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Building Oakland’s neighborhoods through community art

April 2, 2010

Community building and neighborhood identity are two of my favorite things to think about, and I’m very lucky to be surrounded by many friends who share these passions. We each have our own take on these ideas, and last winter, some of us found ourselves talking about how we might bring our diverse interests together into a single project, and specifically, a community arts initiative.

Over a year after we first conceived of this little project, we are extremely pleased to announce that City Canvas, our brand new community art organization, is finally ready for prime time! And I’m very excited that our very first pilot project is right here in my own neighborhood!

What is City Canvas?
City Canvas is a grassroots project intended to foster neighborhood identity across the East Bay through community-driven public art. A collaboration of professional and seasoned teaching artists, community builders, city planners, and arts administrators, the City Canvas team was brought together by our common desire to contribute to the vibrancy of our cities. Currently, our city faces high crime rates and heightened racial tensions, with few venues to come together and celebrate our individual and collective identity as Oaklanders—yet we know that Oakland is teeming with creativity, diversity, and youthful energy. City Canvas will create opportunities for shared visioning and creation of public art in neighborhoods across Oakland through partnerships with city agencies, neighborhood schools, businesses, residents, and local artists.

The idea for City Canvas emerged from:

  • A commitment to the diversity and vibrancy of Oakland, its neighborhoods, its culture, its businesses, and its residents;
  • The knowledge that art is a universal language and that collaborative, creative expression helps build individual and collective identity;
  • A trust in the transcendent power of our individual and collective connections to the places we love;
  • A belief that every individual has a story, a voice, and the ability to share it with the world;
  • A love of public art that is bold, beautiful, and an honest representation of the community in which it lives; and
  • The desire to connect with and contribute to the beautiful city of Oakland.

What is the Westlake Project?
Our pilot project, a series of murals that will be installed on traffic signal boxes in the Uptown/Lake Merritt neighborhood, is currently underway. Through a grant from the City of Oakland Public Art Program’s Oakland Open Proposals (which in turn is funded by the Open Circle Foundation), City Canvas is currently working with an eighth grade leadership class at Westlake Middle School near Lake Merritt. As part of the class, the students will work with the community, create art that explores their identities as youth and as Oakland residents, and examine how they fit into the broader civic community.

Lead teaching artist, professional muralist, and Oaklander David Stern-Gottfried will adapt this art into a format to be painted and installed on a series of traffic signal boxes throughout the Uptown/Lake Merritt neighborhood. As part of the design process, students are actively engaging local residents and businesses, and an open paint day in May will provide an opportunity for interested community members to be directly involved in the project. Student work may also be featured in gallery settings as part of Oakland’s June First Friday Art Murmur. The murals will be installed in late June 2010, with a dedication to follow in the fall.

Westlake students work with artist David Stern-Gottfried on collages to represent their identities

How can you get involved?
Whether you live in the neighborhood or not, we would LOVE to have you involved! Community residents and businesses are invited to come and participate in the project. We also plan to present the finished canvases as part of the June First Friday celebration before they are installed on the signal boxes. (Know anyone with gallery or window space who would like to host the exhibit? We’re hunting for a great spot in the Uptown/Upper Broadway area.)

Westlake Community Paint Day
Saturday, May 22, 2010, 10 am to 1 pm, First Congregational/Westlake Parking Lot (entrance at light on Harrison across from Whole Foods)
Come help the City Canvas team, students, and their families paint the parachute cloth that will ultimately be installed on signal boxes. You don’t need to know anything about painting or have any art skills—we will provide all of the materials and will walk you through the process of translating the designs the students and artist have created into large-scale pieces of art. We will also provide refreshments and water.

June First Friday Celebration
Friday, June 4, 2010, 6 pm to 9 pm, Location TBD
Once the canvases are finished, they will be on display in early June so that students, their families, and other interested community residents can get a peek before they are installed on the traffic signal boxes in late June. There will also be a formal dedication of the boxes sometime in the fall.

Our partners
This project would not be possible without the hard work of a lot of key partners across the city. Among them are:

  • City of Oakland Cultural Arts & Marketing Division: CAM coordinates public art throughout the city, and funded our project through a competitive grant from the Open Circle Foundation.
  • City of Oakland Public Works Agency (PWA), Electrical Services Division: We have an active partnership with PWA, and are extremely excited to be working with their team for this project. We hope this can be a model project for other neighborhoods in the city hoping to use City-owned spaces for community art in the future.
  • Westlake Middle School, where administrators, teachers, and students have worked hard to make this project a reality. We hope to work with Westlake again in the future!
  • First Congregational Church, Westlake’s next-door neighbor and a supportive partner on this project.
  • Whole Foods Oakland, providing food and drinks for project workshops.
  • Benjamin Moore Paints, donating paint for the project.
  • Local businesses in the Westlake neighborhood, who are helping to ensure that the project is a success.

A very big THANK YOU to everyone who has helped City Canvas get off the ground!

Want to learn more? You can check out our website, which has more on City Canvas, the Westlake project, and our second project, an art class at King Middle School in Berkeley that will become a part of a much larger mural project on Shattuck Avenue. You can also contact us via the website (or via this site) for more information on how to get involved, or if you have ideas to share.

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4 comments

  1. This is wonderful! I’ll try to help brainstorm potential display sites.


  2. Oh I know! What about the always shades-drawn Whole Foods windows facing the sidewalk on Harrison Street?


  3. PS: the manager’s name is Earl.


  4. This is a great thing that you’re doing. Keep it up!



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