All posts by Chantel Genest

Journalism student at San Francisco State University. Writer/reporter @XpressMagazine.

Art for Profit

As he works on a large scale, lavish mural project on the blight-ridden streets of West Oakland, artist Joshua Mays is approached by a local business owner. The middle-aged owner of one of the over forty liquor stores in the neighborhood asks Mays if he would be available to produce a mural running along the side of his store, an over fifteen-by-twenty foot area. After palpable hesitation, the man offers a couple hundred dollars compensation and bribes Mays with the exposure that he would get. Mays declines graciously, only to be to be lashed back at with outrage and a sense that he has just declined an opportunity of a lifetime.

“My rule number one is to never accept exposure as payment,” says Mays. “Too many artists rely on that potential exposure to be fair exchange.”

Raised in Denver, Colorado, Mays has spent eight years in Philadelphia, time in Mexico City and Puerto Rico, and some self-described nomadic years spent in and out of the Bay Area. The 38-year-old, living on his own with an in-home studio occupying one of his 2-bedroom apartment, moved permanently to Oakland two years ago following an exhibition he had at Oakland’s Old Crow art gallery, Mays has found a home in one of the state’s most prominently creative regions.

“California is just where there is more of a healthy cycle between money, commerce, and creativity and artist careers,” says Mays. “Our media is paying a lot of attention to the art scenes out here.”

Although The Golden State is known for and has long proven to be a place where many artists have honed there creative talents and been able to launch a career making a decent-to-wealthy living, the vast majority of artists are not given the same credit or compensation for their work that other occupations provide inherently.

San Francisco, the beloved city centered and built upon art culture, is now pushing artists out to make room for the rising tech domain and those making the wages within it. Just last year, over sixty tenants living in a building at 1049 Market Street, most of whom are starving artists and many who have resided there for decades, were sent eviction notices. The lofts just down the road from Twitter’s new headquarters, all affordably leased for under nine hundred dollars, were deemed unlivable and were to be made workspaces costing more than double the price.

But while gentrification in San Francisco has reportedly pushed artists out and into the East Bay, cities like Oakland, too, are becoming less financially available to those trying to make a living through their creative skills Oakland had the highest apartment rent growth in the U.S., at 9.1 percent this year and tied New York for the tightest occupancy, according to MPF Research, a Carrollton, Texas-based rental-housing market-analysis company. And unlike in San Francisco, landlords in Oakland are not even obligated through the Ellis Act to give their tenants move-out cash upon eviction.

As a self-taught painter, illustrator, and muralist, Mays sold his first commissioned piece in high school—fifteen dollars and lunch for a caricature illustration for a group domino tournament. That moment, however insignificant it may be now so many years into his career, contributed to Mays imperative perspective that his work holds value.

Mays, who has been fortunate enough to be able to make a decent living through his art, is urging other Bay Area artists to rid themselves of the preconceived notion that pushing for monetary payment correlates to one ‘selling out.’”

“They are easy to either throw you on the side of ‘you’re whoring yourself out’ or throw you on the side of ‘you’re just as corrupt as the bankers and the politicians who just want to extract whatever from their own greed’.”

In a day where one must spend many thousands of dollars for a legitimate full-sized tattoo, hundreds of dollars to listen to bands while quickly dehydrating in desert heat, people will pay no matter the cost. It is a flawed concept to treat these forms of art as a greater service more deserving of the public’s hard earned money.

Artists like Mays have been commissioned internationally because of how incredible his work is. People love to look at it, but do not actually support it. Creating murals for little or no commission is not worth the time for him anymore. The circumstances over the years have made Mays realize that he would rather just work in his studio and sell his original artwork through exhibitions, set fair prices for the immense hours of work he puts into his work every single day.

If looking at the broader sense of artistic industries compared to other career paths, there is again, no inherent average or scale to measure what is worth what. Mays likens this argument to a hypothetical situation where a third of a said city’s auto mechanics decide to give their services away for free.

“A ton of people would go to a guy who would do it for free and the whole industry would collapse,” says Mays. “I think that is what the artist’s community has to deal with all the time.”

Mays has come up with his own chart depicting what he believes is fair exchange of artistic services based upon years of experience and exactly what is being commissioned. According to this chart, with his experience and skill he should be paid upwards of five thousand dollars for a mural. His goal is to bring the self-esteem and confidence to the artists that he knows and to others in the future that they are providing a service, and that that service is not beneath everybody else in the world’s service and therefore deserves a paycheck.

Social media, from MySpace to the evolved Facebook, have been Mays’ chief marketing tools. He is able to connect with people and sell his work in ways that no other platform could provide. Because of their unsurpassed promotion abilities, they are also providing that much more competition within the art industry. People can make their own business to expose people from all over the globe to their artwork and to promote their art careers.

“The Internet is the new record labels and art galleries of the past,” says Mays. “I think that it puts so much power into the artist’s hands if the artist is willing to do it.”

The issue at hand is that artists are not being paid for their time and money. Yet the fact is that artists need to be more business savvy in their careers and use the marketing tools available to get commissioned work.

Also, at the same time, if making enough money to keep up with the cost of living in the Bay Area is what artists are searching for, picking and choosing clientele’s based on hatred of ‘the man,’ is not going to work. That will only hinder the capability to make a decent living and continue to grow artistically in the Bay Area.

A new oasis for SF drag

Trannyshack has spent the past twenty years performing in various venues and touring around the world, but this New Year’s Eve, San Francisco’s longest-running drag show will find a permanent home in the SOMA district

Drag star Heklina and her investors are taking over the long-closed Oasis building running along the 11th street entertainment corridor, and she is anxious to tackle this new challenge head on.

Heklina, also known as Stefan Grygelko, created the drag show Trannyshack in 1996 at the STUD bar, where she had been working at the time. Given the usually dead Tuesday-night spot, she expected the show to last only a few months as so many others had. Little did she know that nearly two decades later, she would still be expanding her show as her life’s work, her presence being sought all over the city.

“Trannyshack took off,” says Heklina. “It was a platform for anyone to perform. It happened organically, I didn’t know it was fulfilling this need, but it did.”

A “stunning array of creative mavericks” performed on the outrageous and shocking Trannyshack stage and helped spiral the show into one of San Francisco’s greatest drag events. Held weekly at the STUD bar for twelve years and monthly at the DNA Lounge since 2008, it has won best drag show for numerous years in nearly every Bay Area magazine.

Heklina has also taken the performance party on the road – hosting in London, New York City, Reykjavik, Amsterdam, New York City, Waikiki, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Reno, and Fresno.

Having long solidified her role in the drag community, in recent years it dawned on the creator, promoter, and hostess that she had new goals to leap for.

“I felt like for the past four or five years my career was kind of at an impasse because for the past twenty years I have been doing shows at other peoples venues and it started to feel very limiting and I felt up against the wall,” says Heklina. “It got to be my dream to have my own venue where I could do my own stuff.”

