Jessica Robinson Love defies assumptions. In her office at CounterPulse—the nonprofit arts organization originally founded as 848 Community Space in 1991—she is softly eloquent and markedly humble. Announcing each show on stage, she is a commanding figure despite her slender frame, which moves through space the way only a dancer’s can. But for the past 13 years, Love has worked behind the curtain to foster envelope-pushing art as executive and artistic director at CounterPulse.
The mission here has always been to provide a sounding board for voices of diverse race, class, cultural heritage, gender identity, and sexual ori-entation. Since joining CounterPulse when it was volunteer-run, Love has grown the organization to a nearly $1 million yearly operation with a full-time staff of seven; relocated it from a Western Addition living room to its current venue at Mission and Ninth Streets; started an artist-in-residence program; and, more recently, launched an exchange program with artists in Hungary, Poland, and the U.K.
“We help boost artists to new levels of recognition,” says the 34-year-old Mission resident. Love’s innate sense of emerging talent has bolstered such local talents as 2007 resident artist Monique Jenkin- son, whose work pivots around dance, theater, drag, and performance art. Last year, Jenkinson was a de Young Museum artist fellow.
“There are a lot of places where you can see non-challenging work,” says Love. “I like to think of CounterPulse as the research development department for Bay Area performance. We are working to shift who gets to make art and what gets to be in the dominant discourse.” With everything from classical Indian dance and hip-hop to drag and spoken word on regular rotation, CounterPulse’s lineup this season is case in point.
For Love, the goal of art is to challenge the status quo. This August, the series Performing Diaspora will do just that when six artists share their personal experiences of differing political realities. In his multimedia piece Taboo and Heroes, Congolese native Byb Chanel Bibene will employ dance, music, and video to recreate the environment of conflict and war that struck his homeland in the late 1990s.
Love sees CounterPulse as an incubator of cutting-edge talent in a city defined by innovation. “Angel investors understand the risk they’re backing with new ideas in the tech community,” she says. “I think CounterPulse is the corollary for that in the arts.”
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