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 Artists


There Will Always be Roses in San Francisco by Marissa Leitman

Exhibition run: October 3 - December 1

For California-based photographer Marissa Leitman, discovering Aunt Charlie’s was like discovering a religious space. Performing drag at the beloved, working-class dive bar was not just a mode of entertainment, but an avenue for forming identify: a performance was a performance, but it didn’t end when the drag show stopped—it was important to who people were.

Featuring the iconoclastic queens of Aunt Charlie’s, Leitman’s latest exhibition, There Will Always be Roses in San Francisco, pays homage to High Fantasy, a legendary evening of drag nouveau that took place every Tuesday at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge from 2010 to 2018. The subversive event, which drew crowds of club kids and drag queen fixtures alike, was—and still is—unlike any other. 

This exhibition is part of a larger series, Aunt Charlie’s: San Francisco’s Working Class Drag Bar. Aunt Charlie’s is one of the oldest continuously operating queer bars in San Francisco, and the last of its kind in the Tenderloin district. Our project aims to celebrate and lend visibility to Aunt Charlie’s as a remarkable space of socio-historical importance that is graced nightly by offbeat, eccentric characters whose seemingly idiosyncratic lives open up universal themes related to beauty, community, and self-acceptance. 

Past Artists


Hot Boxx Girls by Darwin Bell

Exhibition run: September 5 - September 29

Recently named “Best Street Photographer” by SF Weekly, Darwin Bell has captures the queens of the Hot Boxx Girls befriending and befamilying adoring crowds every weekend at Aunt Charlie’s.
Darwin Bell has lived in San Francisco for almost 30 years and sees the city as his photographic canvas. Specializing in colors and compositions, he takes the big picture and narrows it down to abstracts and ideas.
This event is part of the Tenderloin Museum’s 2019-2020 public arts program about the pioneering drag queen performers at the legendary Aunt Charlie’s. Aunt Charlie’s is one of the oldest continuously operating queer bars in San Francisco, one of the last working class queer bar in San Francisco, and the last of its kind in the Tenderloin district. Our project aims to celebrate and lend visibility to Aunt Charlie’s as a remarkable space of socio-historical importance that is graced nightly by offbeat, eccentric characters whose seemingly idiosyncratic lives open up universal themes related to beauty, community, and self-acceptance.

Aunt Charlie’s: San Francisco’s Working Class Drag Bar highlights the work of numerous LGBTQ artists with a history of working in the neighborhood, and who reflect diverse approaches to portraiture: James Hosking, Tim Synder, Raphael Villet, Marissa Leitman, and Darwin Bell. In addition to launching their work as exhibitions, the artists’ work will be assembled into an original art book, complemented by oral histories, interviews, and a critical introduction written by Susan Stryker.

Our project hopes to draw into focus the Tenderloin’s low-income LGBTQ community, to reflect on the area’s history as a center of drag performance, and to engage the intersectionality of drag as it relates to questions of class, race, gender, and beyond.


Beautiful By Night by James Hosking

Exhibition run: August 1 - September 1

James Hosking lived in the Tenderloin for nearly a decade, during which time he developed a photo series and documentary film about the veteran drag performers at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, a small bar that has had an outsized influence on San Francisco’s LGBTQIA+ community. In this exhibition, Hosking captures performers' transformations at home, behind the scenes, and onstage, focusing in particular on Donna Personna, Olivia Hart, and Collette LeGrande. The series offers a candid exploration of aging and labor in drag. Photos from the series have been featured in both national and international publications, including OUT, the Washington Post, Politiken, Afar, and many other outlets. This exhibition marks the first time the photos have appeared together in a gallery space. This presentation is one of several exhibitions about Aunt Charlie's Lounge at the Tenderloin Museum this year.

