The Tenderloin Museum Artist-in-Residence Program

The Tenderloin Museum Artist-in-Residence Program bridges the history of one of San Francisco's oldest neighborhoods with the culture of today. In collaboration with local artists, the Tenderloin Museum highlights the neighborhood's current status as a creative center of San Francisco. 

With a new exhibition every six to eight weeks, the lobby and Museum Store becomes a gallery for a wide variety of media. We've hosted well-known artists who grew up in the Tenderloin, local artists in recovery, youth exhibitions, and a variety of designers with Tenderloin-themed objects for sale.

Current Artist

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Tender Life by Holly Coley

Exhibition Run: Dec. 7th, 2017 - Jan. 30th, 2018

Tenderloin Museum is pleased to present Tender Life: Graphic and Ceramic Memories of Tenderloin Living, 1999 - 2004, by Holly Coley. Coley is an interdisciplinary artist working in drawing, painting, and ceramics with deep roots in the San Francisco Bay Area. In Tender Life, she explores on the mythology of the Tenderloin, inspired by her five year living in an apartment on Turk and Hyde. 

Through a collection of graphic panels and ceramic vessels, Coley reflects on the unforgettable characters and dive bars of yore through her playful visual vocabulary. The comics emphasize Coley’s narrative abilities, while the ceramics engage with collective consciousness and memory through everyday, functional items. 

Holly Coley lives and works in San Francisco. Her work focuses on the relationship between animals and humans, invented mythologies, Japanese ghost stories, nonfiction comics and her constant exploration of new materials. She works primarily in water based/mixed media painting  and ceramics. A celebrated teaching artist, Coley instructs ceramics at Pinckney Clay in the Mission and several SF public schools, plus she leads graphic novel workshops at San Francisco Community College and Root Division. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute and SF State.

Past Artists


City Looks by J.B. Higgins

Open Studios: Nov. 4th & 5th, 2017                                                    Exhibition Run: Oct. 5th - 17th and Oct. 31st - Dec. 5th

City Looks by J.B. Higgins is a collection of Tenderloin-based imagery by local photographer and 2017 ArtSpan SF Open Studio Artist, J.B.Higgins. In his debut solo exhibition, Higgins continues his four-decade-long exploration of patience and repetition within his own artistic process as a portal for his audiences into the quiet nuances of day-to-day life in San Francisco.

Higgins creates his collections by visiting and revisiting, photographing and rephotographing the same spots in the city — sometimes for dozens of years — to study the role that time plays on his subjects. Minute changes, that for most would be entirely unnoticeable, become the subjects of extensive study, turning many of his pieces into lessons of patience as much as they are glimpses of an active city. With a knack for capturing moments of softness and beauty within the boisterous and ever-changing city, Higgins’ work tells the often unnoticed stories of the people, structures, and spirit of San Francisco, and more specifically, the Tenderloin.

The show is comprised of a collection of photographs, all scenes from San Francisco. The exhibition will be on view October 5th - 17th and October 31st - December 5th, with an opening reception on Thursday, October 5th at 6pm with the artist in attendance.

City Looks by J.B. Higgins is presented as part of SF Open Studios, the oldest and largest open studios program in the country. The annual, month-long art event in October and November showcases over 800 emerging and established San Francisco artists in their studios in an effort to connect collectors with artists for engaging dialog and a glimpse into the life of the working artist. City Looks by J.B. Higgins for SF Open Studios will be on view November 4th and 5th from 10am to 5pm, again with the artist in attendance. Visit the SF Open Studios website for a full list of participating artists.


Ira Watkins: From Waco To San Francisco

Exhibition Run:August 3 - October 3

The Tenderloin Museum is pleased to present Ira Watkins: From Waco to San Francisco, a collection of paintings by celebrated self-taught artist and current San Francisco resident, Ira Watkins. A true force whose career spans almost 30 years, Watkins’ body of work depicts the communities that he is a part of — from Waco, Texas to San Francisco, California — and helps to bridge the chasm between the perception of history and the true stories of the people, places, and events that shaped Black America.

