Art galleries are a public cultural benefit. They open their doors to allow anyone to enjoy the art in their exhibitions for free; they are not traditional retail stores with steady sales or ticketed performance venues. The value visitors receive occurs without the exchange of money. What galleries do is create a way for people to walk into a space and have their life changed in an instant by a piece of art that speaks to them.
Oakland Art Murmur was founded as a way to share this experience with as many people as possible. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, we serve all of the art spaces of Oakland. And our city’s art spaces are under siege. In the last year, we have lost three art spaces in the Uptown neighborhood due to rising rents. This includes Rock Paper Scissors, one of the founding members of Oakland Art Murmur and the last of the original six galleries to remain in business ten years after its founding. Many art spaces faced 40 to 50 percent rent increases in the last year, and more closures are soon to follow.
Oakland Art Murmur’s mission is to strengthen Oakland’s diverse visual arts communities by providing access to resources, programming, and experiences. We connect and sustain Oakland’s vibrant visual arts culture to engage and enrich the Oakland community. Beginning this year, dues are voluntary so that all art spaces with curated exhibitions can benefit from being a member of Oakland Art Murmur. Our operating budget is $30,000 per year, and our website, print publications, and community outreach are managed by one part-time employee and a dedicated group of volunteers. We have never received money from the City of Oakland in support of our brochures, public walking tours, or our website, which gets nearly 10,000 hits on any given First Friday. Our current membership of more than forty galleries and art exhibition spaces all across Oakland attract hundreds of people from all over the Bay Area every month to enjoy art and spend time in Oakland.
Our city officials need to pay more than just lip service to the arts; if the city doesn’t have money to invest in the arts, how can they claim it as a priority? We currently have a city government more interested in giving discretionary funds and tax breaks to bring in new businesses than using those resources to keep our existing businesses and jobs stable. As new business is drawn to our city, the places that have made Oakland so great are starting to fall away.
Also concerning is that from a leadership standpoint, our city has no Cultural Arts Commission; even if the city were to receive foundational funds in support of the arts, there would be no officials qualified to dispense them.
If Oakland is to remain an important, diverse, cultural arts destination, we need your help. Oakland Art Murmur can’t do it alone. We urge you to contact your city council representative and tell him or her how much the arts in Oakland mean to you. Tell them that we need city policies that protect, retain, and preserve our cultural art spaces, art galleries, and most of all, our artists.
Oakland Art Murmur Board of Directors
Conrad Meyers, president (director/co-founder, Aggregate Space Gallery)
Dasha Matsuura, vice president and gallery liaison (gallery associate, Chandra Cerrito Contemporary)
Ron Scrivani, treasurer (property owner, Warehouse 416)
Julie Armistead, secretary (independent curator/registrar)
Pamela Mays McDonald, chair of External Relations (Alameda County Arts Commissioner)
Amira K. Richmond, board member (marketing/sales, Thelma Harris Art Gallery)
Sawyer Rose, board member (artist)
Kiffanie Stahle, board member, (founder, Stahle Law)
Marianna Stark, board member-at-large (director of Brand Engagement, GapTech/Gap Inc.)
Claudia Worthington Hess, board member (Hess Art Advisory)