James Hosking is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker who was recently selected as a Magenta Foundation 2018 Flash Forward top emerging photographer. Hosking’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Mother Jones, Chicago magazine, The California Sunday Magazine, San Francisco magazine, Huffington Post, High Country News, Port, The Advocate, Longreads, OUT, Afar, Dazed, and many more. He developed an ongoing series about performers at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, a Tenderloin bar that hosts a long-running weekly drag show. Additionally, he made Beautiful By Night, a documentary film about three of the performers. Vimeo chose the film as a staff pick, and it screened at the Tenderloin Museum, the Boston LGBT Film Festival, Frameline39: San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival, Atlanta DocuFest, and others. It received a Platinum Award at the Spotlight Documentary Awards. His most recent film is Even In Darkness, a documentary about San Francisco's Night Ministry. The film follows Reverend Lyle Beckman as he provides face-to-face counseling and intervention to people in crisis on the streets after dark. The project received a San Francisco Neighborhood Arts Collaborative grant, in conjunction with the Tenderloin Museum. The film premiered at the 20th United Nations Association Film Festival.


Aunt Charlie’s Angels by Tim Snyder

Exhibition run: July 11 - July 30

Aunt Charlie’s is one of the last working-class queer bars in San Francisco. In Aunt Charlie's Angels, visual artist Tim Snyder captures the glittery greatness of the Grand Ducal Council of San Francisco, a charitable organization with strong ties to Aunt Charlie’s, its performers, and its patrons. The Grand Ducal Council provides grants to communities and individuals (such as trans folk) who are often marginalized by civic fundraising structures.

Visual artist Tim Snyder has been pursuing drawing, fashion illustration, and mixed media art since grade school. Snyder attended Art Institute of Pittsburgh (1977-1980) and worked in graphic design (with ad art in the Washington Blade), but it is truly clothing that gives him deep joy. Snyder has been featured in SF Chronicle and maintains a low-key celebrity status in local art circles. His recent exhibition, Family Jewels, was launched at Castro Country Club with a remarkable 13 out of 20 pieces selling. His forthcoming LGBTQ fiber exhibition at Green Leaf Gallery (in Beaver Meadows, Pennsylvania) is set for this coming Fall.

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The Donna Personna Portraits Project

Exhibition run: June 6 - July 6

The Donna Personna Portraits project is a collaboration between Donna Personna, fine arts painter Thomasina DeMaio, and photographers Billie Douglas and Steven Pomeroy. Using photography and portraiture as sites for exploring transgender and gender nonconforming identity, this project aims to bring wider visibility and validation to trans lives, and to showcase the wide spectrum of the transgender experience.

Historically, those who are the subject of portraits are people who have been granted some sort of high societal status, whether it be that of royalty, presidents, noblemen, clergy, or wealthy folk. In opening the portrait space and process to trans people, this project gives visibility to a historically marginalized community bringing validation, not just acceptance or tolerance, to the transgender community. Contained within each final-product portrait and photograph is the invisible process of the sitting, which unfolds in the art space of total acceptance for over an hour. During the sittings, subjects shared with the artists touching stories about their lives and selves. Each portrait and photograph bears traces of the humanity that unfurled within the safety and adoration of the art space. So come join us in this very special exploration and celebration of art, identity, and community.


Donna Personna is an artist and activist for transgender rights, who got her start with the Cockettes. She has served on the boards of Trans March and Transgender Day of Remembrance, and on the committees to name streets after Vicki Marlene and Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Transgender Cultural District. In 2018, she raised San Francisco’s first transgender flag at City Hall with Mayor London Breed. Donna was the subject of the Iris Prize-winning 2013 short film My Mother and featured in the film Beautiful by Night. Donna has been covered in publications such as Out, The Advocate, SF Chronicle, and the Daily Beast. The immersive play she co-wrote, The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot (produced by the Tenderloin Museum) recreates SF transgender history and received many accolades, including SF Weekly’s Best of 2018. Donna was recently selected by the SF Pride Board of Directors as the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshal.

Thomasina DeMaio’s artistic practice focuses on portraits and mural work. Specialties include painting, photography, and sculpture. DeMaio contributes time and art to benefit multiple community organizations and individuals, such as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and SF Fire FIghters, among others.

