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CounterPULSE Gets a New Home

Interior of 80 Turk, Photo by Kegan Marling

Next December, CounterPULSE's lease at 1310 Mission Street will expire, leaving the 22-year-old experimental performing arts venue without a home. The worst case, and most likely scenario, subjects them to eviction or a dramatic (and unaffordable) rent increase—CP is located around the corner from the new Twitterplex, so one can only imagine how landlords would jack the cost.

Fortunately, thanks to a progressive, charitable act, they will move into the landmark historical building at 80 Turk (that full-of-TL-flavor block between Taylor and Mason). The building dates back to 1922 and has gone through many incarnations over the decades, first as a gambling hall, then as the Buccaneer Tavern in the 1930s, the Gayety Theater (shown in B&W here) in the 1960s, and then the Dollhouse Theater porn palace until the early 90s when it fell into disrepair (and was likely used for illegal raves, as evidenced by international DJ tags on the basement walls).

So just who is this angel investor? It's all thanks to The Kenneth Rainin Foundation, who together with the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST), Northern California Community Loan Fund (NCCLF), and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, have provided the initial seed funding to get CounterPULSE off the ground in this new space.

In today's booming real estate market, you're likely as curious as I was as to how this will shake out. In a nutshell, here's how it works. The CounterPULSE relocation is part of a pilot program by the newly formed CAST to enable nonprofit community and arts organizations to continue to thrive in the mid-Market neighborhood. It all boils down to a $5 million dollar philanthropic donation by the very forward-thinking folks at The Kenneth Rainin Foundation. These guys essentially worked with NCCLF—another nonprofit that provides real estate and financial consulting to other nonprofits that serve low-income communities—to launch CAST. CAST, in turn, bought and will lease 80 Turk to CounterPULSE and then provide them with the technical and fundraising assistance to eventually be able to manage the space on their own. It's a lease-to-own proposition that, over the course of the next 10 years, will result in a permanent home for CounterPULSE. CAST essentially acts as a holding company, and, come 2023, CP will become a happy homeowner.    

Renovations are slated to begin next summer, with an anticipated move-in date of January 2015. Jensen Architects, known for their work on Healdsburg's SHED, SFMOMA's former rooftop garden, and the Presidio Habitats project, will rise to the task of transforming 80 Turk into three floors of performance, rehearsal, and admin space. The new CounterPULSE will feature vastly improved dressing rooms, set building and storage space, 120 seats with enhanced sight lines, more accessible bathrooms, bike storage, coat check, air conditioning, a working elevator to enhance accessibility, and a cafe/wine bar. CounterPULSE will use a section of the third floor as a sort of short-term lodging facility for visiting artists (which is huge, considering the exchange programs that are already in place in the UK, Hungary, and Poland). According to CounterPULSE's program director Julie Phelps, the entire setup fosters multiple, programmable spaces that meets CP's goal of cross-pollination across artistic mediums. And the staff at CP has already begun to facilitate dialogue between longtime residents of the community as well as artists, other nonprofits, and the newly situated tech sector to see how they can all work together.
So, what's next? CounterPULSE will start to thin out their programming at the 1310 Mission space over the course of next year while initiating some out-of-the-box programming at 80 Turk (think film screenings, readings, experimental art projects, and use of the space by neighboring SROs). And if the revitalization of the mid-Market area continues to go as planned, CounterPULSE will become part of a newly thriving arts and theater community that harks back to the neighborhood's roots and continues to work with the low-income community that inhabits the area today. And if the pipe dream is fully realized, CounterPULSE, ACT's Strand Theater, the Warfield, Exit Theater, Intersection for the Arts, the Luggage Store, the Golden Gate Theater, and the Orpheum will live in harmony with the big businesses that have moved in down the street—Twitter, Spotify, Yammer, and One Kings Lane to name a few. CounterPULSE's eloquent executive and artistic director Jessica Robinson Love sums it up beautifully, "I believe the arts can play a powerful role in mitigating the effects of rapid change at the intersection of mid-Market and the Tenderloin. CounterPULSE can act as a hub where longtime, low-income residents are as valued as the high-income tech workers new to the neighborhood, and where these communities can come into dialogue through shared cultural experiences."