In 2013, Heklina, along with fellow host and performer D’Arcy Dollinger and co-owners Geoff Benjamin, now the venue’s CEO, and Jason Beebout, the general manager, began looking into different venues. The group applied to lease a six thousand five hundred square foot venue just across the street from Oasis, at the still-vacant Paradise Lounge, but the owner decided to go with an alternate proposal.

“Places kept falling through and I started to give up hope that it would happen,” says Heklina.

Earlier this year, the business partners began discussions to buy the Oasis location. Their offer was accepted, but more issues came up. Last year, the city had adopted new rules into the Western SOMA Neighborhood Plan that prohibited the owners to obtain an entertainment license because it was within two hundred feet of a residential district, meaning they would only be able to function it as a bar and not a performance space.

In September, Supervisor Jane Kim’s proposed legislation passed which removed the prohibition and provided an exception for nighttime entertainment uses within two hundred feet of residential areas if a nightclub had legally operated at the location within the past five years, which applies to Oasis.

The six thousand square foot building was sold for $2,850,000, according to RealtTrac’s listings. Heklina and her troupe have work to get done before the grand opening on New Year’s Eve, including bringing the run-down building up to code, getting a fire inspection, fixing the stage, and painting among more.

“It makes me nervous even talking about it,” says Heklina.

She finally has a new home for her cabaret theatre and the resurgence of Trannyshack — although a rebranding of the name is under way because of recent outrage surrounding the offensiveness of the term “tranny” to the transgender community.

A recent campaign led by two board members of GLAAD, a non-governmental media monitoring entity advocating against defamation to the LGBT community, is aiming to make “tranny” a slur in all circumstances. There has been much debate surrounding the word, and Heklina finds changing the name a better alternative to making anyone feel excluded or hurt.

Still being publicized as Trannyshack, or “T-shack,” for now, the official rebranding will move forward in 2015 along with the club opening. The venue first opened up as club Oasis in 1982, and that name, along with its history of high energy and acceptance to all communities will be following Heklina into the building.

Come December 31st, the club will be an open space welcoming to both budding and time-honored drag stars and performers. Being just moments away from the DNA Lounge, Slims, BeatBox and Audio, it seems the perfect little corner for Heklina to set up home for a new era of her legendary show.

“A lot of this is riding on my reputation, I’m afraid of it being successful and I’m afraid of it not being successful,” says Heklina. “It’s do or die.”

Fleetwood Mac delivers an unforgettable show at Oracle Arena

The view of the Fleetwood Mac concert from the upper level seating at Oakland's Oracle Area.
The view of the Fleetwood Mac concert from the upper level seating at Oakland’s Oracle Area.

Harmony and sentiment filled the Oracle Arena as the recently reunited Fleetwood Mac took the stage Wednesday night. With Christine McVie back behind the keyboard with her low,melodic voice, this On With The Show Tour marks the first time she has appeared on stage with the band since their 1998 The Dance Tour.

Kicking off with “The Chain,” Fleetwood Mac quickly brought the crowd—almost exclusively partiers of the ’70s and ’80s with a few younger generation fans sprinkled in—to a world separated from the storm and gloom outside, filled instead with collective nostalgia and free-spirited roars.

Doused in wicked-looking layers of black, Stevie Nicks began the ongoing theme of emotional, and at moments cheesy, commentary about the band’s history and excitement towards McVie’s return. All of the bandmates, also including Lindsey Buckingham on guitar, John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums, took their turns throughout the night to commemorate the group’s ability to prevail through the good and the bad, Christine referring to her “long lost family.”

Nicks, who spent the most mic time talking about the past, at one point spoke about starting out in San Francisco, going to the Velvet Underground where huge names such as Janis Joplin got their stage outfits, knowing one day she would be able to shop there too, which segued into “Gypsy,” featuring lyrics about the shop. She also dedicated her song “Landslide” to her first boyfriend whom she dated while attending Atherton High School.

Fleetwood Mac at performs at Oracle Arena for their On With The Show Tour.
Fleetwood Mac at performs at Oracle Arena for their On With The Show Tour.

Each and every song was belted out by the audience, with a noticeably loud reaction to “Go Your Own Way,” with Buckingham’s and Nick’s beautiful harmonizing behind McVie’s lead. Even from the very last row in the arena fans got the experience they paid for, each part and band member sounding even better than on the recorded versions blasting in the car on the way there.

The choice of stage background had some room for curiosity, changing each song between moving images of raindrops, windmills and at one point of people stuck in a storm. It could be argued a psychedelic-esque feel was intended, but it ended up being more weird and distracting, especially since the majority of the crowd has long since ended their experimental days.

The band played a near two and a half hour set with little breaks in between. As anticipated the crowd barely had to cry out for a number of encores, the highlight of them featuring Fleetwood’s impressive drum solo complemented by his cackling laughs and indiscernible chants.

Fleetwood Mac’s songs are as good as they were when first produced, and without a doubt, will outlive everyone in attendance. Although the band has gone through a range of members, these five bring out the best of it all. The talent and bond between them will hopefully be gracing stages across the world for many years to come.

The Bay Area can look forward to another visit from the legendary band, scheduled again at the Oracle Arena on April 7th of next year, where audiences will hopefully hear songs from their newest album set to be released in 2015.

Bill Cosby Stays Silent About 15 Rape Allegations

Bill Cosby is being accused of multiple accounts of rape and has nothing to say to us about it. The man who has spent decades building up one of the nation’s most proper and morally sound celebrity reputations, is staying silent, leaving all of us to wonder how we could have missed this.

When I first read Bill Cosby’s name in the same sentence as “serial rapist,” I instantly doubted the article. I flashed back to being ten years old, waiting to hear what darling thing Rudy Huxtable would say next to her dad, Cliff. Doctor Huxtable just so happened to be the best dad in the world, right?

Falling asleep to Nick at Night’s reruns of The Cosby Show was not unusual when I was younger. Already so adored by my family from its original airing, just like the beloved Mr. Rogers, he was one of the staples of both my childhood and so many others. The values of family and being a respectable person travelled far past the ending of the show. For years, the following generations have latched on to the same love and upright feeling that emanated from Cosby.

Those dorky sweaters and that wide-eyed smirk portrayed a good man with a big heart, and Cosby sure as hell knew how to milk that. To hear now that allegations have been circulating for years makes my heart sink. Feelings of betrayal and disgust come up, but mostly regretted ignorance to this concern that has somehow coasted under the radar to most of us for so long.

As of Tuesday, when eighties’ supermodel Janet Dickinson joined in as yet another accuser, fifteen women have detailed stories of being sexually assaulted by America’s dad. Fifteen separate stories, all with the same theme of being given a drink and pills, coming to undressed, Cosby on top of them, confused, and in pain.

The only response from the comedian has come from his attorney, which stated that Cosby refused to dignify “decade-old, discredited claims.” Well Mr. Cosby, if you think this is just going to go away again, you are very wrong.

The seventy-seven year old just shook his head in silence when questioned about the allegations during an interview with National Public Radio and has not reached out to the public personally to make a statement. It has guilty written all over it.

