On a cool evening in May, Devin Satterfield stood outside the elegant Rotunda building in downtown Oakland, watching well-put-together people walk by on their way to the Fox Theater fund-raiser inside. Most of the men looked like ophthalmologists or vice presidents of something, and the women generally resembled newscasters or weather girls. Devin, on the other hand, wore a thrift-store suit jacket with a faint spot on the lapel, a surreptitiously torn striped necktie, and his trademark nylon corsage.
“I’m nervous,” he admitted, as he sucked down the first of the evening’s many American Spirits, which he smokes when he can’t get sweet brown Nat Shermans. As the evening progressed, he pointed out Fox Theater owner Phil Tagami, with whom he’s on a first-name basis; Alan Dreyfuss, the architect spearheading a plan to turn part of the abandoned movie palace into a 550-seat cabaret-style performance space; and “Dr. Bruce,” the physician to Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. Tagami and Dreyfuss had time for only a little small talk before moving on to bigger fish. After all, this 22-year-old arts patron did not pay for his $75 ticket. And the only drink he partook of was the whiskey he ordered from the Cafe Van Kleef table, which he also didn’t pay for.
One solitary drink was not nearly enough to give this brightly lit evening any flow. Even for a burgeoning arts diplomat like Devin, schmoozing on this grand a scale was still a bit much. So he spent the bulk of the evening taking smoke breaks, awkwardly ascending and descending the Rotunda’s massive spiral staircase. This was no easy task for Devin, given that he wears a special shoe to accommodate a left leg significantly shorter than his right one, the result of a birth defect. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, Devin ducked out of the fund-raiser to drink at the dim, hip Radio bar with Jen Loy and Nicole Neditch, his former employers at Mama Buzz Cafe, Ground Zero of downtown Oakland’s art scene.
But Devin isn’t afraid to stick his head out of the subculture if it means promoting the scene that he personifies, the West Oakland warehouse art scene. Thanks to the efforts of him and a handful of other pioneers, that scene is now reaching critical mass. Like the Mission District in San Francisco, Silver Lake in Los Angeles, Wicker Park in Chicago, or dozens of other neighborhoods before it, West Oakland’s warehouse district is on the cusp of something truly great by subcultural standards. Artists and other subversively-minded people are renting out warehouses at a remarkable rate, building them out, and inviting people in for everything from punk shows to carnivals to art installations. Some crave legitimacy, but most exist largely underground. Thus, some West O spaces are illegal, while others are up to code but their inhabitants grapple with landlords who don’t know exactly what’s up. Most events get publicity covertly through fliers, Friendster-type online networks, or word-of-mouth. One of the handful of spots that does boast an aboveground profile is Liminal Arts, the most successful art and party spot in recent East Bay memory, largely thanks to the hustle of Devin, one of its founding residents.
Devin doesn’t just occupy a position at the center of this barely-under-the-radar arts community, he also sits on the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission. His friends, supporters, and fellow commissioners believe his participation in city government could do Oakland’s creative community a lot of good. But Devin not only represents the tidy official way that governments wish the arts behaved, but the chaotic and messy way that art actually occurs. He simultaneously embodies the West Oakland art scene’s successes, failures, hopes, and fears of homogenization.
