More Art as Civic Duty!

I felt it. Civic Pride! Last week I served on a panel to evaluate individual artist grant applications in Hearing Room 3 in Oakland’s City Hall. Kathy Littles, the single employee currently managing Oaklands Cultural Arts Funding encouraged me and Theron to apply for the arts organization grant for InterPlay. In the process she opened a door to join a grant review panel. Her gracious, clear, on-task care compelled me. I knew I would benefit.

Indeed, Kathy attracted six panelists with expertise in film, visual art, curating, community art, craft, and performance, plus two associates and an intern. We met for a two day intensive review, 8 AM to 5 PM with short breaks and a brief lunch. One by one, diverse potential grantees were represented by one of the panelists. We saw a work sample in the form of a dvd, literary sample or pictures. What good fortune it was when the grantee was also in the room listening to our questions. (Yes, the whole process was open to the public and to the artists being reviewed!) Each artist had three minutes to respond to our queries and represent their work.

I was deeply affected by every artist’s commitment, professionalism, and community mindedness. Lashon requested support for a traveling memorial of 80 graphically designed obituaries of young people murdered in Oakland. I shivered as the NBC news clip he submitted was shown and he shared his desire to help Oakland remember, heal, and dialogue. A 70 year old Chinese composer who gives free music lessons to his community sought funds to compose a new work for Oakland’s California Chinese Orchestra. Muralists in schools and neighborhoods requested funds. An American Indian poet sought money to share the story of Indian relocation histories in Oakland. A Japanese American choroegrapher who had crafted a dance for people with Parkinsons needs support to create work featuring Oakland heroines in their 70’s.

I joked with fellow panelists that this review process was a 1,000 times better than jury duty! What if all citizens could give a day of expertise to a civic organization of their choice. Learning what city workers do would amaze us. I once visited my state representative in Washington D.C. Huge government edifices gave an illusion of monumental solidity but the staff’s office was more of a stuffed closet. The elected official had four years to get some work done. I realized then that edifices say little of real human beings inside of them who strive to serve people. Certainly, Kathy’s work is accomplished under demanding time lines with minimal staff and bare bone resources. Yet, her demeanor remained assuring in the midst of budget cuts and staff losses. How does she do it? Probably, just as those of us in any dedicated art practice like InterPlay and Body Wisdom: with tenacity, passion, and resourcefulness.

A new mural is being painted across the street from InterPlayce!
Art in the neighborhood

Phil serves on the Koreatown Northgate Board (our neighborhood) where he plays an active role in the artful care of decisions that make our street cohesive, safe, distinctive and beautiful. I am proud to say that InterPlayce is on the map in the heart of one of the most diverse cities in the U.S where over 300+ arts organizations and scores of cultural events and venues are sustained by dedicated artists, organizers, and innovators. The next time you visit the birthplace and center of InterPlay at 23rd and Telegraph, know that you’ve arrived in place we take pride in. It’s where we live, work, love, and serve alongside Kathy and so many others. Check out three websites to learn more about where InterPlay is centered:

Oakland Cultural Arts
510 Arts
Pro Arts

ACCORDING TO WEBSITE our area boasts one of the highest per capita artist populations in the U.S. with more than 6,000 professional artists calling it home. More than 150 languages are spoken and many times that number of culturally specific art forms are practiced. For decades East Bay communities have ranked at the top of national city diversity figures and the arts reflect this depth and variety.


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