$1.7 Million Real Estate Grant Aims to Keep Artists in Oakland
On Tuesday, Oakland officials announced the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Kenneth Rainin Foundation are providing Oakland with a $1.7 million grant to help arts groups stay in Oakland in a viciously competitive real estate market.
At the heart of the initiative is the idea that the arts help make a city great. The most recent study, from 2010, found that Oakland arts groups generate an impact of $53 million a year.
But cultural activity doesn’t just fuel the local economy. It’s part of the very fabric of Oakland.
“We’re trying to get the cultural arts in there as a survival program just as essential as housing and health care and jobs,” says Elena Serrano, who runs Oakland’s Eastside Arts Alliance in the San Antonio neighborhood. Serrano is hoping for funds to develop a Black Arts center in Deep East Oakland.
The Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST), an organization which helps broker real estate deals for cultural organizations, will administer the grants. “The assumption is not that artists or arts organizations are un-businesslike, but simply the making of art is a different core business than real estate development,” CAST executive director Moy Eng says.
Eng ran an identical program in San Francisco, where she helped two groups, CounterPulse and the Luggage Store Gallery, obtain financing to buy permanent homes in 2015, despite San Francisco’s soaring commercial rents.
The announcement is bittersweet, though, coming as Oakland mourns the victims of the warehouse dance party fire. There are no grants from this program for individual artists, who often work and live in spaces that aren’t up to code. Many worry the city will crack down on safety, with upgrades making their studios too expensive.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the city has to balance public safety with the needs of artists. “The safety of the cultural community in Oakland has a more nuanced meaning,” Schaaf says. “Oakland has to keep its residents safe. But we also have to keep safe this incredible creative energy that makes this the city that we love so much.”
Oakland recently hired Roberto Bedoya as its new cultural affairs manager. Bedoya says the new grant program is a sign to artists that Oakland has their backs.
“What I find dynamic about the Oakland arts community is just how vibrant it is,” Bedoya says. “It’s got what I would characterize as a poetic will. And it’s now also working with a political will to realize how we can advance the community.”
Comment from the Black Arts Movement Business District on Housing Funds for Artists
The Post News Group asked Black Arts Movement Business District co-founder and planner, Marvin X, his thoughts on the Mayor's grants for artist housing.
Post: Marvin X, what is your comment on the recent fire in the Fruitvale?
MX: We offer our condolences to the families of those victims in the tragic fire. It revealed the dire conditions many artists and common people must endure to survive in gentrified Oakland. While development is necessary, all people should be involved in the planning process that should consider displacement a priority.
POST: Has the Mayor approached BAMBD regarding your needs for artists and the marginalized in the BAMBD or downtown area?
MX: No! While we applaud Mayor Libby Schaaf's announcement of housing grants for East Oakland artists, we demand she also secure housing and artist space for suffering artists in Oakland's Black Arts Movement Business District which was officially declared by the City Council on January 19, 2016, but no funds have been allocated for the BAMBD and few people are aware the BAMBD exists. In the manner of Juneteenth, it appears few people will know about The BAMBD until Janteenth, 2017. The BAMBD has published its own newspaper, The Movement, to inform people of the BAMBD. We thank the Post News Group for partnering with us to make the BAMBD newspaper possible.
POST: What is the BAMBD's position on artist housing and housing in general?
MX: The first pillar of the BAMBD is housing and we need emergency funds for artists housing and work space in our district. We'd love to acquire those SRO hotels to place them under the land trust and give homeless and marginalized persons a "life estate" title to their spaces and this would end homelessness overnight.
POST: Tell us about the BAMBD Billion Dollar Trust Fund.
MX: We are establishing the BAMBD Billion Dollar Trust Fund to meet the needs for our district which is along the 14th corridor from the lower bottom to Lake Merritt. It appears West Oakland will not enjoy the Marijuana initiative nor the announced artist housing grant since East Oakland appears the sole representative of communities in need of equity. Where is our political representation? The BAMBD Billion Dollar Trust Fund must be an independent fund for people in the BAMBD to insure our presence as part of Oakland's Downtown Plan for the next 25 to 50 years.