To retrace our steps, Cosby’s first alleged assault took place all the way back in 1969. The most recent claim is said to have taken place in 2002, which is at least thirty years of dispersed, horrifying behavior.

In 2005, Andrea Constand filed a lawsuit claiming that Cosby assaulted her back in 2002 at his home in Pennsylvania. With this, eleven other women came forward as witnesses with similar accusations toward him. The comedian was able to settle with Constand out of court and none of the witnesses ever had to testify. It did, however, lead two of the women, Barbara Bowman and Beth Ferrier, to bring their stories to light.

With the accusations out there, Tamera Green, a California lawyer, decided to also speak up in 2005 about her claims that Cosby assaulted her back in the 1970s. And yet another accuser, Joan Tarshis, a music industry publicist and journalist, published her purported assault in explicit detail last Saturday in Hollywood Elsewhere.

Tuesday, Dickinson felt an obligation to go public with her story of assault as well, said to have taken place 1982 in Lake Tahoe. Maybe she felt a well-known face coming forward could help propel action against Cosby? Maybe she is lying, hoping for renewed attention from the media? The public has landed on both sides.

Twitter has served as a sample of the range of feelings surrounding the rape allegations. Understandably, many people refuse to accept that their sweet Cliff Huxtable could do any harm to anyone. Others have been quick to determine that his whole career is a lie and he is a terrible man who has had too much power.

And sadly, the situation has also prompted a plethora of “funny” memes and rape jokes, which inevitably downplay the seriousness of what actually is a horribly disturbing history of a celebrity able to get away with sexual assault because of his level of fame and power and the façade of who he really is.

It makes me sad to hear these women’s stories, like somehow it makes my childhood a lie. If the man who laughed with young children on Kids Say the Darndest Things was also the man who tricked and raped women, how am I supposed to believe anything? How could we all follow this man with admiring eyes, so unaware for so long – letting things like his standup routine about drugging his date go unnoticed after the first round of accusations?

Bill Cosby needs to say something, do something. There is no way the world can ever look at him the same way no matter what the results of this come to be.

Fifteen women.

It is unfortunate that these women did not say something sooner, and they were never able to get Cosby to court when they did. But at least it is out there, and people are actually taking these women seriously now. Why many like myself were blind to such accusations comes down to him being who he is and that persona never being questioned.

It would be nice to take these women’s allegations and throw them under the rug as heresy, but I just cannot do that. Maybe, just maybe if he came forward right away and did something about “false claims” I would still be weighing out the facts, but he did not do that. As much as I wish I could go home and watch The Cosby Show with nostalgia and happiness once more, that will not happen.

Bill Cosby is almost eighty years old, and at some point his depravity, if real, needs to be revealed. Now is that time, and now is when his walls are finally crumbling to the renewed confidence of women who for too long were silenced by fear and ignored by a lack of support against deceitful sweaters and smiles.

It was an impressive run, Mr. Cosby, but it looks like your ridicule of sagging pants and profanity have been dismembered by the claims of far worse crimes.

Shuddle, an uber app for kids


Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 1.17.34 PM
Screenshots of the Shuddle app.

Would you trust your child getting into a car with a stranger? One of the first things we learn when we are young, but finally able to exist more than ten feet away from mom or dad, is to not talk to strangers and most definitely to not go anywhere with them.

Shuddle is a new app being deemed the “Uber for kids.” The premise: to make life easier for busy parents who do not have the time or capability to drive their kids everywhere; or, as the website suggests, to allow parents to kick back after a long day.

From the looks of it, Shuddle looks like a pretty perfect idea. The drivers undergo “extensive” criminal and Department of Motor Vehicle background checks, have experience working with children, and attend an orientation and driving test. Drivers must also have a four-door car less than ten years old that passes a nineteen-point inspection.

You check out their website, download the app and see all of these happy and wonderful looking people. Mostly women and a few gentle looking men pop up on every page.

You know there is no way you can get your daughter to soccer practice and your son to piano lessons both at two o’clock; what better solution then calling Shuddle to send a random person to take one of them and pick them up?

Personally for me, someone with no children but many young kids in my life, I cringed when I first heard about Shuddle. Sure, it may sound great on the surface, but can sending your kid off with a stranger ever really be your best option?

Every day, parents trust teachers and nannies and caregivers and church leaders with their children. People who work with kids are automatically given full trust. While the majority of adults in these positions are probably good people, how many breaking news headlines have we had to see? How many amazing parents have been astonished to find out that their child has been harmed by someone they trusted completely?

The reality is that there are always people who slip through the cracks. There are people who are really good at hiding the bad things that they do, and those who decide to do a really bad thing for the first time on a whim.

Again, Shuddle takes the precautions and measures you would ask for: a safe word chosen by the family that the driver must say upon arrival, GPS tracker of the ride, and a message sent when your child has hit their destination. Shuddle also does not take any children who require a car seat and insist the children have cell phones.

Sounds great, sounds flawless, but are you going to risk that one day a bad seed may pick your child up and never bring him back? Do you trust that your child will not get in the car if they feel scared or uncomfortable? Do you trust that your kid, who is told to get in the car with a new stranger each week, is not going to understand when something might be wrong?

For you single mom or dads still in school, always running late to your part-time job, this may seem like a huge weight off your back. Just remember, you are entrusting your child to a stranger; someone who you may not ever even see or meet unless you are there upon every arrival and drop off, in which case you would probably not need this app anyway.

My advice: get a microchip or something in your child if you plan on using this a lot. I would never say that normally, but yes, I am now. A driver could easily send the arrival message, turn off their GPS and turn off your child’s phone, and then what? With children it is always better to be safe than sorry, right?

Sticker Stealer

 John R. Henifin places new stickers on his shirt from local graffiti artist he admires. (Daniel Porter/ Xpress Magazine)
John R. Henifin places new stickers on his shirt from local graffiti artist he admires. (Daniel Porter/ Xpress Magazine)

Passersby walk their dogs and examine their phones as the wind blows, paying no mind to the man climbing up a streetlight in the middle of a busy sidewalk. One leg supported by the base, one arm hugging around the length of the pole, the Oakland resident scrapes and peels off a compilation of sticker art, previously placed on the metal signs directing pedestrians to public transportation near the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and 40th Street.

It is ten o’clock on Saturday morning and John R. Henifin sits at the MacArthur BART Station in Oakland, sipping a cup of coffee, earbuds blasting the Pixies, getting hyped for an afternoon of scavenging. The weather is warmer than usual and John takes off his brown Abercrombie fleece and heads out from the station. Within ten feet, he hands me his jacket; he has found his first canvas to empty.

The tall, green streetlight, filled from top to bottom with stickers of various sizes, is a storyboard of Bay Area art; a collection of political statements, advertisements, and personal messages. By the time we turn the corner, Henifin’s small blue v-neck is covered from front to back in the neighborhood taggers’ work.

