As part of that venture, Mr. McNamee committed to commissioning a poster for each Moonalice concert, so now there are well over 1,000 posters reflecting the work of close to 40 different artists.
Occasionally, a political poster gets thrown into the mix, such as a new one made to honor the recent March for our Lives, or a 2016 reproduction of Wes Wilson's red, white and blue poster from 1965 carrying a swastika and the words, "Are we next? Beware."
The new posters are continually being added to an extensive collection Mr. McNamee has accumulated over the years. His wife, Ann, shares his interest, collecting her own specialty: Polish art posters of circuses and films from the 1970s.
Stored in a vast vault, the collection is part of the Center for Countercultural Studies, for which Mr. McNamee serves as president; Nicholas Meriwether, former curator of the Grateful Dead Archive at UC Santa Cruz, is the collection's archivist. "We have a very academic focus for now; we have a lot of original art, and process materials (such as plates), and printed art," Mr. McNamee says.
"Museums have not generally looked at this stuff," he adds, acknowledging that what he has collected is fairly unusual.
He is visibly excited when he talks about everything he has acquired, including "some really rare, really important" poster art such as originals by the late Rick Griffin, as well as archives and tchotchkes from two big-name promoters: Chet Helms Family Dog and Hale Milgrim.
From time to time the public gets a chance to see pieces of this private collection at concert pop-ups such as Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco and Bottle Rock in Napa. Last year some of the artwork was displayed at three "Summer of Love" shows at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland, and the Haight Street Art Center, a new venue in San Francisco.
Mr. McNamee anticipates there will be more demand for the art to be shown when the Woodstock music festival's 50th anniversary is celebrated next year.
Mr. McNamee was a co-founder and instrumental in setting up Haight Street Art Center, contributing about $2 million to remodel a 12,000-square-foot former UC Berkeley Extension site. He established a nonprofit dedicated to making poster art and showcasing it in a gallery.
The center's executive director is Peter McQuaid, a former CEO of Grateful Dead Productions who is a poster collector and close friend of the McNamees.
Since the center's opening last July with the Summer of Love show, there have been several exhibits. The current shows are "Artifacts" of Emek Golan's poster work, and a display of Ralph Steadman's original art for Hunter S. Thompson's book, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."
Mr. McQuaid says, "The poster art world has changed a lot with the internet, text messages and email blasts," so a shift has occurred moving away from pre-event publicity to posters serving more as take-home souvenirs or memorabilia.
"They are the permanent record, they are what's left behind after the performance," which, he says with a laugh, is sometimes more memorable than the music itself.
With the shift from pre- to post-event, he sees a production trend toward higher quality and less quantity. When lithography became popular in the 1990s, it enabled artists to churn out promotional posters by the thousands, whereas these days posters are more apt to be silk-screened, hand-printed, and sell for $50 to $100 apiece.
The center has an upstairs workspace that is stocked with supplies and designed to operate as a co-op where artists can make posters, teach classes, and then sell their work downstairs. There are plans to add lithography and offset printing to the current silk-screening set up.
Mr. McQuaid describes the art of poster making as "an endangered practice," but is hopeful to turn that around by offering artists a way to produce, control their output, and sell it directly to consumers.
As Mr. McNamee puts is, "The economics of being a poster artist are terrible," which is why he wanted "to create philanthropy to support the art form."
The center is located at 215 Haight St., and open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
Go to haightstreetart.org for more information.
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