Born in Waco, in 1941, Watkins relocated to San Francisco after a single, brief visit as a teenager, and supported himself by winning billiards and staying with new, easily made friends. Following a string of bad luck that included a crack-cocaine related arrest by an undercover cop dressed as Michael Jackson and a brief stint in prison for possession of a firearm, Watkins consciously shifted his attentions from self-destruction to painting. As told to The New York Times in 2015, in art he’d simply found “something [he] liked to do better.” He credits Tenderloin nonprofits such as the Hospitality House and Wildflowers Institute as the safehouses in which he was able to pursue and hone his craft.  

Now, Watkins’ work can be found in several of the Bay Area’s most notable exhibition spaces, including the Asian Art Museum, Luggage Store gallery, and the University of California. Similarly, his paintings can still be seen in Waco, where January 17th is officially “Ira Watkins Day” in honor of one of his most acclaimed murals: A scene of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his iconic Lincoln Memorial “I Have a Dream” speech that overlooks Waco’s city center. His impressive exhibition history includes over 30 gallery and museum shows, both in solo and group shows.

Revered for a style of painting that draws similarities to 15th century European art in terms of arrangement and tone, Watkins flips the script of traditionally white iconography. By portraying the upper echelon of symbolism and stock characters as African Americans and Tenderloin personalities, Watkins challenges current American social hierarchies and breathes a certain air of dignity and respect into otherwise marginalized groups.

Peter Fortuna: A Tenderloin Story

Exhibition Run: July, 2017

Tenderloin Museum presents Peter Fortuna: A Tenderloin Story, an abbreviated retrospective featuring the photography and ephemera of Peter Fortuna. On view will be a collaged selection of original photographs, magazine tearsheets, correspondence, and digital photographs by Peter Fortuna spanning 1970-1998. Join us at Tenderloin Museum on July 6th 6-8pm for a celebration of Fortuna's unique life in photography. The opening reception will feature refreshments along with footage from the 1991 Fortuna produced film, ‘War.’

The photography career of Peter Fortuna (1970-present) presents a dark trajectory of which the photographer becomes the subject in a series of extreme highs and lows. Born in New Jersey, Fortuna was presented with a camera as a gift from his father at ten years old. Working as a commercial fashion photographer in New York City in the early 1970s, Fortuna found substantial success fueling a vast studio practice in Midtown Manhattan, and a cache of celebrity and artist contemporaries of New York’s thriving art scene. Beyond commercial photography, Fortuna’s instincts for fashion and trend inspired him to create a series of t-shirts branded ‘Fortuna t-shirts’ featuring a simple graphic of a Nikon camera. The t-shirt was wildly popular, featured in magazines internationally and picked up by Bloomingdale's.

As an American living in Paris in the late 1970s, Fortuna was at the pinnacle of his success. Continuing his commercial photography career abroad, Fortuna counted Elle, DePache-Mode, PRIVÉ, Femme Pratique, 20ans, Photo Reporter, Petticoat and Women’s Magazine among his regular clients.

Fortuna moved to San Francisco and struggled with numerous attempts at sobriety and began a ten year odyssey of excruciating events pierced with tragedy. Losing his lease on his apartment, frequenting recovering programs with painful relapses, and frequent trips to various emergency ward and shelters, Fortuna soon found himself homeless, living on the street struggling with alcoholism. The majority of Fortuna’s original photographs and negatives were destroyed in a flood in his friend’s Noe Valley basement. A small selection of photographs have been ‘resurrected’ as digital prints for the purpose of this exhibition, and are displayed along with original photographs, magazine tearsheets, and correspondence.

Fortuna came to the Tenderloin seeking subsidized housing while dealing with a crippling addiction, and in this community he was able to create a new life for himself. Fortuna currently resides in the Tenderloin and is celebrating 7 years of sobriety. He is working on his first nonfiction book, ‘The Myth of the Platonic Orgasm’, and the pre-production of a new film, ‘SRO’ chronicling the agonizing homeless situation in San Francisco.