It all started because Devin wanted a place where he could paint. When he was in his early teens, his family moved from North Oakland to New England. After a year of art college in Boston, Devin came back to the East Bay. Tired of subletting apartments and renting rooms in Berkeley, he and percussionist Rob Monk started looking at warehouses in West Oakland in May of 2000. But Devin was only nineteen, slinging espresso at the now-defunct downtown Berkeley cafe Wall Berlin. No one would return his calls. “Finally, I got a call from a place, this place,” he recalled, waving his arm around the front room of Liminal. “They returned my calls, and they gave me a tour. And at this point, everything past this wall was under construction. It was all a big mess. And we walked in here, and the sun was shining through the bullet holes in the roll-up door, and there was dust everywhere. But the shape of the space is so nice. And I was just like, ‘Fuckin’ A. I want to live here. ‘”
Devin has been sculpting since middle school and painting and taking photographs for nearly that long, but his art has recently taken a backseat to his scenester mogulhood, and primarily finds expression in the fliers he makes for the events he’s involved in. But back in 2000, the Liminal space seemed like an artist’s paradise. So Devin and Monk raised approximately $8,000 and enticed four friends into joining them — construction whiz Adam Hatch; painter Joseph Neustadt; Devin’s then-girlfriend Lexi Gilbert; and Jason Sole, whom Devin met working at Wall Berlin. They built some plywood shanties and spent the next year showering at friends’ houses, washing their dishes in the bathroom, and constructing a home from scratch. “It was like Boy Scouts for twentysomethings,” he recalled.
On July 6, 2002, shortly after Devin’s 21st birthday, the group held its first art show, Liminal Beginning, featuring art by the tenants and approximately twenty of their friends. To hear him tell it, Liminal Beginning was a grassroots, egalitarian event wherein three hundred folks of all races and classes walked through the metal door and got along. “We had guys from across the street; we had people from Berkeley, people from San Francisco; we had people from communes in the backwoods of god-knows-where,” Devin said. “People were just looking at art and listening to music, and just enjoying it together and talking about how they felt about it with each other. It was fuckin’ cool. That’s what we want. We want the foodie from North Berkeley and the crack dealer from West Oakland; we want them all to look at the same piece of art and talk about it together.”
From its inception, Liminal has stood apart from most other live/work warehouse venues. The space is phenomenal: It occupies most of the Myrtle Street side of an enormous warehouse at Myrtle and 19th streets, a building that also houses other live/work spaces, not to mention a warren of about 20 smaller private residences of varying dimension. But Liminal is the jewel. Its roughly six thousand square feet comprise a kitchen the size of a small restaurant’s, a raised entryway that serves as a sitting room or stage, a permanent bar, a large open ground floor, another raised area at the back, a dizzying staircase leading up to one of two bathrooms, and six private bedrooms. The front entry area will soon be a dedicated gallery, and plans are under way to put in ceramics and screenprinting studios. The high ceilings and windows provide gorgeous — if greasy — light. When the cover of Kitchen Sink, a quarterly local mag with close ties to Liminal, featured art of a woman throwing papers at a tall grid of windows, anyone who’d been to the warehouse recognized the setting. In the last two years, Liminal has played host to some of the most challenging, eclectic, and fun culture gatherings in the East Bay.
“I would call my friends back home in the Midwest and say, ‘This is incredible. You have no idea; it’s amazing,'” said Amanda Warner, whose psychedelic pop band, Triangle, has played at several Liminal and Liminal-related events. “We can put on these shows in these art galleries and there’s no rules, no insurance, there’s no anything. People our age are putting these on, and they’re not people with money. They’re not people who own these spaces. I was like, ‘What an opportunity.'”
Devin and his cohorts have taken that opportunity and run like hell. “We’ve always really tried, and almost always succeeded, at being a little more advanced than the average West Oakland party warehouse,” he said.
And in the process, they’ve done some amazing things. For Water, Hatch filled the space’s lower level with 5,500 cubic feet of water and got artist Joyce Hsu to populate it with hovering mechanical dragonflies. Bands played, visitors swam, and the fire department arrived. Hatch’s Urbanology featured live hip-hop from Foreign Legion and the Buckle Brothers, and art by Justin Artifice, Erik Groff, and many more. For Sassy and Surly’s Circus Sideshow, the collective constructed a museum of oddities, a dimly lit room packed with items that could have been either sculptures or fetuses in jars. Devin culled a lineup of the Bay Area’s best neo-vaudevillians, including Camanda Galactica and SF Weekly April cover stars the Yard Dogs Road Show. Liminal residents and friends staffed a kissing booth until they were gradually ousted by party patrons looking for a piece of the action.
