When Gertrude Stein coined the phrase, “there is no there there” in relation to her childhood home, little did she know that it would have a renaissance in the Oakland of the 21st Century. While some feel the statement was a negative comment about our city, what she really was speaking to was change. The Oakland of her youth was gone, her version of “there” was gone; a new place was now there and it was unfamiliar. Cities change. They shrink and grow. They struggle and flourish. They crumble and build. Often, these things happen at the same time; a confusing dichotomy of positive and negative that is hard to understand. As I sat down to write this I remembered that I had touched on Oakland’s current climate in my very first post so I decided to go back and re-read exactly what I had written:
“I don’t intend to use this as a platform to jump in on that debate; but I do hope that I can use this site as a vehicle to not only share some of the amazing spaces and places that are planting new roots in Oakland, but to also occasionally highlight our city’s history, communities, and people. Will see how I do.”
When I look at that statement almost a year later, I feel a couple things. While I still feel I am not qualified to be on a platform, I do feel that I have a responsibility. I feel that since I have become a more visible member of the community it is my duty to share, to help educate, to give people something to think about. The Oakland Museum of California is doing the same thing. Their new exhibit, “Oakland, I want you to know…” is thought provoking, inspiring, upsetting, and hopeful. It is an invitation to our community, a challenge, to fight to keep our “there there.” As a member of the community I experienced all of those emotions when I spent time viewing it a couple of weeks ago.
The exhibit’s focus is West Oakland, a section of our city that is sitting under a large spotlight right now given the rapid and dramatic change being felt within its borders. The exhibit encourages interaction on such topics as architectural preservation, the impact of BART to the community, the West Oakland food desert and growing community garden movement, and the neighborhood’s deep roots in the history of jazz and R&B music. The show is the third thought-provoking exhibit by U.C. Berkeley grad Evelyn Orantes, produced in conjunction with artist and social activist Chris Treggiari. Contributions to the exhibit have been made by local organizations such as Eastside Arts Alliance, Youth Radio, and Town Park. Artists Querido Galdo and Michael Wertz designed posters which are available for you to sit down to write your thoughts, to share within the exhibit or from your window sill at home.
As the acceleration of change increases, the timing of the exhibit is spot on. It encourages questions about the word I touched about in the beginning: change. How do we keep change positive, productive, and impactful? How do we prevent disruption to community and destruction of history? How do we accept change, invite it, if we feel hesitant and at risk? More importantly, how do those that are part of that change stay engaged and active in the existing community, when that hesitant invitation is doused in fear? How do new and old come together? A critical question was posed by a young woman in the video produced by Youth Radio, “Why is Oakland changing for the good of other people, and not for us?”
Local musician Fantastic Negrito contributed to the section of the exhibit focused on West Oakland’s roots in the history of jazz and R&B. Lyrics from his recently released “Last Days of Oakland” were on display. As I sat and watched the video I was struck by one of his comments in an interview he did for the exhibit, “The thing is…what are we going to do? That’s the part I like.” It resonated with me in its positivity, it was said with an eager smile on his face. Change can bring opportunity. Opportunity for community growth, collaboration, and unity. Yet when the opportunity for one strips it from another, it is the opposition at play I mentioned in my opening words.
As I walked away from “Oakland…I want you to know” my thought process was reeling in all different directions; just as its curators intended. I encourage you to use this blog post as an invitation to have your own thoughts tested and challenged. Head over to OMCA, tucked in the back corner of the Gallery of California Art you will find that questions are being asked. How they are answered is up to us.
“Oakland…I want you to know” will be open until October 30, 2016
Oakland Museum of California is located at:
1000 Oak Street
Oakland, CA 94607
For more information please visit www.museumca.org
For more information about the exhibit please visit OMCA’s website here.
I have found the Local Wiki page on West Oakland to be a wonderful reference to the neighborhood’s history and community, there are numerous link to its many facets and local businesses. I encourage you to take a look, see link here.