Raphael Villet: Anywhere Zines

Exhibition Run:June, 2017

The Anywhere Zines Project, a 5 month residency project by Raphael Villet, is an activation of public space for the use of art making. Anywhere Zines created a place on the street for people to arrive, sit and make art. Anywhere Zines attempts to facilitate self expression and introspection through art. Once a week for 5 months (Fall 2016- Spring 2017) Villet set up on the corner of Leavenworth and Eddy Street in the Tenderloin encouraging participants to create their own zines. 

At the end of the residency, Raphael released an Anthology book that will house all the zines made by 45+ people in the Tenderloin during his residency. The exhibition will chronicle the 5 months that Raphael spent facilitating a space on the street for people to make art, write stories and share knowledge through zines! Closing event to take place on June 24th, 2017.

More Information:

Cara Levine and Amanda Eicher
Present #thisisnotagun

May 24, 2016

For the month of May at the Tenderloin Museum Gallery, artists Amanda Eicher and Cara Levine have activated an interactive artwork and exhibit titled This Is Not A Gun as a part of 100 Days Action. On Wednesday, May 24 from 6-8PM the exhibit will close with a community dialogue and art-making workshop led by Amanda Eicher. Throughout these first 100 days, sculptor Cara Levine has been carving wood replicas of common objects mistaken by police as weapons that resulted in police shootings, based on a list of these objects published in Harper’s Magazine in December 2016.

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More Than a Roof and Walls: 
Alice Combs and Susa Cortez with their Tenderloin Art Students

Exhibition Run:March 16 - April 29, 2017

Root Division is proud to present the work of our Studio Artists and students at the Tenderloin Museum this spring. More Than a Roof and Walls features the work of Alice Combs and Susa Cortez alongside the work of their intergenerational students at several of our Tenderloin community partnerships including Kelly Cullen Community, Community Housing Partnership & Larkin Street Youth.

Root Division teaching artists volunteer to teach residents and clients weekly creating meaningful art projects and experiences for populations that are settling into new homes and communities. The classes serve as a creative outlet for the imaginations of students while introducing them to a wide range of materials, projects, and ideas.


Root Division Off-Site Exhibition:
TL Dreams by Rea Lynn de Guzman

Exhibition Run:January 12 - February 23, 2017

"TL Dreams" echoes the idea of the American dream and explores the difficult yet exciting and hopeful journey of finding oneself. Entangled in a web of changes, cultural confusions, and obstacles while coming of age, it is a recollection of playful and painful memories, transformed into new potential art pieces. 

Rea Lynn de Guzman completed her MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2014. Her work has been exhibited in the Bay Area, Chicago, and even internationally at the Nandalal Gallery in Kolkata, India. A current Root Division Studio Artist, de Guzman teaches in the Youth Education Program at Bessie Carmichael Elementary on Seventh St., and is an active instructor in our Adult Education Program, teaching Mixed Media and Stencil Screen Printing, Check out these upcoming classes, and many others at


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Snapping Back: Exploring Addiction in the Tenderloin Through Photography and Storytelling

Exhibition Run:September - October 2016

“Exposure: Photographic Tales from the Tenderloin” is the first gallery show of Snapping Back, a photography project at Tenderloin Health Services. Participating artists in various stages of substance abuse and recovery were given black and white film cameras and encouraged to explore a number of themes over three months of shooting. Their work will be on display in the Tenderloin Museum Store September--October. Don’t miss your chance to meet the artists and enjoy refreshments at the opening Sept 1st. 

Participating Artists: Kevin Fortman, Reggie Davis, Rose Peele, Laura Hayes, Yolanda Morrissette. Curated by Shannon Heuklom and Andy Desruisseau.


Where Art Lives: Youth Art Program

Exhibition Run:August 2016

Young neighborhood artists have designed street art that would benefit their community. The works reveal what the city will look like when they are in charge. Young artists from three local programs, United Playaz, Boys & Girls Club, and Glide, worked with teaching artists from the Where Art Lives program to develop their own ideas for how to decorate their community. For the month of August the Tenderloin Museum Store showcased the creative visions of these young adolescents.
For several years now, Where Art Lives has connected experienced artists with 4th-6th grade students to teach art skills and discuss the difference between public art and illegal vandalism. This year, participating students will be asked to collectively envision how San Francisco will look when today’s adolescents are running things. What images would they like to see on the walls in their neighborhoods?

