season and get ready for the big move.

See you soon at CounterPulse!

Jessica Robinson Love


From Laura Elaine Ellis,
Board Chair

As a board — so proud to be serving CounterPulse — it is with deep gratitude and dedicated support that we bid our current Executive & Artistic Director, Jessica Robinson Love, best wishes as she begins her next journey. She is truly a visionary and she will forever be a part of the CounterPulse legacy!

This is an extraordinary time for CounterPulse. We recently completed a strategic plan for this organization, guided by our mission to create a space for risk-taking art that shatters assumptions and builds community. The planning and implementation of CounterPulse’s impactful work — led by Jessica — has been dutifully and passionately shared and nurtured with keen, “hands-on” involvement of the staff and board. During her tenure, Jessica has overseen a 10-fold budget increase, built a financial reserve, and set CounterPulse up for long-term sustainability by forging a partnership with the Community Arts Stabilization Trust to finance its new home at 80 Turk Street. The organization has never been stronger, and this is an exciting time for us to welcome new leadership. As we enter this next phase for CounterPulse, the board is pleased that Julie Phelps — current Program Director — will serve as our Interim Executive & Artistic Director beginning October of 2014.

The CounterPulse family of staff and board — supported by and serving artists, members, donors, and funders — looks to the future of CounterPulse readily, as we prepare to make a bold and strategic move to our new home at 80 Turk Street. As part of this vision, it is our desire to expand our impact and potential, delve more deeply into our commitment to community engagement and artistic incubation by building an art-making space that will nurture the imaginations, experiences, and explorations of artists, community members, and audiences. We’ve been presented with tremendous opportunities: a stable real estate solution, a space that will allow for expanded programming, and new partnership opportunities with peer arts organizations, social justice nonprofits, corporate neighbors, and city government. We are thrilled that Jessica will continue to support the CounterPulse family as we celebrate our ground-breaking, capital campaign launch, and risk-taking programming in our new space!

Our board and staff will be in touch with our community of artists, art lovers and supporters, as we thoughtfully and diligently work, create, and build toward this next phase of our journey. Please feel free to contact the Transition Committee with suggestions, ideas, inquiries, and gestures of support at Your thoughts are most welcome.

Our mission:
CounterPulse is building a movement of risk-taking art that shatters assumptions and builds community. We provide space and resources for emerging artists and cultural innovators, serving as an incubator for the creation of socially relevant, community-based art and culture. CounterPulse acts as a catalyst for art and action; creating a forum for the open exchange of art and ideas, sparking transformation in our communities and our society. We work towards a world that celebrates diversity of race, class, cultural heritage, artistic expression, ability, gender identity & sexual orientation. We strive to create an environment that is physically and economically accessible to everyone.

In September, the CounterPulse family will be hosting a celebration for Jessica Robinson Love, honoring her tenure and service to CounterPulse and the Bay Area arts community at large. Look for an invitation to that special event in the near future.

Looking Forward,

Laura Elaine Ellis, Board President
On behalf of the CounterPulse Board of Directors


A New Logo for CounterPulse

by Shamsher ~ June 23rd, 2014

We’ve known for a long time that the only constant is change. We’re certainly seeing a good deal of it in our city these days. As the winds shift, CounterPulse is adapting and continuing to make a place for daring, intimate, socially relevant performance in San Francisco. We’re planning our growth into a new home on Turk Street and as we do so, we’re re-imagining our visual identity. Our move from 848 Divisidero Street in 2005 also marked a change in name and logo. It seems fitting that our next incarnation come at a time when a physical move is imminent.

CounterPULSE logo

Like us, you may have a nostalgic association with our old logo. The symbolic hand of the people reaching powerfully up, gently cradling a heart, presenting itself as an expression of sensitive political force. The stark contrast of black and red connecting us to a lineage of political artistic endeavors, notably Agitprop and Russian Constructivism. And yet, there’s something static about a literal symbolic mark that points so explicitly and specifically to art movements of the early twentieth century. Nevermind the fact that passersby often remark that our logo gives them the impression we’re a blood donor clinic. With our new logo, we wanted to disassociate from the medical profession and carry our politically engaged art making into the twenty-first century.

Our old wordmark, “CounterPULSE”, was beginning to feel overstated with its shout-it-out all-caps “PULSE”. The capitalization overemphasizes “PULSE” when our work to support art that runs counter to the dominant pulse of contemporary culture gives equal weight to the “Counter” portion of our name. So we chose something more subtle yet still bold — to keep the capital “P” and spell our name “CounterPulse”.