Liminal’s profile wouldn’t be so high if not for Devin. “That’s just serendipity for all of us,” said Groff, whose person-sized, cardboard-box cityscapes represent the West Oakland art scene’s accessible, recycled-junk mindset and have shown at Liminal several times. “Devin is the kind of charismatic guy who knows how to pull it together, or else … not do something if it’s not going to pull together.”
Devin eventually parlayed his party-throwing knack into bringing bands and vaudeville nights into Cafe Van Kleef, whose owner, Peter Van Kleef, knew Devin from managing Cafe 817, where Van Kleef was a frequent customer. “Devin’s been wonderful,” Van Kleef said. “He’s booked some eclectic acts that I would never have known about, because they’re of his generation, and some of them worked very well.
“He’s 23 years old — he’s still developing as a person. But his foundation’s very good.”
Devin’s ubiquity within the hipster stratosphere led to his March 2004 appointment to the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission, of which he is the youngest member by about fifteen years.
“The day I interviewed for the job in the mayor’s office,” recalled Gil Jose Duran, aide to Mayor Jerry Brown, “I was parallel parking downtown, and I knocked over this table. So I put it upright, and when I got back from my interview, in front of the bar were these tables, and there’s Devin standing there. And he said, ‘Have you seen this bar? It’s going to be the hippest place in town in a month.’ And it was Cafe Van Kleef, which I had never heard of before.”
Indeed, the bar soon was Oakland’s hippest watering hole. “Devin has a way of popping up,” Duran continued. “The mayor was familiar with him, because Mama Buzz is right in Jerry’s neighborhood, and Devin used to work at 817. So you know, a familiar face, and a guy who’s always handing out a flier for this or that show he’s promoting, seems like somebody who can get things done, and who’s interested on more than a superficial, paper level. … We wanted to really get at putting some people on the boards and commissions for art that represent the new spirit of artists in Oakland. … Jerry had met Devin a few times, and when we were going through the process of looking for people to fill those slots … he mentioned Devin — well, maybe not necessarily by name, but as ‘You know, that guy, Mama Buzz, Van Kleef.’ And I was like, ‘Devin. ‘”
Devin was interested in assisting the artists of West Oakland: the people who build out and live in huge old warehouses, who build and show art, host bands, design and screenprint clothes, and record music amid Section 8 housing, late-night liquor stores, and broken-down factories, the nearby lights of the port’s colossal cranes infusing their paintings with orange, the strife of the neighborhood informing their songs with rage and radical weirdness. Devin believes people like him deserve a chance to live and work in West Oakland, without fear of an Emeryville-style yuppification nipping at their heels.
“I’m in touch with the West Oakland arts community, the warehouse community, whatever you want to call it,” Devin said. “They want people who are actually a part of that whole community to have a voice. Because they recognize that they’re having a big impact on the cultural happenings of the city without having any involvement with the actual administration of the city or the money the city has to offer.
“I can definitely see myself getting people more aware of what’s available to artists,” he continued. “Whether or not they’ll be able to use it for anything is one thing, but I’ll definitely be able to get more people to check it out, try and get grants, get more interest in it.”
Fellow Liminal cofounder Hatch shared Devin’s enthusiasm about what his appointment could mean for the art scene. “The only thing that will keep it together is a solid city support for artists, and this is one of the good reasons Devin is on the arts commission — because he’s green,” he said. “Not like environmentally, but, like, he doesn’t really know. He’s very passionate and off-the-cuff, so he’ll add a kind of freshness that hopefully will maintain some kind of purity within the arts commission.”
But what the Cultural Affairs Commission does, it turns out, is a little complicated. Simply put, commission approval is step three of a five-step process necessary to award city funding to an artist or arts group. Panels of artists and art-minded people in the community recommend projects or individuals for funding to one of two boards. These panels then decide whether to push these recommendations on to Devin’s commission, which in turn makes recommendations to the city council’s Life Enrichment Committee. That panel, finally, passes funding requests on to the full council for ultimate approval.