Where Art Lives is of the Department of Public Works and the San Francisco Arts Commission to educate youth in San Francisco about issues around graffiti, vandalism, and public art.

Colors of the Tenderloin: Photography by Darwin Bell

Exhibition Run:June - July 2016

As Darwin Bell sees it, San Francisco has always been well known for being a haven for artists, weirdoes and the alternative fringe. Because of this, it has always been a place of immense and constant metamorphosis. As soon as he picked his first camera, Darwin’s mission has been to document his city in all it’s glory and neglect; to record its changes, as to be a reminder of not only where it has been but where it is heading. Since moving to The Tenderloin, he has thrilled at recording the beauty and history of this iconic neighborhood. Even in the most sordid of areas there is beauty to be found and that has always been one of the greatest joys of living in San Francisco. 



Ghost Signs of the Tenderloin:
Photography by Nan M. Castle

Exhibition Run:May - June 2016

Ghost Signs are old and fading advertisements painted on the walls of buildings. According to Nan, they are remnants of our past, scraps of a long-gone aesthetic fashion, chronicles of commerce and industry in a young and energetic country.  Like the mosaics of Pompeii, they are the living exhibits of our collective urban archaeology. 


Academy of Art, School of Architecture, Student Exhibition

Exhibition Run:May - June 2016

This exhibit critiques new prototypes for the homeless shelter in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco as a vital, connected part of the evolving San Francisco, and all its inhabitants. Students at the Academy of Art University school of Architecture, through site investigation and a scrutiny of typology, have formulated a critical design stance toward the architectural problem of how to integrate the homeless shelter into the fabric of the new incarnation of San Francisco, making it stigma free and relevant. The exhibition showcases multiple scales, guerilla methods, and collective space, revealing alternate models for a public infrastructure in the city.


Kelly Nicolaisen Photography

Exhibition Run:March - April 2016

"Kelly Nicolaisen breathes life into still images by exploring everyday scenes through her unique perspective. The vibrant color palette of her portfolio reveals her fun loving personality and humorous outlook on life."

"The photographs of Kelly Nicolaisen speak of her penchant for precise composition and extraordinary sense of color. On a higher plane than traditional photography, the painterly qualities present in her work [are] balanced by an apparent confidence within her creative process.." (

Nicolaisen has been featured in SF Weekly, How Magazine, 7x7 Magazine, Archive Magazine, Stanford Magazine, C Magazine, Living Proof Magazine, Art & Business Magazine, Beautiful Decay, High Fructose Magazine, and others!

Kelly Nicolaisen Photography's website


San Francisco in Ruins Collection

Exhibition Run:January - February 2016

Jacinto Castillo is an Illustrator and native San Franciscan who is inspired by the city's rich history and beautiful architecture. His whimsical style is a combination of fantasy and reality. The attention to detail along with his playful line work takes you on an adventure back to San Francisco's golden era. 
The San Francisco in Ruins Collection (SFRC) is an ongoing art collection that was created by native San Franciscan, Jacinto Castillo. The Museum Store featured a brand new series of merchandise including exclusive work sold only at the Museum.  
 Jacinto Castillo's website


CoolTry by Ryan De La Hoz

Exhibition Run:November - December 2015

CoolTry is the tour de force of San Francisco based artist Ryan De La Hoz. In addition to creating his own dynamic works of art, De La Hoz is a faculty member at the Academy of Art University. Prior, he was a teacher at the Potrero Hill-based 4Cats Arts Studio and has been featured in international press, participated in solo exhibitions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle, as well as group exhibitions in the United States, Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong, Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Someone on the internet once asked "Is "cool try" a snide remark or a compliment?" My reply is a work in progress: Cool Try is an inside joke. Do you want in? You're in!
Cool Try is a positive state of mind. 

CoolTry's website
Ryan De La Hoz's Website


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