Disrupting Narratives and Finding Place in the Tenderloin

Disrupting Narratives and Finding Place in the Tenderloin

A Reflection from CounterPulse’s former Development & Engagement Fellow


Leaving the academic world can be jarring for most people. It’s incredibly easy to feel aimless and misdirected without an imposed colonized structure thrust upon you for the first time ever. As a recent college graduate from a “socially conscious” Jesuit university, I’m lucky to have had a smooth transition from a very privileged, borderline sheltered environment to the real world in San Francisco. My immersive fellowship at CounterPulse is a huge reason why my post-graduate life has been easy. Here I learned about how an arts non-profit arts operates and why it’s so important to have safe, radical spaces for diverse and oppressed voices in our society.
There’s a desperate need for creative practices that engage underrepresented neighborhoods like the Tenderloin. As a black woman from NYC living in the “tender-snob” for over a year and a half now, (a name I reluctantly but admittingly use to describe the border between Tenderloin and Snob Hill) I’m still deeply shook by the ways black/queer/poor bodies are seen, pushed aside, and forgotten about by the majority by passers potentially causing wounds of pre-existing trauma to resurface. In order to stop perpetuating the invisibility and help heal disadvantaged populations, a safe communal space for disruption of narrative and submersion of imagination has to exist. CounterPulse acts as this space for the Tenderloin.

Here, diverse and radical art creators are given precedence. It’s been my absolute privilege to help facilitate the radical art and community events in order to break up the ongoing objectification of Tenderloin residents. I helped Rick Darnell facilitate a few of the TenderArts Block Fest activities, and everytime I did I felt like I was a part of something much larger than myself. Connecting to and helping residents create numerous different mediums of art within the neighborhood felt extremely humanizing, especially as a fellow black artist.

Working at CounterPulse did come with a set of challenges however. The main one being the amount of staff changes that took place through my fellowship. Witnessing all the transitions brought up a sense of anxiety for the unknown that I had to reconcile. There were many times I felt out of place because I was unsure of how to support an ever-adapting organization. Did I step forward for my co-workers or backward as part time staff?

In the end I tried to find a balance between the two and tried not to overthink the way I was supporting the CounterPulse community. It helped me to think that I wasn’t the only person in the building or in the neighborhood that had to make peace with life’s uncertainty. In comparison with the reality of uncertainty of food, shelter, water, freedom that so many residents feel in the Tenderloin, my anxiety suddenly felt miniscule. My neighbors are able to find the strength to deal with their circumstances no matter how impossible they seem, so why couldn’t I? I’m grateful to have this opportunity for a symbiotic mentor relationship. Without being a fellow at CounterPulse, I doubt I would’ve made such a strong connection to my own neighborhood.

In the end my fellowship experience taught me more about allowing, letting go, and surrendering into uncertainty. Which is a large part of what it means to be an healthy artist and overall hue-man being.

Maya Nixon is the former Development & Engagement Fellow at CounterPulse. Visit www.counterpulse.org/job-opportunities-2 to learn more about CounterPulse fellowship opportunities.

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