Reevaluating the State of the Arts in Oakland

Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Department (CAD) is severely underfunded and understaffed. According to a memo sent by CAD to the Funding Advisory Committee last November 26, current staffing levels are just one full-time employee and one temporary service contract employee. $1.2 million in grants were awarded in the last fiscal year, a number which has not seen a significant increase since before the recession. (By way of comparison, the San Francisco Art Commission handed out $1.6 million in grants in 2014-2015…

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The Commodification of Public Art (Op/Ed)

Recently, Pacific Standard magazine  wrote an article about public art in Oakland. Specifically, the story addressed mural brokers, middlemen who connect fat cat developers with artistic talent – for a fee.  Mural brokers, the article explains, handle logistics such as price negotiations, choosing artists, prepping walls for painting, and handling insurance coverage – “everything necessary to make the mural happen except paint it.” The article correctly points out the cultural cachet of murals, and their historical connection to illegal street art,…

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Abatement Alternatives: Why Oakland Needs A Mural Program (Part Two)

In Part One of this series, the Community Rejuvenation Project’s (CRP) work and murals in general received unexpected praise from an unlikely source – a city abatement worker known as Erase, who publicly stated abatement was a waste of money, and that murals might be a better, more cost-efficient, alternative. The post went on to detail extensively why abatement is a money pit which is problematic on many levels, and propose a solution: shift some of the more than seven-figures…

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Abatement Alternatives: Why Oakland Needs a Mural Program (Part One)

Perhaps the highest level of praise a mural organization could receive is from a city abatement worker, who by his own estimation has been covering up graffiti for “eight hours a day, five days a week” for 28 years. Indeed, during the Community Rejuvenation Project’s recent Alice Street Symposium , an abatement worker known as Erase, revealed that he’s been “promoting murals” for eight years. Erase spoke highly of murals in general, and singled out CRP for praise: “I’ve been…

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Another Perspective on Oakland’s Public Art Ordinance

Recently, the Community Rejuvenation Project (CRP) addressed Oakland’s controversial public art ordinance, analyzing the implications of a since-withdrawn staff report (a copy is here) outlining proposed changes, as well as some background on the history of the ordinance itself. While the staff report’s small changes to clarify language and buttress the ordinance against lawsuits seemed reasonable, the tacked-on proposal to incentivize the in-lieu contribution is both both problematic and unnecessary.  CRP has since gotten word that the item has been pulled,…

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Revis(it)ing Oakland’s Controversial Public Art Ordinance

Recently, Oakland city staff proposed revisions to the controversial Percent for Art ordinance , which will be discussed at a March 14th  Community & Economic Development subcommittee meeting, a preliminary step before a full City Council hearing. Most of the changes are minor, intended to clarify fuzzy language in the ordinance. But one proposed revision is not so innocuous: city staff has recommended incentivizing the “in-lieu” contribution to make that option more attractive to developers. The implications of this could be…

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Developers: Public Art “Something That’s Not Really Needed”

Oakland’s cultural shift is real, it’s happening right now, and its impacts could be devastating from a long-term perspective – unless there is a strong, concerted effort from both the cultural community and the larger community to organize around anti-displacement and cultural resiliency efforts. That’s the short version; the longer version goes something like this: For the past decade or so, as Oakland has become more and more gentrified, the threat of displacement has loomed ever-present. The biggest impact of…

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Cultural Resilience, Community Engagement, and Addressing Displacement from an Equity Standpoint

In the wake of the recent completion of the mural dedicated to murdered painter Antonio Ramos and Soul of Oakland and OCNC rallies to defend Oakland’s culture, CRP painted the outside walls of community organization Qilombo as part of an anti-gentrification rally. Most of the massive wall, which features portraits of Assata Shakur,Thomas Sankara, and Amed Sekou Toure against a red black and green backdrop, was done in just one day. Qilombo is currently facing another eviction attempt, this time from…

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Big Ideas for Oakland’s Downtown Mostly Exclude Artists (Op/Ed)

Retaining the character, flavor and cultural identity of Oakland should be a Big Idea. But in an urban planning process which appears to be completely run by developers and consultants, apparently with the blessing of the pro-development administration of Mayor Libby Schaff, broadly diverse voices of the artistic and creative community may have been all but shut out of that process. As CRP previously noted, the development community has already taken aim at the arts, by filing a lawsuit this…

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