With these thoughts in mind, we sought the help of a team of dedicated pro-bono consultants from the Taproot Foundation and embarked on a redesign of our logo. Drawing on language from our recently completed strategic plan, we distilled what we considered to be the essence of our organization. We uncovered energetic terms to describe ourselves, the artists we work with, and the art made in our space — spotlight, shadow, subversive, dynamic, shattered, chaotic, textured. Using these terms as springboards, we collected images into mood boards that would help us identify an aesthetic that resonated with us.


Shattered mood board

Shattered mood board. Design by Reena Karia.

Tenderloin mood board

Tenderloin mood board. Design by Reena Karia.

These mood boards also included images of our new neighborhood, the Tenderloin — its ornate façades, bold street art, and warmly glowing neon signs. We gazed at these collages and were drawn to shapes, colors, and textures that felt like CounterPulse.

The Taproot team guided us first though an audit of our visual identity and those of other organizations in our field. They then incorporated our mood boards and led a critical process of concept and draft review. Our Taproot graphic designer, Diana Heom, was prolific, giving us draft after draft of material to feast our eyes upon. After a six months of vigorous discussion and course changes we came to a final consensus about our new visual identity. Behold!

CounterPulse logo

The new mark echoes the shape of the old. The fist holding the heart is abstracted to form “CP” (the acronym for CounterPulse we affectionately use in the office). The mark incorporates strong geometric shapes shattered by diagonal lines that both support and disrupt symmetry. The shape holds space and also moves through it, giving weight and dynamism to our name.

Our new primary logo colors are slight variations on the old. We added an orange electricity to the red. The black is rubbed lighter to a charcoal grey. When on a dark background, the new logo will be accented with a cream color, softening the contrast. These are the colors of a vibrant contemporary CounterPulse.

CounterPulse Logo Dark Background

We also introduced new colors to our brand palette. We weren’t comfortable being just one thing, given the great diversity of artists and performance forms that grace our space. Our brand family now contains a teal, pink, and orange, for special applications.

CounterPulse Secondary Logos

CounterPulse Secondary Logos

Giving us further room for adaptation, we created stencils of the mark that allow us to incorporate photographic moments of performance. The rich images of the artists we work with will be featured online and in print, giving the community glimpses of the magic that happens inside our space.

CounterPulse Logo Image Applications

A new era of CounterPulse begins today. We hope you share our excitement about our new look and the positive change it reflects. We are grateful beyond words for the creative labors of our Taproot team. Thank you sincerely Sara Bert, Diana Heom, Jean-Luc Lamirande, Anna McLuhan, and Susan Ordway. A special thanks to my colleagues on the CounterPulse project team, Executive & Artistic Director Jessica Robinson Love and board member Kate Patterson, to our Engagement Fellow, Reena Karia, for her design skill, and to the rest of the CounterPulse staff for their keen eyes and design-savvy advice.

- Shamsher Virk
Communications & Engagement Director


CODAME ART + TECH PLAYGROUND at the Future Home of CounterPULSE

by Outreach Fellow ~ June 5th, 2014

On MAY 31, 2014, CODAME turned our future home in the Tenderloin into a vibrant playground for ART + TECH enthusiasts and practitioners. We buzzed with activity all day long, with workshops, live performance, electronic music, and interactive projections. Here are some takeaways:


Kindred Mirror- Surprising Spirit–On Sam Steward and Homo File

by seth ~ May 27th, 2014

When I saw my college art instructor Seth Eisen at the Homo File Salon, his greeting was warm and sincere in his thanks for my support. Nevertheless his genuine warmth couldn’t hide some genuine curiosity as to my presence. He asked me to come up with a few words as to what Sam Steward’s significance was to me as a straight- identified male, and how I saw Sam as bridging our cultures. This is the most concise answer I can compose:

Kenneth Anger sporting his Phil Sparrow tattoo.

Kenneth Anger sporting his Phil Sparrow tattoo.

Prior to learning of Sam Steward, Phil Sparrow was not totally foreign to me; he’d tattooed the Red and White in the 60′s and 70′s, and his name came up sometimes in the same context as names like Horst and Stanley Maus. At one point I’m pretty sure I had been aware that “that guy who used to tattoo the Oakland Angels” had also been the guy to tattoo “LUCIFER” across Kenneth Anger’s chest, but it had been filed away as a curiosity, no more than a novel footnote in SF culture. Neither was the name Phil Andros completely unknown to me; the person who gave me my very first tattoo machine was a queer biker, and she had some of his novels. Nevertheless, I had no idea that those Phils were one and the same, or that both were Sam Steward, Ph.D -who I had came to know and love earlier this year.