“If someone likes my sticker enough to want to have it for their own collection, I think that is great,” says Danville sticker artist Mar Preclaro, twenty-three, who began putting up her stickers four years ago. “I liken street art to sand painting—both are beautiful and impermanent. For every piece that is scrubbed off or painted over, more appear to replace it. It reminds me that nothing in life is set in stone and if you want to leave a mark on the world, so to speak, you have to put in effort and be persistent.”

As we cross the street, the wind blows one of the stickers off Henifin’s shirt; it flies away and he dashes to catch up to it in the middle of the busy road, as the flashing red hand counts down the seconds. Able to grab the tag, he looks up and runs to the sidewalk, barely escaping the line of honking horns from disgruntled drivers.

This is just another day of collecting stickers for the twenty-seven-year-old. He carries his small, black satchel filled with razor blades, a multi-colored striped scarf, and a stack of four-by-six-inch hard fliers that he has collected from local coffee shops. His nails un-groomed, each one long enough to slide under the thin material he encounters, and already filled with dirt from collecting on his way to our meeting spot.

When there is no more space to fill on his upper body, he stops and puts all that he has gathered so far onto the back and fronts of the thick, glossy fliers. He does this to initially keep each piece in place without ruining them. The gloss takes the adhesiveness off the stickers and allows for an easier process when later placing them into the newest pages of his neatly organized binder collection, in which he will stack next to the excess of other binders on his floor-to-ceiling bookshelf at home.

“I often spend more time putting the stickers carefully into binders than I do removing them,” says Henifin. “On average, [I spend] twenty hours a week collecting and thirty hours a week sorting. Some days I will just grab a dozen or so on my way somewhere while other days I go out with a purpose and collect dozens.”

Since starting in 2009, Henifin has gotten the act of peeling and scraping stickers down to a science. He can tell how long a sticker has been posted there, what material it is made of, and whether or not he can get it off without it falling apart. His experience has given him the unique skill of knowing exactly when and where to look for stickers; finding them behind masses of plants, inside United States postal drop-off mailboxes, and one of his favorites – the large garbage can beneath the stairs at the MacArthur BART Station.

He calls himself the “Sticker Stealer,” a perfect illustration of what he has become, accumulating tens of thousands of stickers, creating his own archive of street art in the confines of his small apartment in Lake Merritt. His years of efforts are organized in binders by each month, a timeline of both consistency and change of artists who spend their days producing and printing masses of stickers to put on view. Henifin collects in Oakland, San Francisco, and anywhere he finds himself where stickers catch his eye.

“When I feel like I am ready and have enough, I will put it on display somewhere other than just online, hopefully touring it to different cities where people do not usually get to see Bay Area art,” says Henifin. “People often only think about what is in the here and now, but I am thinking this collection will be a lot more interesting in thirty plus years.”

Although Henifin enjoys collecting and saving stickers, his hobby stems from a sense of duty to himself and his community. He used to walk the same path to college every day and became annoyed by all of the pointless graffiti he would see and took it upon himself to clean it up. He also does other neighborhood cleanup like gardening, picking up garbage, and clearing water drains so that rain does not flood the streets. He has cleaned up abandoned properties and has gotten other neighbors to help with the gardening process too.

“I clean up the neighborhoods because of the positive response from the people that live in those neighborhoods, especially the business owners,” says Henifin. “I also like going to areas that I know will get tagged again because I feel it gives room for new blood and otherwise I watch it get layered, weathered, or discarded completely. With this, I get to help out my city and myself.”

Henifin keeps a razor blade on hand at all times and is always on the lookout for new sticker art pieces. A lot of the stickers are quite easy to get off of typical places that people post them: city street lights, stop signs, parking meters, and mailboxes. He gets the easy ones off first and then moves on to the harder-to-get pieces, trying never to spend more than a few seconds on each one, unless it is one he really wants.

As I ponder the reasons why anyone would waste their time collecting some of the less impressive pieces of work, Henifin explains the importance of getting a little bit of everything to show an honest reflection of all that is being put up in the neighborhood. Even the one-by-two-inch tags that give the impression of an elementary school kid attempting to graffiti his own name are found in this collection.

“I think people that put up stickers know that their art will not be there forever,” says Richmond sticker artist Andrew Snook. “By John collecting stickers, they have a chance of being preserved for a long time.”

We stop at a community mailbox outside of an apartment complex in West Oakland, a newly covered spot that Henifin had just recently cleared off himself. As he examines and peels, he offers stories of his encounters with the cops while out lifting stickers. Yet to be arrested, he has been followed and accused of placing bombs, defacing public property, and getting high, none of which held any evidence of truth. He has been physically thrown to the ground, had his property taken and broken, and been accused of lying on more than one occasion. After all this, he still continues with more passion and motivation than he ever thought he could have for such a trivial thing.

“I do not want artists to get discouraged just because there is someone like me out there who wants to share it with other cities, cultures, and decades too,” says Henifin. “Keep in mind that one person can easily put up more stickers in a day than I could take down, and I cannot go out every day.”

A native of Washington, Henifin came to the Bay Area in 2009. He has experienced months of homelessness, couch crashing, and has battled with fibromyalgia, a chronic musculoskeletal condition that causes pain and fatigue among other crippling symptoms, since 2003. As he climbs fences and paces down the busy streets, you would never guess he spent many years walking with a cane or that he was experiencing pain every minute of the day. He credits physical therapy, chiropractic care, and his loving dog, who literally stumbled into his lap one day out in the city, for his ability to walk without assistance now. He and his husband, a manager at a local 7-Eleven, have created a comfortable life in the Bay together. Although his partner does not approve of trekking through spider webs and grimy alleyways just to get a sticker, he has grown accustomed to Henifin frequently having to catch up while the two are out and about.

“I have always had collections, but this is the only one I have ever had that was really unique and not driven by money completely,” says Henifin. “I grew up collecting postage stamps, and then graduated to figurines and coins, but those all got expensive fast. Stickers has been the only hobby that I can do continuously without spending all of my cash.”

John R. Henifin organizes the stickers, he has collected, in the appropriate binder from local graffiti artist he admires. (Daniel Porter/ Xpress Magazine)
John R. Henifin organizes the stickers, he has collected, in the appropriate binder from local graffiti artist he admires. (Daniel Porter/ Xpress Magazine)

Henifin’s pursuits have led him to meet local artists and recognize those visiting the area, including one who approached him on BART: “This guy [sticker artist] saw me drawing on stickers and told me to look him up on Tumblr, now I cannot go anywhere in Oakland or San Francisco without seeing WasteFace [art pieces],” says Henifin. “Every sticker is really a gateway to a million more.”

As we pass a row of parking meters, a prime location for stickers, Henifin notices a tag of a small raccoon character. He identifies that the artist is from Seattle, whose work he has seen during visits to Washington. Being able to point out and tell me all about a sticker and the person who created it is an ongoing theme of the day.

His stories are endless, and his knowledge about sticker art and ability to identify almost every sticker that he sees is quite remarkable to watch. In a few hours, I become part of a culture, a world outside of my own, dedicated to a respect and understanding of this type of art’s purpose. We spend five hours on one ten-block radius alone without a dull moment or lack of art to hoard.