Billy Douglas works with alternative film processing, Polaroid transfer images and other pre-digital photographic techniques in his fine art work. Digital technology brought sweeping changes and fundamentally changed the idea of image creation. In his new work, he use everything he has learned to further define his art. Photography has enabled him to see parts of the world he could only imagine. He knows he has done his best when the images have the ring of truth. Sometimes joyful, sometimes tragic…it goes on and on.

Steven Pomeroy was born in Denver, Colorado and grew up in the Pacific Northwest. He received a fine arts degree in Conceptual Design from San Francisco State University. His higher education includes studies at the Sorbonne University in Paris and Printmaking at Atelier du Safranier in Antibes France. His artistic pursuits include photography, drawing, multi-media, clay work and sculpture. He spent several years working with clay both in sculpture and wheel work, and enjoys experimenting with art and technology. Steven captures images of the world around us that are sometimes missed when we view our surroundings. He appreciates a visual aesthetic in photography and mixing technologies. He does not consider himself a photographic purist--he is more interested in the visual results rather than the process.

*Originally conceived of and sponsored by ARTSAVESLIVES foundation. This exhibition represents a small portion of a larger collection.

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Neon Family: A Tribute by Roxy Rose

Exhibition run: April 4 - June 6

The pieces in Neon Family: A Tribute by Roxy Rose have each been created as expressions of loving memory of Roxy’s father, Rio Score II, who passed away in February 2019, and in tribute to their four-generation family neon business, Alert-Lite Neon, which closed in November 2018. Each work was completely created by Roxy—from cutting and shaping the metal, to painting it, to bending and pumping the neon tubing—to reflect on Rio Score II’s life, revealing also a piece of Roxy’s own biography, all through the glow of neon.

Roxy Rose Score grew up in a neon family. Her grandfather, Rio Score, founded Alert-Lite Neon in 1946, raising his son, Rio Score II, in the family trade. Like her father, Roxy was raised in the family neon shop, learning the neon trade from childhood along with her brothers in a rigid-but-informal apprenticeship that stressed speed and accuracy along with the highest level of expert craftspersonship.

Alert-Lite had built their business in wholesale, high-output production neon: though each piece of glass was shaped by hand, “tube benders” like Rio and Roxy often made hundreds—or even thousands—of the same letters, words, or symbols. Working long hours with their bare hands holding hot glass over gas flames made benders like Rio and Roxy strong, and decades of care schooled them in the finest points of their craft. But the pressures of production neon did not often emphasize artistic expression, and Rio and Roxy were each compelled to express their craft skills creatively, using neon as art.

For Rio, that could mean creating a bouquet of neon roses for his wife, or a neon carousel for one of his children. A little sparkle of artistic joy, made with skill, love, and care. For Roxy, neon art came differently: she began to collect and restore historic neon signs in the 1980s, and shifted the family sign shop from high-volume production toward bespoke signs that allowed her to better showcase both her skill as a tube bender and her artistic eye. Her turn to neon works explicitly as works of art came later, after she sold the business, as part of more profound transition: her own gender transition.

When Roxy came out as transgender in 2010, able to manifest on the outside what she’d always felt on the inside, she began to see her craft and skills as more than a blue-collar trade or a way of expressing a client’s ideas, but instead as a way of expressing a long-sublimated part of her own identity—that of an artist, able to express herself through works of neon.


Close Cover Before Striking by Alexander von Wolff

Exhibition run: February 7 - March 28

Alexander von Wolff reignites the nearly extinct culture of the matchbook by enlarging and restoring vintage matchbooks of local San Francisco venues past and present. Blown up to over 10 times their original size, these tiny pieces of nostalgic ephemera become pieces of artwork in their own right as they offer a glimpse into the historic heart of San Francisco.

