Lakshmi Sarah

Producer, Educator & Writer

Culture Cue: How Do We Save the Artistic Soul of the Bay Area?

Written for KQED Arts, March 10, 2016

What is an “artistic” soul and how do we nurture one for our communities, our cities and our broader region? As a Bay Area native, born in Redwood City and currently an Oakland resident, I have been thinking about these questions for the past few weeks.

I thought about art and “artistic souls” as I drove to an experimental sound performance in Vallejo and then again driving across the Dumbarton bridge to see family.  I came to the conclusion that if places are like people — and I believe they are — we don’t so much lose our souls, as we neglect  to nourish them with creative possibilities. And with more and more artists and arts organizations being priced out of their homes and spaces around the Bay, the implications are far-reaching and threaten to change the very culture that has defined us for generations.

Illustration by Carolyn Porras. carolynporrasart.com

As the implications for the arts being priced out of spaces around the Bay Area sink in deeper every day, I dove back in to some of the stories highlighting creative interventions and artistic responses.

If we are unable to find creative solutions to keep our local arts organizations alive, then in Oakland, for instance, we are in real danger of losing the special-sauce that makes Oakland unique. These aren’t just issues of race, but issues of class, affordability and how to support the arts and artists themselves.

As much as I appreciate the power of technology, if our artistic eco-system has to be displaced to make space for the tech boom, and our local governments and fellow citizens are content to let this happen, then I can’t help but wonder if Bay Area is still the the place for me. That’s the sad direction in which my thoughts began to wander.

So I dove back into some stories I had read, pieces that revealed positive creative interventions to halt displacement trends and highlighted some effective artistic responses. Let me know what you think…

Kathy Sloane, from Gardens, Garages and Garbage Cans, 2014; Courtesy Random Parts, Oakland

Will Oakland Lose Its Artistic Soulby Sarah Burke for the East Bay Express (February 17, 2016)

A recent East Bay Express cover story provided a comprehensive look at the arts in Oakland. One quote caught my eye:

“To be a world class city, to have all this cultural vibrancy and ‘diversity’ and all this specialness that everybody talks about, there needs to be a clear strategy to protect that and to grow that,” said Anyka Barber, founder and director of Betti Ono Gallery.

Housing Solution: Revisit the Much Maligned Live-Work Loft to Build Nonprofit Artist Housingby Victor Valle for San Francisco Public Press (August 19, 2014)

“But what if the city took another stab at promoting live-work lofts by effectively targeting actual working artists? That is what several nonprofit organizations in San Francisco and across the country have been doing for decades, and could scale up quickly if they had enough public and private funding to retrofit old commercial properties.”

Despite the economic challenges facing artists and arts organizations, there are bright spots, such as The Minnesota Street Project and CTRL+SHFT, an all-female art-collective in West Oakland, but we need more creative solution.

How a Postcard Can Bring Two Rivaling Neighborhoods Togetherby Alicia Menendez for Fusion (October 1, 2014)

“They had this platform to try to change anything in their neighborhood and what they really wanted to change was how people looked at them… They wanted people to look at them and not assume they were poor and dangerous because they lived in Bayview.”

Creative Interventionists produces public art installations inspiring communities to reimagine the social and physical landscapes of their cities. The Neighborhood Postcard Project collects personal stories from underrepresented communities and mails them to random people in different neighborhoods within the same city.

Uprooted: Artists Respond to San Francisco’s Black Exodusby Abhi Singh for KQED Arts (April 2, 2015)

“A group of artists known as the 3.9 Art Collective are responding with work that both reminds us of San Francisco’s more diverse  past and expresses their resistance to present trends. Their name comes from the percentage of African Americans that some predict will remain in the city by the time the next census takes place, in 2020.”


How to Keep a City’s Economic Growth from Destroying its Cultural Soul?by Cy Musiker for KQED Arts (November 27, 2015)

“As important as creative placemaking can be to improving the quality of life of a city, I think we also have to be concerned with creative placekeeping. It’s a term coined by Roberto Bedoya of Tuscon-Pima Arts Council, and it’s really about how do we insure as municipal governments that artists and arts organizations continue to thrive where they are.”

Graffiti on an empty storefront nearby what used to be the home of the artist co-op CELLspace (Photo: Kevin L. Jones/KQED)

Welcome to Culture Cue. We’re aiming to do three things: foster more consistent coverage of artistic creativity taking place beyond the four walls of conventional art spaces, allow artists an opportunity to voice their views, and provide our audience with more opportunities to absorb and understand how race, class, gender and identity are coloring the creative essence of our Bay Area lives.

What do you think — Is the Bay Area losing its artistic soul? What are some solutions that work locally, nationally and internationally?
What are you reading, watching, and listening to?  What would you like to see us cover?

Tweet us at @KQEDArts #CultureCue and let us know what you think.

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This entry was posted on March 10, 2016 by in Uncategorized.

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