“Collections like John’s are good because people often walk past graffiti and think that it is a lower form of art or that it is not real art because it is not in a museum or because they think it makes the town look dirty,” says Preclaro. “But when they see them laid out neatly in front of them they start to notice details and look at it in a new light.”

As we near the end of our trail, a man sitting in his car starts to yell out at Henifin. He asks, judgmentally, what he is doing and why is doing it. Henifin explains his hobby kindly to the man and hands him one of his cards with his information and website on it. Henifin wishes the man a good day, despite his obnoxious laughing as we head toward the 19th Street Station. We wait for the train to take us back to where we started, and Henifin is still on the look out for more stickers, grabbing close to twenty more by the time the train arrives.

Along with collecting the stickers, Henifin makes and puts up his own stickers and has done dozens of collaborations, which he gives away to friends and strangers. He also trades and accepts “donations” in the form of stickers. There is no special underlying meaning in what he does and holds no greater reason for doing it other than for the sake of representing and saving art. Every day, artists spend their time producing art for no profit, for no gain, but solely to create. Instead of being criticized or seen as offensive, Henifin just wants it to be appreciated and remembered.

“Once it is presented in a different way, as art versus noise all over the street, people see it in a positive light and it changes the art completely,” says Henifin.


Find out more at


A Culture of Violence is Alive and Well in the NFL

Ray Rice during the  Baltimore Ravens training camp. Creative Commons photo by Keith Allison
Ray Rice during the Baltimore Ravens training camp. Photo under Creative Commons by Keith Allison

Janay Rice was a victim of domestic violence. As individuals who have never had to walk in the shoes of a victim of abuse, we do not know how to accept that she could endure such treatment, even once, and stay. But as the wave of stories have flooded the Internet with the hashtag #WhyIStayed, it has become more clear why women and men from every walk of life do stay.

Janay Rice does not owe us anything. Why she made the choice to follow through with marrying Ray Rice, to openly place blame on herself for the attack, and to defend him now, no one knows but her. What we do know is that there is clear evidence of what Ray Rice did: he spit in her face, knocked her down to the ground, and dragged her on the floor. Janay does not owe us anything, but the NFL owes it to women and society as a whole to allow no tolerance to abuse.

This week , the Baltimore Ravens released Ray Rice from the team, and the NFL suspended him from the league. They should have done this seven months ago when the first video documenting the abuse  was released. Now, these decisions have caused more confusion than clarity.

The first video, leaked by TMZ in February, shows the Baltimore Ravens running back drop his then-fianceé’s lifeless body to the ground; the elevator doors hitting against her motionless legs, Rice pushes at her body. The second video, leaked on Monday, September 8th, reveals the full extent of the violence that took place.  For the NFL to not exhaust all of its resources to confirm exactly what happened in that elevator was disregard to all victims of abuse.

Just two years ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell promised to make changes to the league’s policies dealing with domestic violence after a chain of such incidents arose. After acknowledging from the original evidence that the twenty-seven-year-old committed domestic violence, he concluded on July twenty-fourth that a fair punishment was a two-game suspension. The moment the NFL made that decision, they confirmed every accusation that they do not give a shit about women or victims of abuse.

All that this recent video did was show everyone, in detail, what they already knew. Goodell, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, and owner Steve Bisciotti claim that further repercussions were not made because no one in the organization had seen this video before it went viral – this is unacceptable.

Rice was charged with third-degree aggravated assault and indicted by a grand jury. Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said in a statement that his office approved Rice’s request for New Jersey’s pretrial intervention program, allowing him to avoid any jailtime. This led to the NFL’s “halt of fact-finding,” according to Goodell. The video was out there, TMZ got their hands on it, and if no one affiliated with the Ravens, Goodell, or the NFL had seen the video, they chose not to.

The Ravens made an immediate decision to release Rice after seeing the entire surveillance footage, and the NFL followed by suspending him indefinitely. Goodell stated the same day that it is possible that Rice could someday return to the NFL.

The fact of the matter is that twenty-one of the thirty-two NFL teams employed a player with a domestic or sexual violence charge on their record last year, according to statistics from U-T San Diego. Ray McDonald, defensive tackle for the San Francisco 49ers, was arrested for alleged domestic violence just two weeks ago and played during the team’s first game of the season on Sunday.

Regardless if Rice ends up being suspended permanently, this will not change the history or future of domestic violence in the NFL. The league instated its new Personal Conduct Policy last week, before the new evidence of Rice was revealed. Under the new penalties, domestic violence or sexual assault violations will merit a six-game suspension for a first-time offense and an indefinite suspension of at least one year for a second offense.

This is bullshit, and it has got to change. Violence is not justified by paying fines or sitting on the sidelines. Physical abuse is serious and real and it needs to be treated that way. The NFL is a massive and influential organization and until they drastically change their policies surrounding such conduct, they are fully condoning domestic violence.

Tune In, Go Native

Written by Chantel Genest
Photos and video by Tony Santos

2It is seven thirty at night and as students make their way home and the campus slowly calms, the Creative Arts building is in the midst of an artistic collaboration that will bring the college grounds back to life. Local musicians are arriving in the radio
lounge, a crew of audio and video producers are setting up a makeshift stage, and in just
a couple of hours the hosts of Native SF will bring an all-out musical roar to KSFS

SF State students Ryan McGeary, Phil Di Leo, and Garrett Peters co-host a program on the university’s KSFS radio station every Tuesday from nine to eleven. The trio brings an innovative show with live performance to listeners each week. With the
help of a crew and the skills these student producers have, fans get not only live radio
entertainment from the station but also video content on YouTube to revel in the local
music whenever they want.

This student-ran radio program is part of SF States Broadcast and Electronic
Communication Arts (BECA) department. The department provides real life skills and
experience to radio and television students each semester. Students get substantial
training and education in areas including TV and radio broadcast, video production,
audio production, sound art, aesthetics, multimedia, writing for media, legal issues in
media, and media management.
1“Though this building is old the resources for students here are incredible,” says
Gina Baleria, SF State online media and radio lecturer. “The full-fledge TV shows and
radio station are amazing. The perfect storm of opportunity is right here.”

The Creative Arts building houses one of Northern California’s biggest
production facilities for radio, television, and multimedia. With three color television
studios, a music-recording studio, radio station, video and audio post-production labs,
and an online lab, everything needed for students to practice and perfect their art form is readily available.

With so much going on in just one building, it seems crazy that many people on
campus do not know about BECA. Inspired and motivated students populate all of
department’s emphases and one of the biggest downfalls is a student coming to SF State
and not being aware that this program exists and missing out on a number of invaluable

“At the end of each semester I get students in my office lamenting about
graduating,” says Jeff Jacoby, the department’s radio director and advisor. “Not because
they are not happy to be graduating, but because they were not able to take all of the
BECA classes that they wanted to.”

Jacoby came to SF State and took over the KSFS radio station in 2006. While he
entered into a very well known department that was operating on all cylinders and had a
community of generally very happy students, he had some major goals he wanted to fulfill.