Matchbooks and the designs on them are reflections of the times in which they are produced. In a material sense, matchbooks carry traces of the present through the methods and printing technologies used to produce them. In a theoretical sense, matchbooks are bearers of popular cultural imagination through their mottos, graphics, colors and themes. To encounter a trove of matchbooks from a particular era is to experience and relive that era’s way of speaking and being.

Fabricated to be used-up and discarded, it is remarkable that any matchbooks from the Tenderloin have survived. Fortunately, for some people matchbooks represent more than mere advertising campaigns and are rather keepsakes to be treasured. von Wolff’s art practice of what he calls the “vintage expansion principle” shifts ephemera from the margins to the center and ensures that these tiny pieces of nostalgia continue to live on.


Urban Abstracts by Patricia Araujo

Exhibition Run: December 6 - February 3

The Tenderloin Museum is pleased to present Urban Abstracts, a collection of paintings by the renowned artist Patricia Araujo. A lauded San Francisco artist whose paintings celebrate San Francisco cityscapes, Araujo exults the beauty of what can appear commonplace. “In my cityscapes, I sense the presence of the silent stage uninterrupted by inhabitants. My works speak about the possibility of growth and renewal, exploring architectural practice as both imagination and reality. A marvelous city, that is in constant flux.” 

Araujo is captivated by the architecture of cities she's lived in and traveled to, as well as by imaginary places. A San Francisco based artist, she’s been exhibiting in the Bay Area since 1998. Araujo was born in Miami, Fl, the daughter of Colombian parents, and grew up in Bogota, Colombia. Since childhood, she was enchanted by architecture and form. After completing high school in Bogota, Araujo moved to Northern California and studied architecture, painting, and photography. In 2005 she obtained her second B.F.A in Painting from the San Francisco Art Institute. Araujo has exhibited work at the Arc Gallery, Arttitud, Bayview Opera House, HANG ART, Roll Up Gallery, STUDIO Gallery, the Old Emporium, Pen Club Gallery in Budapest, and has exhibited at the annual SF History Days at the Old Mint, and with the Treasure Island Museum. In 2008, she published her first book, entitled SOMA SEEN, followed by SOMA Rising in 2012. Her work has been written about in the San Francisco Chronicle, ARTslant, 7x7, Huffington Post, Examiner, Beyondchron, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. To view her complete portfolio and resume online please visit: Recently she's been devoted to painting the architectural wonders and forgotten treasures of the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939 at Treasure Island - the last World's Fair in San Francisco.

Araujo continues to deepen her conceptual themes of architecture, place, and change in the urban landscape, addressing evolution, decay, and renewal. She has always been particularly fascinated with domes, towers, sacred, and municipal structures. “While living in SOMA, I witnessed the changes taking place in this redeveloping neighborhood, and found myself enchanted by the rich architectural history of that area and the decayed beauty that remains,” said Araujo. On display at the Tenderloin Museum from December 6th 2018 - February 3rd 2019, Araujo presents a collection of paintings featuring architecture from the Tenderloin, SOMA, and Mid-Market. Don’t miss this mesmerizing tribute to the art of architecture in our own backyard.


Deirdre Weinberg: Living Memory in the TL

Exhibition Run: October 4 - November 29, 2018

The Tenderloin Museum is excited to welcome visual artist Deirdre Weinberg into its gallery space for ArtSpanSF Open Studios 2018. The artist has lived and worked in San Francisco for over 25 years; her dynamic artistic practice ranges from quickly drawn mini portraits to large scale public murals but is grounded in a sensitivity to her environment and immediate community. “I have always recorded my reactions to the world around me, even if it's not beautiful,” Weinberg says in her artist statement, “though I do seek to show beauty where it might be overlooked.” This perspective makes Weinberg an ideal artist-in-residence at the Tenderloin Museum, one who can create at the intersection of the neighborhood’s long, storied history and its persisting themes of transition, perseverance, and compassion.

