Drumroll please… presenting the Tenderloin Public Art Exchange

Drumroll please… presenting the Tenderloin Public Art Exchange

Erica here, writing as your soon to be former engagement and strategy lead here at CounterPulse. That’s right, today, Friday, September 7, 2018 is my last day, after (nearly!) four wild, weird, amazing years. I wanted to mark this transition, this go-around of the cycle, with a final blog post sharing one of the engagement cohorts finest projects of the past year. The  is a document our little team put together to chart the public art initiatives of CounterPulse, created through conversations with our neighbors here in the Tenderloin. The findings in the document have been used as we’ve decided which programs to prioritize, how they should change, and which initiatives to newly try out. The document is also intended to be public! We share both our interpretations of the findings as well as the raw data from our surveys (but not the transcripts of conversations for privacy and brevity’s sake). We want this information to be used by other organizations in the Tenderloin, art-focused or otherwise, who are, like us, working to understand how to make art initiatives that matter to the people that live here.

Though this is my last day, I do want to emphasize this post is not a mic drop! Rather, this is an exciting moment to applaud the team that will be taking the reins on the continuation of CounterPulse community engagement and public art work. Rick Darnell, is our passionate Community Arts Manager, leading Block Fest, 80 Turk and a Half, and generally doing the on-the-ground management of all our public art programs. Justin Ebrahemi, CounterPulse communications lead, creates creative ways to outreach for these programs. Finally, I’d like to introduce Natalie Cone, the only new addition to the engagement team, Natalie has served as CounterPulse’s Operations Director for the past year and change, and will now additionally be joining the engagement cohort supporting with high-level strategy. I know this work is in great hands between these three and the rest of the CounterPulse team.

Before you dive into the Tenderloin Public Art Exchange, or the #TLDR amongst us, I’d love to share a bit about our process and high points.

Why we did it

When we began this work in mid-2017, we’d been living and working in the Tenderloin for one year. In that time we’d scaffolded and hosted two seasons of Block Fest, our cornerstone community engagement event, which brings artists to the street to host free arts workshops. We also were approaching the launch of the Turk & Taylor Project, a multiyear initiative to bring art to Turk Street, partnering with San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development and Group i, a large developer building a large multi use condo/hotel thing across the street from CounterPulse. Looking to the next year of programming we realized we needed a way to evaluate what we were doing and decide what we were doing next. We knew the people who would know best were our neighbors, the long time residents, workers, and Tenderloin regulars who would be most impacted by the impending development, and hopefully engaging in our arts activities.

How we did it

We invited 60 focus group participants split across three sessions to lend their vision, opinions, and critique. We reached them by attending community meetings in SROs, connecting with local service nonprofits, and meeting people on the street. It doesn’t hurt that Rick, who led the outreach, has been living and making art in the Tenderloin for 30 years. He knows people. The hour long sessions were spent doing a written and multi choice survey and breaking into small groups to have open conversations about the role art plays in these people’s lives, their experiences and challenges in the Tenderloin, and their hopes for their home and neighborhood. After the sessions, we synthesized the raw data into a trove of insights, a renewed vision and mission, strategies, and anticipated outcomes.

Most compelling insight

The insight that I’m most inspired by reads, “Relationships of proximity—particularly neighbors—but also friends, family, co-workers, and social service workers are core to thriving in the Tenderloin.” While this wasn’t a surprise exactly, hearing each focus group zero in on this was telling. Participants expressed enjoying the ability to interact with diverse people and gain access to social programs. Some participants, who have been living in the TL for years, conveyed they got involved in their communities at a very young age, signifying the importance of positive youth programs. Many participants connect with their communities through volunteering at events and community groups, leading to positive connotations with the Tenderloin at large. As one participant expressed, “I’ve never known or seen so many different races, religions, and mix of people that all get along and live without wars.”

Because of this insight, CounterPulse is structuring our public art programs to make space for people to join together, converse, and just hang out, thereby building on these relationships of proximity. We also focus on engaging artists, volunteers, and service workers from the Tenderloin to lead these activities.

Our mural from the side, showing the word "TENDERLOIN" in colorful handpainted letters

Helping Twin Walls Mural Co. with the final touches on the mural. Photo by Robbie Sweeny

What’s happening and what’s next

So far we’ve used this information to inform the curation of the Tenderloin, Stay Rooted mural on Turk Street, to make recent chances to Block Fest, and to add initiatives like the Tenderloin Art Working Group. What’s next is that we will be evaluating the work of the past year, and then gearing towards another round of focus groups, slated this time for January 2019. We entering the second phase of the Turk & Taylor Project, which we’re really excited about. We can’t share too many details yet, but it’s going to be really cool.

So, finally without too much more fanfare, here is the Tenderloin Public Art Exchange, please read, use, critique, and share! If you live or work in the Tenderloin and you’d like to get involved more, please reach out. We’d love to have you on the Working Group, or participate in the next round of focus groups.


Read the Tenderloin Public Art Exchange >>


Send us your thoughts and feedback to [email protected], and please let us know if you end up using some of this information in your programming—I know the team would love to hear about it! As for me—well I’m signing off! I’ll be continuing to explore work at this intersection of design and community. Keep in touch at ericaruthdixon.com.

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