I met Sam on a day I had shown up early to an appointment across the street from the public library, I decided to kill some time looking for obsolete books on american folk art that might inform my tattooing. Cross stitching, rosemaling and tattoos all live on the same shelf there, and I’ve perused most of the books 20 times, but on that day one jumped out at me: “Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos: A Social History of the Tattoo With Gangs, Sailors, and Street-Corner Punks 1950-1965.” It wasn’t a flashy looking book, in fact, it looked like some 1960s naval radar manual, but I couldn’t resist the title. I thought “This could be novel…” and started reading. Half an hour later I was still riveted where I stood. I devoured that book over the next two nights.Bad boys 2

Steward was a man who would have been significant had he only been notable for crossing the bridge from man of letters to man of colors, but he did much more. Sam Steward bridged worlds at every turn. A pre-Stonewall homosexual, he made discretion an art in and of itself as he moved like a partisan through layers of hostile hetero-normative cultures, while never ceasing to chronicle his citizenship in their sexual shadows. I found correlation with this in the experience of my ethnic identity as a Jew, both culturally as an American and personally as a caucasian biker.

I also found direct parallels in my own sexuality. His contributions to the Kinsey reports directly shaped the worlds cultural vocabulary for kink as well as queer life. I’m using the two terms separately, but they overlap. At one time, however, such a nuanced understanding of gender and sexuality was not available to many; Words like “Dom,” “Sub,” etc. were not seen by the mainstream as discreet. In fact anything outside of the norm of nuclear family, and reproductive sex was for the most part fallaciously associated with homosexuality and reconciled to “queer” in a pejorative sense.

Phil Sparrow tattoo shop signage

Phil Sparrow tattoo shop signage

I felt that I Immediately recognized a kindred spirit in Steward, regardless of our sexual identification, He provided me a surprising mirror, one that I needed at that juncture of my life. Whether I like it or not, I am both intellectual and academic. So was Steward. However, I’m also an ex-hoodlum and an artist, as such my participation in the “normative” social contract frequently feels both contextual and subjective. Sam navigated the subjectivity of that contract expertly. My current art project is tattooing myself, and my primary interest in that act is as a ritual, symbolic and therapeutic practice. Sam’s writings have a great deal to say about these ideas. In fact, my lifelong obsession with motorcycles has placed me firmly into a culture that many of Sam’s symbols helped to define.

My love of symbol has led my spiritual views to be influenced by occultism, including the mystical system of Thelema. 220px-Crowley_unicursal_hexagram.svgThis influence has frequently intersected with my eight years of recovery in twelve step programs – sometimes harmoniously, and sometimes causing me a great deal of pain as I’ve struggled with themes of authenticity versus ego, and the appropriate application of self-will in my own life. At the time I found “Bad Boys” I was contemplating leaving Cal to seek apprenticeship for my tattoo practice, or if I should hold out for higher education and believe that more would be revealed. That day it was, in the form of Sam.

Early into his book I noticed what I perceived to be a similar writing tone to that of Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. You can imagine my surprise when, in the process of reading, I discovered that this funny, driven and diverse man – for whom my admiration grew by the page, not only quit drinking through the program of AA, but also gave the Thelemite film-maker Kenneth Anger his controversial chest tattoo… My mind was blown.

I have come to think of Sam Steward like my cool funny uncle but that doesn’t feel quite respectful enough for a man with his gravitas. He’s more like my spirit guide. Whatever his title, there is no question in my mind that Sam is my family. Everywhere on my personal path, he’s there. With the Beats, with the Intellectuals, with Oakland, with the bike clubs and the hobos and the stars. I stumble into him around the hallways of my cultural experience, as he emerges from some closet with a sneaky smile and tucking a little black book into his trouser pocket, reminding me that there are areas unexplored by the owners of every house. He represents something special to me, in that he was a strikingly self-actualized man who transcended many social roles, and in doing so helped to define them. To me, Sam carries the message that otherness and authenticity frequently go hand in hand.


While a secret historian of Gay Culture, in fulfilling that role Sam Steward became also a secret historian of human culture. The sparks from his tattoo machine light up certain shadowed areas of male sexuality, and his exhaustive stud files do not in my mind reinforce a binary of Gay culture versus Heterosexual culture, but instead serve to remind of the fact that all human sexuality and all human experience is spectral in nature, with poles on each end and myriad colors and shades between. I don’t see being a straight identified man with a gay hero as provocative. LGBTQ culture is world culture; Stonewall is an historic event. It’s time for the secret histories to be unearthed from the collective closets. I’m a native San Franciscan, and I’ve been blessed to grow up immersed in the gender/sexual political discourse. This upbringing has afforded me a unique set of tools for living an examined life: a sensitivity to certain cultural milestones that I might not have received if I’d grown up heterosexually identified during Sam’s time. As such, it has afforded me an increased level of sensitivity toward myself and my fellow humans. This in turn informs my ethical and intellectual inquiry, as well as enriching my artistic and social practices.

Sam is with me as I both receive and make my marks.


Aaron N.  AKA Slick