Weinberg’s work will be familiar to many in the neighborhood. In 2017, she was contracted by Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC) to hand paint several garbage cans. This street beautification project made her a temporary fixture on the TL’s sidewalks, bringing her, quite literally, into direct contact with one of the most “overlooked” features of the cityscape. While not glamorous canvases, the “lowly trash cans got so much support from the community” reflected Weinberg, adding that since completion they’ve “never even been tagged!” One particularly impressed passerby approached Weinberg while painting and asked if he could have a portrait made--the artist acquiesced, rapidly sketching her ad-hoc model on a piece of cardboard, the only material at hand, and after handing it over, never saw her subject again. This fleeting act of artmaking struck Weinberg as indicative of the Tenderloin street scene, one that attempts commemoration in the face of impermanence, and planted the seeds for her Living Memory in the TL project at the Tenderloin Museum.

Weinberg’s SF Open Studios project is an ambitious hybrid of portraiture and cartography, living memory and historic record. The artist will assemble a street map of the Tenderloin comprised of past and future artworks that represent people and places of the neighborhood. An homage to both the Tenderloin’s distinctive built environment and the luminous neighborhood map on the Tenderloin Museum’s ceiling, the “infrastructure” of this Tenderloin art-map will be formed by a sprawling collection of preexisting works: 80 6”x6” portraits on particle board will outline the streets, while larger works on cardboard will fill in the blocks. These inexpensive, expendable materials, so frequently used to ship or store some other object then thrown away, are repurposed and elevated. Fast acting acrylic and graffiti-marker imbue an immediacy and accessibility to the visual style and allow the artist to make work swiftly and prolifically.

In an effort to make this a living display, as well as invite people into her practice, Weinberg will add to her map throughout Living Memory in the TL’s run, making portraits of visitors at the Opening Reception (October 4th) as well as the SF Open Studios weekend (October 13-14). In this way, this evolving exhibition of her work will react and respond to both its subjects and audience. Those who sit for a portrait will be able to pick them up at the Closing Reception on November 29th. In addition, Chlo & Co Dance will be producing a new work in response to Weinberg’s show and the theme of preservation for their biannual community-oriented event, Drove V, on November 2nd and 3rd. Details will unfold as the dancers and artist’s collaboration develops over the course of the exhibition.


The Shoots: The Making-Of Life Is Fare

Exhibition Run: September 6 - September 30, 2018

“The Shoots” is a “making-of” exhibition about the independent, locally produced feature film Life Is Fare, curated by the film’s director, Sephora Woldu. Shot in the Tenderloin, Life is Fare is a Tigrinya and English language film that explores three wildly different perspectives on the East African nation of Eritrea. Inspired by current Eritrean and Ethiopian migration journeys, the film portrays global conversations about identity with a keen, intimate sense of place. The Tenderloin is recognizable in most of the shots, but the TL is much more than a setting--it is a complex character that experiences change and growth alongside the film’s protagonists. Woldu is an ambitious young filmmaker whose persistent DIY spirit is emblematic of the neighborhood she so passionately portrays in her feature.  

“The Shoots” is a colloquial term used by Woldu to reference the seemingly endless movie-making efforts over 2015 to 2018, the time that it took to shoot, re-shoot, re-re-shoot, post-produce, and promote the finished product of Life is Fare. Throughout this process, cast members moved away, passed away, got married, had babies, and flourished as artists in their own right. During that same period, the Tenderloin captured in the film changed considerably--Woldu notes the closure of The Gangway and relocation of the original Lafayette Diner as significant events in the making of Life is Fare . “The Shoots” gallery show, on view from September 6th to 30th, is an existential roar that commemorates the Tenderloin and the Eritrean community that calls the neighborhood home while celebrating the success of Life Is Fare.

The film premiered at the 2018 Brooklyn Film Festival and garnered awards at the Marfa Film Festival, African Diaspora International Film Festival, and Silicon Valley African Film Festival, as well as a Best Feature nomination at the Blackstar International Film Festival in Accra, Ghana.