According to Devin’s fellow commissioner Hyland Baron, it’s not really that much fun. “It’s great to have someone in that age group that’s willing to sit and put up with the tedium,” she said of Devin. “A lot of the time, being on an arts commission is 85 percent tedium, and 15 percent what feels like real work, meaningful work that makes a contribution. And I know that most artists don’t have the willingness to sit through that.”
Around the time that Devin joined the commission, Liminal itself was turning a corner. As its party profile went up — more bands booked; more messes made; and the art harder to see in the dim, rock ‘n’ roll lighting — Devin’s relationship with his housemates headed south. “I was really unhappy, and I was drinking a lot, and going out a lot, and sleeping with people that I don’t know. … It was just a really bad time for me, in general, and of course that reflected on and impacted the space, and the people in it. And they felt that that was reason enough to tell me to leave for a while.”
Devin also was having trouble making rent. And when, according to Adam Hatch, the Liminal residents found out that Devin had been pocketing their PG&E money instead of paying the bill, they asked him to leave. He moved out, and a subletter moved in.
Two months later, Devin moved back in — on probation. “He had to get a job, number one,” Hatch recalled. “He had to work at least three or four days a week; I can’t remember how much. He couldn’t have any other shows for, like, six months, and he couldn’t slip back into alcoholism mode. He definitely had a lot of resentment in regards to it, but he felt like it was fair, given what had gotten him out in the first place. I mean, he accepted it, and he was doing fine, I suppose. But it didn’t really pan out for too long, because it wasn’t too long after that, that chaos reigned.”
Late one night in February or early March, Monk and a friend were setting up a show when one of the building’s main circuit-breakers blew. The two went to the breaker room and found it locked. Rather than wait until morning for PG&E, they broke in and fixed the problem themselves. When the landlord’s maintenance guy showed up a few hours later, some tools that had been stored in the room were missing. “So the police came, they filed a report, and I don’t think they talked to any of us,” Devin recalled. “They just talked to the property manager, and she insinuated that it was our fault in the police report. But we never spoke to the police.” Devin said police involvement never went any further than that. Property manager Irene Howald and landlord Seth Jacobson declined to discuss the incident.
Monk said he offered to fix the door, but that his suggestion that Jacobson’s insurance pay for the missing tools was met with derision. And a few days later, the Liminal residents received a three-day notice to quit the property. “The only time you can serve a three-day notice is if the rent wasn’t paid,” Devin said. “And then we found out that the guys down the hall, Other World, had also gotten a three-day notice to quit because they were withholding rent, and had documented it and everything, on the grounds that they couldn’t get a meeting with the landlord for over half a year.” Devin implied that he believed the two collectives were being targeted for eviction because they were the building’s only tenants not on a month-to-month lease, which might stand in the way of a quick sale of the property should Jacobson receive a tempting offer. But everyone knows that artists taking over a blighted urban area is the first step in the cycle of gentrification, that rhythm of money-in, poor-folks-out that even West Oakland’s artists see as inevitable. As rumors swirled through the building and the larger scene of building code violations, evictions, and the like, Liminal residents got themselves a lawyer and nervously dug their heels in for a fight.
“We had a meeting with our lawyer, and after the meeting, after the lawyer had asked us a whole bunch of questions and kind of soothed our anxieties and had said that we had a good case, he left,” recalled artist Emma Spertus, who lived at Liminal for a year and a half. “Devin was like, ‘Well, I’ve got a show on Saturday with the Extra Action Marching Band, and I have to do it.’ Everyone looked at him, like, ‘What?!’ We needed to be on our best behavior, and having five hundred people in our house isn’t exactly best behavior.”
The Extra Action show went on at a nearby warehouse space, not at Liminal. But as the legal fight wore on, residents began moving out. Monk was one thing — he’d been talking about moving to Philly for months — but when Spertus returned from a weekend away, she found that everyone else but Devin had given notice.