“I wanted to change the culture of KSFS so that the radio station became student
property,” says Jacoby. “It became their radio station—not mine, not the department’s,
and not SF State’s. That is how you get students to connect and engage with their
education, by giving them control.”

Each semester Jacoby starts his advanced KSFS radio class by informing his students that he has three sound studios and that everything they do in those studios will
be broadcasted over the web and played for an audience. He asks them one question: I
am going to hand you the keys to this facility, what are you going to do with it?

“I want them to push the envelope of what radio is and what radio can be,” says
Jacoby. “Radio is changing so dramatically and its definition needs rewriting.”

Ryan McGeary is one radio student who took Jacoby’s words to heart. As the
original creator of Native SF, McGeary wanted to expand his show and make it
something new and exciting and challenging. He was ready and willing to invest himself
and all of his time into making it something great.

“It started off as a playlist program because that was the obvious choice,
everyone was doing that,” says McGeary. “But I have been playing in the Bay Area
music scene for eight years or so and it made sense to use those connections to make my
show more interesting.”

Into his first semester producing Native SF, McGeary decided to bring in bands
during his program to play live in the studio. As fate would have it, the first band he
booked included Phil Di Leo. After that performance, Di Leo jumped on the chance to be
a part of the program and has played a major role in it ever since.

“I liked what he was doing and wanted to help out any way that I could and that
turned into what we have today,” says Di Leo.

3With two sets of connections and two ideas of what great music is, the program
has been able to see a range of different bands and genres. Along with seeking out bands
to book, McGeary has been reached out to many times when musicians hear about their
show and want to be on. There is no limitation on the talent that comes in as long as the
team believes they are local and have quality music they are more than excited to have

“No one is big or small, it is all about the music and exposing new music to
people,” says McGeary. “Although, we do like to think really, really big and not limit
ourselves to any level of fame either.”

The third member of the group, Garrett Peters, is the production manager of the
entire KSFS station and co-hosts an additional radio show called Blare It! on Saturdays
from noon to two with Danny Molina. He and Di Leo are also in a band called Edward’s
Crossing together. After initially assisting McGeary as part of his managerial roles,
Peters liked the direction the show seemed to be heading and decided he wanted a take
on a permanent role with Native SF. McGeary and Di Leo were more than welcoming.

“We are a good team, we all can visualize similar images in each other’s head and
understand what we are talking about,” says Di Leo. “We are all open to new things and
are all very receptive to each others ideas.”

The team shows up hours early each Tuesday evening to set up for the broadcast.
Microphones and cords are placed all around the room, having to be checked and double-
checked and triple-checked. Cameras are set up; lighting is arranged around the lounge.

When the band shows up they brief them, do a sound check, audio and video record a
five to six song set while live on the radio, and have to clean all the work up in thirty to forty five minutes to be out of the Creative Arts building by eleven. After that, all of the separate elements from production are assembled; at least three songs for each of the live bands are edited and put up on YouTube.

“In our experience the live radio is not the most lucrative part of it,” says
McGeary. “We try to put content out in multiple platforms and have multimedia out
there, not just audio.”

The co-hosts have melded into a driven, creative, and collaborative unit and it
shows both on air and off. In between hours of setting up a play space, grueling over
perfect sound and audio checks and the never-ending editing of mass content, these
friends give off a constant circle of comradery and good-natured shit talking.

As all three members share similar backgrounds being musicians themselves, they
have an understanding of what bands want and expect and need to perform well. When
the bands come in, keeping a good vibe and staying professional with what they are
doing makes the program go smoothly.

“Native SF is a three-man production team that strives to bring unheard and enjoyable music to people in a presentable way that is both beneficial to be viewed in the
audience perspective and the bands perspective,” says Di Leo. “We are a middle-man for
bands that are trying to speak to their fans.”

As much as these guys do to run the show, they definitely give credit to the other
students who come out and help each week. There are so many things that need to be
done and just three people couldn’t possibly do it without recruiting help from outside
majors like photojournalism and cinema. A core group of about six other SF State
students show up with cameras and lights and whatever is needed.

“It has been rewarding to see those people come out of the woodworks become
the people that we rely on every week,” says McGeary.

When it comes down to it, Native SF is doing exactly what it is meant to. As their
advisor Jacoby discusses, you have to push the boundaries, give a definition to radio, and own your product while doing it.

“Phil and Garrett and Ryan, what they are doing, what Native SF is doing on
radio, is classic BECA student behavior,” says Jacoby. “That is exactly what I want
students to be doing.”

KSFS has over sixty scheduled programs playing one-hour to two-hour sessions
throughout the week between eight in the morning and eleven at night on,
which is also run by BECA students. No shows are exactly the same, and the free form
radio structure of the station allows for a range of topics from Travis Schilling’s
Countdown to Coachella to Rocky Matthews & Brionne Bauchman’s The Rocky Hour
Show, a sex education and relationship advice talk show.

“You can have a show about books, about all hip-hop, a talk show, a sport show,
whatever you want,” says BECA senior and KSFS General Manager Michael Payton.

“Basically every hour you are on the station you are doing something you want to be

Even with all of the freedom that BECA radio students receive in their artistic
process, the faculty guiding them is what allows for such a productive and creative space.

Jacoby does impose FCC regulations on them because it is exactly what will have
to be used after they graduate and “that is good training.” He also imposes the idea that
they have an audience and that they should serve their audience.

“I think this experience will prepare me for the radio world after I graduate
because the teachers really focus the coursework on things that will help us in the real
world,” says Sara Bailey, co-host of Dopest of the Decades on KSFS.

Some may think that radio is a dying medium, but the students and faculty in the
BECA department and on KSFS know that that is not the case. Even as terrestrial radio
declines in the shadow of Internet radio, the station here is already set up on the web and the moment online radio is available in the car, KSFS will already be there.

In truth, what radio is cannot really be said. With the use of multimedia, podcasts
and YouTube, and the enormous available outlets on the Internet to get content out, radio
is more than what it used to be. To be in the industry students have no option but to
become multifaceted and that is exactly the aim that the BECA department has for them.

“Radio is definitely morphing into something different but it is so alive and so
vibrant,” says Baleria. “Everyone is still listening, everyone is still tuning in.”

Like the hosts of Native SF, creativity and innovation is spilling out of the
Creative Arts building every day. The BECA department is highly renowned all around
the country and students leave with vast experience and opportunity to succeed. You can
find a BECA student interning or working at almost any radio station in the city and the
professor connections and achievements only put them even more ahead of the crowd.

“They show us how we can do it,” says Peters. “They give us the tools and we pick up those tools and we do something cool.”

Pitch Black Symphony

Written By Chantel Genest
Photographed by Lorisa Salvatin

You are acutely aware of a bang and a roar, a drum cymbal between a ticking beat traveling from your left to your right. A toad croaks amidst the mire beneath you, a deep hooting owl hidden in the trees above you. Chirps and a buzzing of a busy forest evade your surroundings. Silence. Water trickles off of the walls, a child’s utterance coming towards you from the distance. Ascending high and low, far and near, a makeshift symphony heightens your auditory senses as you sink into the pitch-black world consuming the remains of your sightless perception. You are experiencing the Audium

“I gradually fell into a trance state where I was somewhat awake and somewhat asleep,” says Ben Slater, twenty-five. “The fragment of noises brought memories in and out of my mind and made me more aware of time.”