Acting UP: GIRLFLY Visuals

Exhibition Run: August 16 - September 2, 2018

Acting UP: GIRLFLY Visuals is a new visual art exhibit designed by local youth for the Tenderloin! GIRLFLY is the youth offshoot of Flyaway Productions, the site-specific aerial dance troupe that, back in June, graced the facade of the Tenderloin Museum with Tender (n.): a person who takes charge. Over a 4 week long summer workshop, GIRLFLY introduced 20 teen girls to “outcast activism” in the TL, integrating social justice, female empowerment, oral history writing, visual art and (of course) aerial dance! In collaboration with archivist Dr. Catherine Powell, director of the Labor Archives & Research Center at SF State, and visual artist Lala Openi, the girls translated the stories of Tenderloin activists Pratibha Tekkey, Anakh Sul Rama, and Ilana Master—stories about housing, immigration, and labor activism—into visual art. 


Neon Home

Exhibition Run: June 12 - August 12, 2018

Neon Home is a group art exhibition of neon-centric work in the Tenderloin Museum’s gallery. The show features photographs of historic neon signs in the Tenderloin and around the Bay by photographers Mark Carrodus, Merideth Grierson, Randall Ann Homan, and Al Barna. Additionally, the show unveils a new neon sign-sculpture called “Home/Hotel,” a collaboration between SF Neon and the Oakland based tube bender and neon artist Shawna Peterson. 

From the flashing signs of tourist traps to the forgotten signs whose ghostly white tubes remain unlit, neon signs represent a bridge from past to the future. The technology of a neon sign has changed little since the first neon signs appeared in the early 1900s. Far from dispensable advertising, a neon can last for decades and is more energy efficient than one might think, but more importantly, a neon’s appeal extends far beyond its luminous utility. Our featured artists investigate the power of neon’s unique visual aesthetic.


The Heart of the City: Photography by Darwin Bell

Exhibition Run: April 5 - June 10, 2018

Photographer Darwin Bell returns to the Tenderloin Museum’s gallery with a collection of vivid imagery plucked from the streets of his adoptive home: the TL. “Heart of the City” is comprised of twenty digital prints on metal that celebrate the iconoclastic neighborhood’s perpetual state of metamorphosis.

Bell’s sense of place is a strong one. “I don’t like directing a photo,” Bell told the Tenderloin Museum, “I like letting the setting direct me.” He uses the neighborhood’s abundance of historic architecture to frame his intensely high-def cityscapes and street scenes. His photographic eye moves from expansive shots (modern glass exteriors looming over ornate, Art-Deco buildings) to nuanced close-ups (an eyelash resting on a shockingly green street shrub). This dynamic visual range correlates to Bell’s feelings toward his surroundings. “There’s a fleeting nature to this city,” Bell said. “My goal was to capture things before they change.”

In “Heart of the City,” the markers of change are often signage, such as the Tenderloin’s iconic hotel neons, ghost signs and graffiti. Some are more permanent than others, but they all work to identify places in a neighborhood that escapes any simple definition. These experiments with text-in-image relate back to Bell’s first photographic practice: snapping found text with a Polaroid camera and stringing together the prints to form messages. His earliest efforts “didn’t really deal with composition so much as finding the words to match up,” Bell said. “It was about the hunt.”

Foraging for found text attuned Bell to what the streets had to say. While some human forms appear in “Heart of the City,” the collection as a whole portrays the Tenderloin as a living organism, an urban body. The inhabitants of the TL communicate with the built environment through eye-catching signs, carefully drawn murals, and spontaneous sidewalk scrawl. Bell’s camera records everything from the small talk to deep conversations.

What unifies these diverse scenes is Bell’s penchant for bright, surprising colors that leap out of otherwise muted urban scenery. “Color has a psychological effect on how you feel,” Bell said as he lamented the recent trend in the Tenderloin of repainting old buildings in drab blacks and grays. The streaks of color in Bell’s photography add an expressive, whimsical aspect to his work, evoking his subjects’ true character.