The landlord’s people offered a settlement, asking the tenants to pay $1,500 for damage and stolen tools, and formally apologize in writing, as Devin put it, “for violating his property and his trust, or some crap like that.” The other major condition was that Liminal never again serve as a retail or gallery space. Liminal’s lawyers offered an amended version, without the no-events clause. And then they waited.
With folks jumping ship and no settlement forthcoming, Devin eventually decided to do what he now did best — throw yet another party. He joined forces with a neighboring live/work space to bring in a grab bag of psychedelic and hard-rocking talent: two DJs plus the bands Crack: We Are Rock; the Flying Luttenbachers; USA Is a Monster; Triangle; Hale Zukas; the Wives; US Out of Our Uterus; and Soft, from Japan. It would be billed as Liminal’s last show ever, and it would be a scene to end all scenes.
One week before the April 16 party, the landlord put the kibosh on the show. Devin moved the event to the Noodle Factory, a neighboring warehouse whose reputation was built on raves and other DJ-oriented events. With doors supposedly opening at 9:00 p.m. and live music starting at 10:00, 8:26 found Devin on his cell phone outside the Noodle Factory, trying to get one of the evening’s DJs, Ezra from the electronic band CatFive, a ride from San Francisco. Of the evening’s ten performers, Devin estimated that 60 to 75 percent were in the vicinity at 8:30 p.m., as Crack: We Are Rock soundchecked inside. Devin was still trying to get speakers and an amp for one performer when Megan Fenske from Oakland Artists arrived to staff the donation-only bar for the first shift. She and Devin ran down the bar’s contents, price list, and what remained to be done.
Though neither the door guy nor DJ Ezra arrived until around 9:30, the doors did open at 9:00, and the first band started at 10:10, just ten minutes late. Devin became hard to follow around for a while, but he slowed down occasionally for cigarette breaks. “Everything’s as smooth as possible, considering the nature of the event,” he said. “Now it’s just making sure the guest list is cool, adding some names, getting the money to people, hobnobbing, making sure the bands are at ease and happy. … The stress part of it is just in making that a reality as far as financing and things go. The real reason I do any of this shit is to make sure that people can express themselves, and other people can come check it out.”
Sadly, the financing part did not work out that night. By 11:30, the party was swinging, people were dancing downstairs to funk and hip-hop, and rocking out upstairs with their arms crossed and their eyes closed. But Devin was not happy. Told that partygoers were congregating in the “$700 Room,” a curtained-off space downstairs that the Noodle Factory had said would cost an additional $700 to use that night, Devin was succinct about his feelings.
“Fuck ’em,” he said. “They’re dickheads. They’re dickheads, and their space is fucking ugly and stupid. I mean, I’m paying a lot of money for the space, and I’m getting attitude. That’s official.”
Distributing handbills for rock shows and guiding public policy are two very different things. So far this year, the Cultural Affairs Commission has recommended funding for such projects as Tea Party magazine and the creation of public artwork in the Mandela Gateway Project and Bella Vista Park. But Devin has had very little to do with those issues beyond his individual votes as a commissioner.
Devin’s cultural influence on the commission could be seen at its April meeting, which enjoyed visits from two people he’d encouraged to come speak to him and his fellow commissioners. One was Peter Spannagle of Oakland Artists, a sort of arts-oriented Craigslist that brings artists together, books work for them, and tries to commission artworks. The other speaker was Joseph Neustadt, a friend of Devin’s from high school in Maryland and one of his original Liminal housemates.
Spannagle told the commission about his group; Neustadt talked about the unofficial mentoring project he’d embarked on with a neighborhood teen. Both were impassioned, but neither was particularly clear about what they were asking from the commission.
