Watch CBS News

CounterPulse arts center sticks to SF Tenderloin roots after fundraising to buy its building

Arts center CounterPulse sticks to SF Tenderloin roots after fundraising to buy its building
Arts center CounterPulse sticks to SF Tenderloin roots after fundraising to buy its building 03:15

SAN FRANCISCO -- CounterPulse, a non-profit arts center in San Francisco's Tenderloin District, was so committed to staying in the city amid an exodus of businesses that it pulled together the funds to buy its Turk St. building. 

The years-long effort to purchase the building and stay rooted in the Tenderloin is another reminder of the role the arts group can have in the community now that it has made a commitment to the neighborhood.

"In their buying of their building, they're able to support their community of artists, but then they're also able to support artists in the community, directly in the Tenderloin," said Mattie Loyce, a socially-engaged artist and community advocate who is the first curator-in-residence at CounterPulse. "The artwork that I do often involves people that are on the margins, and on the outside."

CounterPulse is an interdisciplinary art space with a gallery, studios, performance space, and artist residency. The group spent seven years raising around $7 million to take over the facility. The Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) allowed CounterPulse to lease the building on 80 Turk Street until they were able to purchase it.

"I think it's a really remarkable, standout example of what's really unique about grassroots arts and culture that we're buying our building in 2023," said Julie Phelps, the artistic and executive director of CounterPulse. "We started the process of acquiring this building, kind of on the heels of the last economic crisis when downtown was gutted and vacancies were high."

Phelps hopes that CounterPulse demonstrates how the arts can be an anchor for the community and a neighborhood. She also wants the funding model provided by CAST to inspire the business community and city leaders to think differently about how to bring back downtown and diversify it.

"The arts have a unique ability to kind of migrate and evolve through broader economic ebbs and flows and crash and boom and kind of stay stable, and stay equitable, and involve community," she told KPIX. "The arts is a really important, sustainable and, sort of, enriching part of that equation."

Loyce created the Tenderloin Community Quilt, an art piece that has around 150 squares or individual contributions from people who live in the neighborhood. It will be on display through August at CounterPulse.

"It's really important that CounterPulse has this space, the types of artists and the type of artwork that they present are of folks that are trying something new often," she said. "The Tenderloin is a beautiful and dynamic and vibrant place and it needs more places to help shine light on the beauty that is here."

Quilts felt like the appropriate medium for this project because they express warmth and can pass on stories, in an ancestral tradition. Everyone can contribute something with scraps to make something new, Loyce explained.

"I just believe in creating more space for more voices to be heard," she said. "I think people's struggles with the city, I think people's struggles with the neighborhood, even more so empower the need to do work like this."

Art like she and her neighbors have made can provide a needed contrast, Loyce believes, to what so often grabs the most attention when in the Tenderloin.

"I think at this turning point in San Francisco, I think it's really important to remember, dive into, and lean into that diversity, whether it's comfortable or not, whether it looks really different from your home space, from your what you've come from or not, that's the point," she said. "It all the more emboldens the need for things like this to remind folks, that this is a place of value, it is a place of love, it is a place of creation, and it isn't just a place of destruction and depravity. " 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.