As you pass the ticket booth and make your way into the foyer, you at once cannot help but to look all around you. Moving images of waterfalls stream across the walls and the echo of dripping liquid takes hold of your auditory senses. From the moment you enter the Audium building the experience has begun.

Once eight-thirty strikes you will assemble into a faintly lit room and choose from the forty-nine plastic folding chairs set up in a sphere around the dome-like theater. The lights begin to dim little by little until you find yourself in complete darkness. For the next ninety minutes, if you can handle it, you will be entrapped by a series of noises. Not quite together, yet not far apart, from children laughing to puddles splashing a chain of sounds bring you into a new perceptual awareness.

In the 1950’s, space was still an unexplored element of music composition due to the lack of audio technology available. Composer Stan Shaff and equipment designer Doug McEachern shared an idea that space was capable of revealing a new musical language.

Together the SF State alumni took their idea and made it reality. In 1967 the first Audium location opened up, the only space of its kind constructed specifically for sound movement and utilizing the entire environment as a compositional tool. At that time the performance was created through only forty-four speakers.

By the time the present location opened up on Bush Street in 1975, the space was installed with a floating floor and 136 speakers hanging above the audience and embedded into the walls and floors.

“What you are hearing in there is me at a board, changing and altering where the sound is coming from, the intensities, the speed in which it’s traveling,” says Shaff. “The board is an instrument of space. I am literally composing my work, which is on a hard disc in a separate part of the building that comes into the board and I then distribute it into the different speakers around the room.”

Today, with 176 speakers placed specifically around the custom made structure with slanted and protruding walls, the audience is carried into pitch-blackness, allowing no visual awareness, to hear a sequence of noises travel over and under and everywhere in between.

After nearly a half century, Shaff continues to show up every Friday and Saturday at eight o’clock to compose the performance for audiences young and old, both newcomers and returners looking for something new to expand their minds and views.

“With technology has come this world of sound,” said Shaff’s son and employee Dave. “The world used to be a lot quieter than it is now.”

Surround sound, Imax movie theatres, and the boundaries of music being broken down constantly have changed the way we think. Technology has pushed younger generations to crave new ways of thinking and to explore the unknown.

“People nowadays are searching out and looking for that experience with a kick and this is definitely that,” says Dave.

The performance at Audium is unique, no doubt. You are forced to see with your ears and accept the both harsh and delicate reverberations moving through you, transforming from distant clatter to in-your-face bangs.

“You can’t follow one thought for too long because the audio will take you somewhere else,” says Aaron Strick, twenty-four. “It was a nice blend of internal feelings that someone else is guiding and affecting. Its just a rare experience to have.”

Halfway through the performance the lights turn up just enough for your visual senses to return and for five minutes you and the strangers around you sit staring around at the dark images of each other’s bodies and the hanging speakers above you. For those that aren’t grasping or enjoying the composition, this is the time to exit.

“Initially we weren’t sure, and early on more people were uncomfortable with the darkness and the atmosphere,” Says Stan.

For now, Audium continues to use a recorded audio sequence in which Shaff changes every year to year and a half. But Shaff, his son, and McEachern have bigger plans for the future with more elements to add to the mix. Live performers and greater three-dimensional sounds are a hope for the staff.

Learning to use the soundboard is a daunting task, but one Stan plans to teach his son very soon. Dave, who has been around Audium his entire life and even lends to the performance with audio recordings of him as a child as part of the piece, plans to continue and expand further what his father has started.

“I look at Audium as being only a seedling, like a start up of the idea of space, immersion, sound movement and the control of that motion,” says Shaff. “I imagine it only getting more evolved and seeing more places like the Audium popping up eventually.”

You can experience Audium for yourself, every Friday and Saturday night beginning promptly at eight-thirty.

Fur and Loving: Unzipping the SF Furry Culture

“Shaman” by Patricia Wilson, Furry Artist.

Written by Chantel Genest

A purple fox is spotted walking upright on Harrison Street in the Mission District. It halts at the corner, greeted with hugs from a brown teddy bear, a silver wolf, and a neon bunny just outside a dark and narrow cavern blaring electronic dance music. Passersby scoff at the sight, but a few curious individuals question what the hell they just witnessed.

Snooping inside, the outcasts find themselves welcomed by total strangers left and right. Some shrouded by mascot-like costumes, some with little black ears and purple tails, or many that look perfectly normal.

Every month a group of Bay Area residents gather at The Stud Bar in San Francisco for Frolic, an event for the furry community. They drink, meet new friends, and dance their tails off, literally. Furries, a growing subculture supported around an extensive love of anthropomorphic art, was once secluded to chat rooms and forums on the Internet. The community has grown and now hosts sizeable conventions and meet-ups all over the world.

To the ‘mundane’—as furries have dubbed the outsiders to their community—the concept of furry fandom has typically been centered on a sexual fetish and nothing more than people dressing up in ‘funny animal’ costumes to do strange and erotic things. But the furry culture is made up of a vastly diverse group of people with individual perspectives and varying interests of creative expression. The only genuine bond connecting the full scope of the furry community is a common love for ‘funny animal’ characters in art.

A hub for diversity, it is no surprise that San Francisco has formed a massive furry community of its own that has brought furries from around the Bay Area together to socialize with like-minded people and share like-minded art. The Bay Area has thousands of furries who create and take pleasure in furry music, furry drawings, and the flashy fursuits that have become the public’s main representation of the fandom.

“It is a culture that really embraces individual creation,” says Fremont furry artist Patricia “Bastek” Wilson, 26. “Personal expression is not something most people get in their lives and I think it is one of the biggest draws to the furry community—the ability to express parts of themselves that cannot be expressed otherwise.”


Anthropomorphic characters are by no means a new concept. In layman’s terms, they are anything non-human that possess distinctive, human-like traits. Humans have a long history of anthropomorphizing animals and nature, both for religious idolization and as metaphorical outlets to tell stories and teach morals. Ancient cultures have used anthropomorphic animal characters in their art and spirituality, and the role of these in literature can be traced at least back to Aesop’s fables in 500 B.C.

“In older cultures, there was not so much separation between people and nature,” says Wilson. “As religions progress in time you see less and less connection with the earth and animals that we share it with.”

The term ‘funny animals’ came in to context in the early 1900s to distinguish them from more realistic animal characters such as Lassie.

Donald Duck, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Winnie the Pooh are just a few notable furry characters that gave us comfort and entertainment as we ached to find our place in the world as kids. Children’s books, TV shows and movies have become so dominated by anthropomorphic characters, that many of our fondest childhood memories include furry art, whether we know it or not.  For the people in the Furry Fandom, the fascination of cartoon animals and giant, life-sized mice at Disneyland never faded.