Throughout the meeting, Devin sat at the far right of the high, semicircular podium. He was freshly shaven and looked all of eighteen, his chin obscured behind the massive desk, hair sticking up every which way. And though his fellow commissioners were clearly thrilled to have such a large and eclectic group of participants at the meeting, Devin remained quiet through most of the proceedings, not even cracking a smile when Spannagle or Neustadt spoke. “I don’t want to press that microphone button and sound like a total jackass,” he said later. “So until I’ve really read up on the whole deal, I’m not going to say much.”
Later on, there was an oral report by the clunkily titled group Six Women with an Idea (now known as Spokes of a Hub). The women were well spoken, and their backgrounds were impressive. But it was equally unclear just what the point was. “Well, the Six Women with an Idea thing has already gone through some channels to get funding, and they were just kind of explaining why they deserve money,” Devin said. “What can we actually do for them? Damned if I know.”
Truth is, Devin’s greatest impact on Oakland government occurred long before he was appointed to the commission. In March of 2003, he was one of seven people who signed the official argument to place Measure P on the ballot. His endorsement, as a “neighborhood arts coordinator,” allowed voters to decide whether Oakland’s “strong mayor” policy would be extended beyond its original deadline of the end of 2004. So how did a then-21-year-old end up signing such a measure? “It was, I guess, like fifteen minutes before they needed to submit it,” he said. “Gil calls me, and he’s like, ‘Where are you?’ I was at Mama Buzz, working. I was making a latte when I signed that goddamned thing.”
For the record, Devin is a longtime fan of Jerry Brown. “The guy is doing what he thinks is right for the city, and you can’t deny that some of the things he’s done have helped the city a lot,” he said. “I wouldn’t agree with a lot of the stuff he’s done with the military school and with the Alice Arts issue — that’s pretty fucked up — but in the meantime, the guy is not pussyfooting around, trying to appease whoever. He’s just like, ‘This is what I think is going to be better in the long run for the city. I’m trying to make the city better twenty years from now.’ And I feel like he’s not just saying that. He’s not just making promises he can’t keep.”
The mayor and his appointee also share a fundamental comfort with chaos: a love of new ideas and fresh thinking undeterred by any fear of failure. Candidate Brown promised that the arts would flower in Oakland under his tenure, and indeed they have — albeit because of the uncoordinated risk-taking of people such as Devin and not because of any official policies.
Devin came away with only about half of the $4,000 he’d hoped to make at the Noodle Factory. He managed to get the space paid for, but had to pay some bands out of his own pocket, and didn’t readily have it. A week or so later, he still hadn’t paid Crack: We Are Rock or the Flying Luttenbachers, and Triangle graciously waived its fee. And though he’d impetuously pinned his frustrations on the Noodle Factory residents in the midst of the din, Devin did a good job of spinning it a few weeks later.
“I wasn’t really as pissed at them, in the end, as I was at everything that was going wrong,” he said. “I’d heard a lot of bad things about the Noodle Factory people, so when things started going wrong, when I started realizing that it wasn’t going to be that big of an event, I wasn’t really happy.”
In addition to some problems with bands, Devin had to pay $100 for two people from the Noodle Factory to work security, but he feel they didn’t do a very good job. And right around the time he started thinking about losing money, Devin also started thinking about having to be there the next day, cleaning up to get his security deposit back. But when he went back to pick up his deposit, he said, the Noodle Factory’s residents were all ears and open minds. “I told them that I had some problems. And that’s part of the reason why I’m not that mad now, because they really listened to why I had problems. There’s no hard feelings.”
Brendan Solem of the Noodle Factory concurs. “Whenever you make something really big happen, like a party, it’s always going to cause a bunch of chaos,” he said. “And it’s just natural. Usually after parties, people will often get frustrated with each other, because things rarely work as planned. But everything works out. It’s just parties.”