Color Is Pure Feeling: Paintings by Dennis Conkin

Exhibition Run: February 1 - March 30, 2018

The Tenderloin Museum is pleased to present a collection of new work by painter Dennis Conkin. The eight abstract canvases on display are the fruits of his largely self-taught painting practice, developed over three decades living in the heart of the Tenderloin, and communicate the artist’s emotional relationships with color. Conkin is well known in the neighborhood for his work as a community activist and as a reporter for The Tenderloin Times, focusing on issues of homelessness, AIDS, and mental disability when few would. As such, his non-representational paintings strike an intriguing counterpoint to the linear, narrative nature of chronicling the news. “Art is the story of humanity’s quest for love and awareness, for insight and understanding about our lives,” Conkin told the Tenderloin Museum. “Art is also ecstatic celebration, belonging to no one, and, fundamentally, art saves lives.

Conkin hit the TL in 1984 when he was 32 years old, “sleeping in shelters, living on the street. You know… just living in the Tenderloin.” However, he swiftly found that he had a vital role to play in the community. A lifelong writer and painter, Conkin fancied himself a poet and was drawn to a community journalism class. He displayed an innate talent and, by the end of the year, was on assignment for The Tenderloin Times. His first published article, covering the opening of Boedeker Park, is on display as part of the Tenderloin Museum’s special exhibition, Voice of the City: The Tenderloin Times, 1977-94. Over his career at The Tenderloin Times and later the Bay Area Reporter, Conkin broke many stories, and his advocacy led to the founding of the Tenderloin Self-Help Center and the Tenderloin AIDS Network.

As someone who lives with mental and physical disabilities, Conkin possessed a sensitivity to those marginalized issues and broke new ground in local reporting through his coverage on mental illness, homelessness, poverty, and the overlooked Tenderloin neighborhood. There is an acute sensitivity present in Conkin’s parallel craft of painting as well. “Painting is emotion. Color is about the heart. The way I arrange color, deal with color, is pure feeling to me,” said Conkin. “A lot of what my job is as a painter is trying to communicate my internal experience to another.” Impactful community journalism and a robust, expressive painting practice share more than an empathetic, communicative nature. “I guess you could say I am an investigative painter,” laughed Conkin, “ but I think the synergy is that in investigative reporting, there is often a sense of urgency because you’re writing about some crisis. When I paint, I find my best work comes out of a sense of urgency. Not a pressure, but a need to share an internal state. I want to share that awareness.”

Conkin paints in his home of 30 years, located on the lobby floor of a converted SRO on McAllister St. “I guess I’m stable,” chuckles Conkin, yet he is anything but stagnant. That sense of urgency pervades his studio space, prolific output, and even extends to his materials. He has no patience for oils; instead, he prefers acrylics: “I can’t wait 3 days for oil to dry--I need instant gratification!” While studio space is tight, the afternoon light coming over the backyard from the Dorothy Day Community retirement home makes ideal light to paint by. Conkin identifies strongly as an Abstract Expressionist although he derived his practice with no formal training--an intuitive, compulsory painter. He admires the work of Lee Krasner, Sister Corita Kent, Sam Francis, and Frank Stella. Always dedicated to furthering his craft, Conkin has been exploring a newfound interest in color theory. “Returning to the color wheel, understanding the relationships between colors, all the technicalities... all the stuff I didn’t get when I didn’t go to art school” said Conkin. This collection on display in the Museum’s gallery are from a recent, prolific period during which Conkin was reconnecting with “spending the rest of my life on art.”


Tender Life by Holly Coley

Exhibition Run: December 7, 2017 - January 30, 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.


City Looks by J.B. Higgins

Open Studios: Nov. 4th & 5th, 2017                                                    Exhibition Run: October 5 - 17 and October 31 - December 5, 2017

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.

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Ira Watkins: From Waco To San Francisco

Exhibition Run: August 3 - October 3, 2017

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 safe houses 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.

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

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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