In 1985, Mark Merlino and Rod O’Riley held one of the first parties designated for furries at Westercon, a large science-fiction convention. The party gathered artists to share collections of furry art and short stories, along with a viewing of Warner Bros. short cartoons and more. This themed party influenced Merlino and O’Riley to hold the first Furry Convention in 1990, ConFurence, which paved the way for furry conventions and meetups to sprout up throughout the nation.

Today, San Jose is home to one of the largest annual furry conventions, Further Confusion. It was the first event sponsored by the non-profit Anthropomorphic Arts and Education, and continues to showcase art and honor creative individuals in the furry world.

“It started through looking for different characters that I had grown up with and seeing the way that different artists worked with it,” says John “Sticker Stealer” Henifin, 27, of San Francisco. “Like Disney and Warner Bros., the characters have a certain style. People will take those same characters and develop them into their own style, so it was recognizable, but also something you had never seen before.”

Henifin enjoys creating graffiti-style pieces that he gives away or shares online at, the largest ongoing website for the promotion of furry art. When he isn’t doing his own work, he is out in the city peeling sticker art off buses and stops signs, which he saves in a massive collection with hundreds of binders at home and online at For him, the sharing and collaborative efforts made in the fandom are something spectacular.

“The artists tend to push together and play off each others ideas,” says Henifin. “Sometimes one person will start drawing a character and they all work on it until they have this big masterpiece.”

Many furries will wear a badge around their neck at meetups and conventions so that others will recognize them from online. A big market for furry artists is actually bringing to life fursonas, a furry’s animal alter ego name.

“The artists are deeply involved in the culture by helping people realize their characters. It is really a joy to help bring something like that to life,” says Wilson. “It used to be the standard price for a badge was fifteen to twenty dollars. Now it is anywhere from fifteen to fifty dollars depending on the artist.”

Wilson has been a furry artist for eleven years and has used the money to pay her way through college. She says it was the art and the surrounding community that brought her to the fandom when she was first introduced to it on, a then PG-rated furry art site.

“For me, furry originally had nothing to do with adult art. I did not recognize that it was part of the fandom,” says Wilson. “It actually came as a shock to me initially, and then I understood why furries were the butt of everyone’s jokes.”

Wilson had a hard time with the adult artwork she began seeing throughout the fandom, finding herself uncomfortable with those themes. But to her, there was no difference between the erotica in furry and standard pornography. She found the furry culture at a time when she was questioning her life and growing out of the religion in which she was raised.

“Eventually the positivity and openness surrounding sexuality helped me to understand and become comfortable with my own sexual nature,” says Wilson.

For other Bay Area furries, art was something they had been doing all their lives before even knowing about the fandom. Kriss “Samoy Wolf” Andrews*, was president of the anime club at her high school when it was brought to her attention that her art looked a lot like furry art.

“I do a lot of cartoony and anime style drawings,” says Andrews. “I mostly draw felines and canines. That is what people identify most with because of our pets growing up.”

Like many Bay Area furry artists, Heather Rose, 28, “Lady Duck,” makes money through commissions for furry drawings. Producing works of art for other furries allows her to invent never before imagined scenarios in her illustrations.

“I have always drawn people and animals separately, but combining them is just, fun,” says Rose. “It is nothing more complicated than that.”


With popular music videos like Ke$ha’s “C’mon,” and the Gym Class Heroes “Clothes Off,” featuring fursuiters (furries who wear the costumes), it seems furry animals have made their way into mainstream media. While it is true that Furry Fandom appears on the surface to be a purely visual interest, furries have started using music to express their furry creativity. Songs such as Miike Snow’s “Animal” features lyrics about changing shapes, and a music video showcasing furry giraffe heads, and have become theme songs for Bay Area furries.

“It speaks to a lot of furries because it is all about changing who you are,” says Oakland resident Erin Merit, 27. “Changing your outward appearance just to be an animal.”

Merit, known by his fursona “Neonbunny”, hosts and performs at Frolic on every second Saturday of the month and is also the co-founder of the FUR camp event at Burning Man.  Also known as DJ Neonbunny, is known in the  Bay Area furry community for his upbeat music that many have pranced and danced to at local meetups. A favorite from his playlist is his rendition of the popular rave song, “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat,” where he replaces “Rave” with “Fursuit” and modifies the lyrics to relate to the furry lifestyle.

“Right now I’m working on one with a lot of music from a cartoon show called “Gumball,” which is about a cat and his rabbit sister and walking fish brother,” says Merit.


Fursuiting has become the most identifying aspect of the fandom for those not a part of it. The fandom did not start out with fursuits everywhere, but the suits have grown as the fandom has. A 2005 survey by the UC Davis Psychology Department found that only eighteen percent of the fandom actually owned a full fursuit. Cost is a big factor. Full fursuits can range from a few hundred to up to ten thousand dollars for high quality ones. While there are many professional fursuit makers, most costume makers are amateurs.

“I was really creeped out by fursuits at first,” says Wilson, who has made eight fursuits, but has yet to make one for herself. “Back then they were not as high quality as they are now, but I eventually had a friend teach me how to make them.”

Most furries are known by their fursonas online, so when it comes to conventions and actually meeting other furries in person, the fursuit can give them confidence and a sort of transformative power to socialize with ease.

“If someone is really shy, the fursuit can act as a layer of emotional protection that allows the person to interact more comfortably and become the confident person they want to be,” says Wilson. “The confidence found when wearing a suit can really change a person, and I think that confidence eventually bleeds over for many people into their everyday life.”

Hayward resident and co-founder of the Further Confusion convention Corey “Chairo” Strom, has been building fursuits for over fifteen years.

Strom projected the average suit to consist of eighty percent faux fur, fifteen percent foam, and five percent for everything else, including glue, thread, and spandex, but every fursuit maker has their own method. Some ambitious artists have even added machinery to the workings such as wagging tails and blinking eyes to give a greater animal effect.

When crafting their fantasy personas, furries are likely to identify with animal traits that they find to be consistent with their own, or desired, inner personality. Not surprisingly, the majority of fursonas and fursuits are canine or feline, illustrating a strong connection to pets. Once becoming closer to their fursonas, it is not unusual for furries to mix multiple animals together to create something completely new.

“She is ninety percent wolf, five percent fox, and five percent border collie,” says Andrews when describing her spunky white and turquoise fursuit personality.

Of course, the fandom is not foreign to sex. There is an alternative fraction of the fandom who do very much use their fursuits for sexual arousal. Truth is, altering the suits to make them apt for sex is not a such daunting task. Add a zipper and there you go, sex can convene anytime, anywhere.

San Francisco is and will always be known for its liberal activism and resident diversity. The Bay Area furries are fortunate to be centered in a city where they can congregate in peace and acceptance, and not be ridiculed for running around in fursuits.

San Francisco is also known for being a hub of creativity and vision. All forms of art can be found scattered throughout the Bay Area.  It is no wonder that so many furries live in the Bay or travel long distances for the local furry meetups.

*Name has been changed to protect subject’s identity