Still, Devin is looking forward to the imminent arrival of competing art spaces and event facilities. One of the new places Devin has in mind is Adam Hatch’s new place, LoBot, so named for “Lower Bottoms,” the area of West Oakland around Peralta and West Grand where the warehouse sits. Hatch is a contractor by trade, and had built out and managed seven spaces (including a space in the Silver Lake district and the gallery at Oakland’s Creamery) before moving into Liminal. He moved out before the landlord trouble began, and before he found his current space. Things were getting weird around there, he said: “There was a big struggle between people that wanted to live in apartments, and people that wanted to be artists, and people that are artists, and want to just do art. And then there were issues of people doing more work and less work, a lot of ‘I did this and you haven’t done this and this and this.’ It just wasn’t happening there.” So Hatch stayed with his girlfriend until he found his current home — a ten-thousand-square-foot warehouse that is slowly evolving into a live/work paradise. Back in May, when a nail-gun-wielding Hatch answered his door wearing a wife-beater T-shirt and a kilt, roughly half of its dozen bedrooms were done, and plans were moving forward for the print shop, metal shop, and recording studio. The gallery would be separate from the living space. There would be a pool table. And on August 26, they had their first big event, with approximately seven hundred people showing up to take in an art show and live music by two of New York’s most mind-bending experimental rock bands, Black Dice and Animal Collective, plus Bay Area bands Comets on Fire and Axolotl.
What most people seem to want — Devin, Hatch, Spannagle from Oakland Artists — is to keep the wolf away from the door of West Oakland for as long as possible. None of them seems to think this will last forever. When the public profile of an area rises, the property values do, too, and the people who created the art scene have to leave it behind and create another one somewhere else, or just give up. Toward that end, Devin and some of his friends — Nicole Neditch of Mama Buzz, artists Groff and Janay Growden Rose — have quite an idealistic escape plan. They’re in negotiations to buy the town of Belden, high in the Sierras and an hour away from Chico. There’s an unfinished resort lodge up there, and they imagine an artists’ getaway community with a focus on recycling (Devin would like it to be completely “green” in five to ten years), theme rooms like the Madonna Inn (where Growden Rose stayed as a child), and an elaborate sculpture garden like the DeCordova Sculpture Park Devin used to visit outside of Boston. Presumably, gentrification will take its time climbing those lonely roads.
In the meantime, Liminal is experiencing a slow rebirth. It has filled almost all of its vacancies, and in late May Devin and Rob signed a settlement with its landlord, without the no-events clause. They did, however, agree to pay the property owner the $1,500 in damages and provide a written apology. Devin said that about half the settlement has been paid back, but he has no idea whether anyone has penned an apology. In any case, the shows will go on — albeit in a quieter, more hesitant fashion. They haven’t yet thrown any big parties of their own, choosing instead to rent the space out to other groups, such as the local Boombox Collective record label, and the organizers of the ambitious electroclash “Fuck War” party. The events that Devin has organized for the space have been modest and mostly acoustic.
“I’m doing quite a few smaller things, where the art is already up and someone’s playing,” he said. “Just to generate some attention, to let people know we’re doing events again. I don’t want to fuck around with the next big Liminal show.” Janay Growden Rose had an installation in the new dedicated gallery space, but the opening was a small affair. The budget just isn’t there, and the group dynamics of Liminal’s new crew are still jelling. “The state of Liminal is — well, it’s in a liminal state,” Devin said.
The word Liminal comes from the Latin limin- or limen, meaning “threshold.” It means “of or relating to a sensory threshold,” or, alternately, “barely perceptible.” Both definitions — as well as its connotation as pertaining to rites of passage — apply to the space at 19th and Myrtle, although one could argue that its presence in East Bay alt-culture is somewhat more than barely perceptible. But it’s certainly been a rite of passage for Devin and his housemates. “It’s a threshold kind of thing, teetering on the brink, which is exactly what we’ve always been and definitely what we always will be,” he explained, and he may as well have been talking about underground art scenes everywhere. “And I embrace that. It’s fucking cool. It’s always changing; you never know what’s going to happen next.”