The immersion into the Bay Area focused on Oakland’s cultural and artistic life and the city’s grappling with social, cultural, and racial inequity. Unlike its neighbors, San Francisco and Berkeley, Oakland has only recently been discovered as a destination for arts and culture. In the public eye, the city is better known for its racial upheavals, as birthplace of the Black Panther Movement and for its high crime rate. Besides its best-known art venues and organizations - such as the Oakland Museum of California, AXIS Dance Company, and Paramount Theatre - Oakland is also known as breeding ground for artistic and cultural grass-roots initiatives such as the West Oakland Mural Project, the Oakland Theatre Project, and the now tragically famous make-shift art space Ghost Ship warehouse.
Our focus was shaped by two recent events: the 2018 release of the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission’s first cultural plan in 30 years, "Belonging in Oakland: A Cultural Development Plan;” and the city’s art institutions’ responses to COVID-19. The new cultural plan set the tone for an equity-focused, community-oriented approach. Triggered by the challenges imposed by COVID, The Oakland Museum set an inspiring example in rethinking how they operate, starting from the premise that they need to disrupt traditional business practices.
Besides talking to the heads behind these measures and inquiring into the impact and long-term effects of such measures, we visited arts initiatives and artist initiated projects on both sides of the Bay that reflect the Bay Area’s vibrant answers to demands for equity and social justice. Students conversed with policymakers, artists, cultural workers, and administrators to get a sense of the Bay Area’s art and culture as it reemerges from the pandemic in the age of racial reckoning.
Meeting the innovative, thoughtful leaders and cultural workers in Oakland changed my worldview- I now look for modes of belonging and placemaking in my hometown, in Buffalo, and in all arts organizations. I have a greater understanding of what is possible.
-Maggie Kilada ('24)
Students after a discussion with Sunshine Deffner (Associate Managing Director) at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
Students stand with Cultural Affairs Manager Roberto Bedoya after their meeting to discuss Oakland's new cultural plan.
Natalia Mount, Executive Director of Pro-Arts Gallery and Commons, sits with students after their meeting.
Kevin Leary leads a conversation with Colin Mandlin (Managing Director) and Ari Powell (Director of Patron Experience) of the Oakland Theatre Project.
Moy Eng and Owen Levin from Community Arts Stabilization Trust take a picture with the student group.
Meg Shiffler, Director of Galleries for SF Arts Commission, guides students through the City Hall Galleries.
Discussion with Ely Sonny Orquiza, Co-artistic director of the Chikahan Company, in Yerba Buena Gardens.