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Welcome to the Counterculture


A group of counterculture subscibers dance in a group

gathering in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.

The counterculture has become a common term in today's society, used to explain the convergence of many movements during the 1960s and early 1970s concerned with turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. The men and women of this culture chose to criticize the system, convinced that the world's problem was "the man." The establishment had failed them; the system was broken. Those "long-haired freaks" who operated on new wavelengths saw themselves as cultural revolutionaries offering a new and better way to approach the world. "We're just a couple of free spirits driftin' across the land. Doin' exactly what we want to do," chimed in a song discussing the hippie mindset. This movement against the norms of society attracted a hugely diverse group of people. Though they came to mostly be recognized by their long hair, beads, unique music and drug use, their origins were varied. "College students, drug-using trippers and heads, aging beatniks, artists, rock musicians and their fans, communalists, religious evangelicals and mystics, and myriad countercultural types. Although there were certainly overlaps, the 1960s counterculture was composed of a diverse array of human beings, the vast majority of whom can best be defined as 'hippies' who showed no interest whatsoever in overthrowing," tells one academic. Indeed, the counterculture's revolutionary ideas were never meant to encompass the majority, but rather to offer an alternative for those "enlightened" minds. 


A young hippie woman carries a sign with the common

"Love not War" slogan during a Vietnam War protest.

They formed their own ideals, their own anti-systematic systems, and their own sense of self. In doing so, the hippies -- who today are significantly less visible or even nonexistent -- left behind a plethora of cultural artifacts uniquely oriented to show the public the ins and outs of a disillusioned, anti-establishment, "return to the earth" movement. What is perhaps most interesting about  counterculture proponents is that, in providing their "new" alternatives and hippie progression out of what they viewed as a flawed society, the majority of them found the solution in ancient practices. Those most passionate of hippies encouraged others to join them in a new community with old traditions. "A strong segment of the hippie counterculture's artistic community became fascinated with the rural mystique." In music, art, and deed, hippies urged people more and more to find unity with nature, to go back to the earth. Herein lies the major impetus for the popularity of communes during the 1960s. Intentional communities, or hippie communes, were a major aspect of the counterculture, and perhaps even the ultimate expressions.


In what is perhaps one of the most famous images of the

counterculture, a woman at a protest in Washington DC

bares her chest with emblematic peace signs painted on it.

Though hippies were often very visible in neighborhoods such as San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, for instance, the individuals who chose to fully leave society are often remembered with more fervor today. These were the men and women who departed. For those truly serious about "dropping out" of the broken system, these communities were the path to freedom and spiritual growth. They were a chance to live with purpose and openmindedness. Many countercultural individuals thought these social experiments were the right way to fix society's ills. By looking at the cultural artifacts left behind in these communes, we gain a better perspective of life in the community and how aspects of daily processes spoke to larger countercultural themes. Indeed, by studying communes as unique small-scale societies with specific intentions, we gain more of an understanding of the counterculture than we do through any other method. These communities are where the quintessential hippie lived, worked, studied, and passed on essential traditions. As you move through this exhibit, you will learn about the history of the commune, life in the commune itself, and the commune today. By extension, you will see how people have come to understand and report on this essential emblem of the counterculture. 

Welcome to the Counterculture