My career trajectory seems foreign to my family.
“You’ve been studying water for 2 years and now you’re at a dance organization?”
Well, not quite.
You see, I got my Masters in a social science research program entitled Environment & Community, where I interrogated the disparate cultural themes surrounding water management in search of policy solutions.
In school I advocated for equitable water rights for disadvantaged communities. At CounterPulse I advocate for the equitability of resources to the artistic community—a community I am not unfamiliar with.
For years my artistic interests and academic pursuits simmered together. Poetry and spoken word networks immersed me in the dance vocabulary of my growing craft, learning to play with vocal inflections like a dancer plays with cadence. Participating in DIY queer art spaces in Humboldt gave me the passion for community art havens. These anarchist open mic and safe-space collectives fueled my interest in social justice and the arts.
In college, critical socio-political and feminist theories provided foundational intellect behind this zeal. Things were fucked up. And I was angry. The arts seemed like the only way to make sense of it all.
Fast forward to 2016. I am surveying groundwater users in Humboldt County and spitting mad poetry at open mics.
Meanwhile, CounterPulse moves into their new location at 80 Turk Street. The Community Arts Program launches and begins building relationships with community partners like the Dalt Hotel and Central City SRO collaborative to reach Tenderloin residents through the arts.
At 27, I’m still the same anti-establishmentarian poet jotting vitriol about social inequities in my notebook. Now, thanks to Craigslist and my incessant emails to Julie Phelps, I have a phenomenal job at an arts organization that supports my ideologies for social transformation through culture. Let me tell you more about it.
With CounterPulse’s growing mission delivery came an increased need for embodied outreach. The targeted e-blasts and Facebook posts don’t gain much traction on the streets. The organization needed another front-facing staff member to tell the story of CounterPulse to a wider audience.
Further, staff transitions called for someone to take over managing the front-of-house, while an expanding communications bandwidth called for enhanced support with content creation and organizational partnerships. CounterPulse had a niche to fill.
At this time, I had just moved to the city for a fresh start in researching groundwater management for a national environmental nonprofit.
When that internship ended CounterPulse flashed before my eyes with an exciting new opportunity: Program Manager. Two job interviews later, I got the life-affirming call that I’ve been rejected.
…for that position. But in a fortuitous turn of events, CounterPulse crafted the new position of “Outreach Manager” to fill that aforementioned niche and graciously offered it to me. I embraced the job with wide eyes and minimal happy tears.
With a steep learning curve, the first few weeks were admittedly challenging. With experience in cafe management and community art facilitation, I was dedicated to making it work. I immersed myself in this strange new art world.
I won’t take you into the day-to-day operations of Outreach Manager. Suffice it to say my role blends a unique amalgam of projects and administrative tasks, from facilitating the open bars at last May’s Family Feast & Fundraiser, to demographic analytics, to box office management, to writing blogs like these.
It’s interesting. While lacking a formal background in the arts, theater, or dance, I feel more at home at CounterPulse than any prior workplace. The folks I work with daily—colleagues and artists—allow me to combine my strong professional work ethic with my comfort in a bizarre, creative, and risk-taking community.
You don’t need to be an art freak to engage with artistic creatives. You just need to be a freak.
[Photo of Justin at Block Fest in the Forest by Robbie Sweeny]