Letters for the week of September 27- October 3, 2006 

Readers tear apart David Downs' piece on the Oakland Art Murmur, while Express food and books critics garner awards from their peers.

"My Heart Breaks," Letters, 8/9

A gift, not trash!
In response to Victoria Zeppi, I, this "source," Frances, would like to validate every intention of this article ["Methadone: Not Just for Junkies Anymore"], let alone MY TRUTH in all of it. Never was there any intention of ruining this man's life; he did that himself. Also, never did I ask for pity. You, Ms. Zeppi, have no idea, because you were not there. My "small child" adored, and was adored by, Mr. Kinsella. Credibility is surpassed in this sense. My love, as well as the journalist who wrote the article, was one of the true motivations for this contribution. (Meth it was not ... ?) Shame it is not. Trash, it seems, of another relation that Ms. Zeppi knows too much about. Legal counsel? Call me when you are ready for testimony. The point is clear. A genius gift of a man is lost! Not trash! True information is what Ms. Gard's article holds, just as Simon's would have. If any heart breaks, it is not Ms. Zeppi's. Let us forgive her for her lack of understanding.
Frances Lorraine Duff, Oakland

"Hipster Invasion," Feature, 8/30

Part of the solution
The Rock Paper Scissors Collective appreciates David Downs' attempt to bring the important issues of gentrification and classism in Oakland to the table. As a volunteer-run community arts space, RPS is committed to working on these difficult issues — a fact Downs conveniently neglected to gather. In his article, Downs does these issues and his readers an enormous disservice by relying on sensationalism, insinuations, and divisive generalizations which obscure the actual point: This is a community problem, and we must work together to fix it. RPS offers its space as an available tool in this endeavor and invites all to be part of the solution.
The Rock Paper Scissors Collective, Oakland

Three strikes
David Downs is an idiot. Marcel Diallo is a racist. Esteban [Sabar] has no clue what it means to be an artist. This article was way off in every possible sense.
Brian Slagle, Frederick, Maryland

An open scene
While reading the one and only article in the Express' Fall Arts feature, I was struck by the fact that although the article makes some important points, nearly all of its material is presented in a manner suggestive of some bizarre agenda. Apparently, the agenda Downs holds is important enough to misrepresent the efforts of many, many people, and to fan the flames of racial mistrust. It seems irresponsible to do this for personal heroics, and more so when the subject is poorly researched. In light of the many things Downs misrepresents is the very basic openness of the arts culture in Oakland he reports on.

If people feel left out by the DIY establishments that make up the Art Murmur, it is only because they have not spoken to the people running these spaces. The situation is an extremely open one. The opening events are free, and everyone is welcome to come and go as they please. In addition, artists, performers, and craftspeople are openly invited to participate directly in several of the spaces mentioned in the article, and in the true spirit of collectivism participation can often lead to administration, should one wish. Rock Paper Scissors Gallery at the corner of 23rd and Telegraph, for instance, offers people the opportunity to propose classes to teach (several happen each week — usually at no cost or very low cost for the attendees). Classes can range from screen-printing to electronic circuit work; it's a very open situation. There are many opportunities to perform there, too, as there are just down the street at Mama Buzz Café, and 21 Grand offers performances almost every night of the week. In addition, all of these spaces change their art shows each month. This also offers a huge opportunity for visual artists to propose shows, and though your chance might not come around all at once, a serious artist should be able to deal with that. Of course, none of this will happen if you don't go down there and speak to the people involved. Nonetheless, contrary to what David Downs seems to suggest, the scene is open.

A diverse social scene has existed on that part of Telegraph Avenue for a long time. It's not a new thing. As well as the bar mentioned in the article, Cable's Reef, the Stork Club has been in that location for quite a while, for something like fifty years, I've heard. Mama Buzz Cafe has existed for at least six, as has 21 Grand. Ego Park, whose proprietor Kevin Slagle was misleadingly quoted, has also been there quite some time. Yet Downs suggests that the presence of these places raises property values, taxes, and the cost of living; in short, forces longtime residents out. Yet all that has changed is that there are now street parties once a month, and all kinds of people are coming to them.

Oakland (and the Bay Area in general) is a major, international metropolitan area. Many people move here for jobs, school (there are, like, five colleges here), its natural beauty, and its racial diversity. Oakland is less segregated than many cities, with all kinds of people living all over the place. Downs states in his article that Oakland is 36 percent African American. This means 64 percent of the population consists of other groups. It should not surprise Downs that these other groups sometimes can be seen outside their homes and that they have an effect on their neighborhoods. In fact, in the neighborhood in question, the Korean community seems to be transforming the area as much, if not more so, than "hipsters." Of course, the real transformative force is the city, with its favorite loft developer Madison Park REIT in tow. The Sears lofts and the condo complex going up at Broadway and Telegraph will raise property values and taxes. In this case, this is the gentrifying factor, not some underwashed artists. In fact, some of these art spaces are trying to bring the neighborhood in. RPS Gallery (where, incidentally, one can also sell handmade clothes and other items) put on a free block party for the neighborhood last summer, complete with food and games with prizes for the kids. Lots of people of all ages and colors came to that, but apparently not David Downs.

Downs manipulates the City of Oakland's attempts to gentrify itself to provoke anger against the "hipsters." The blocks between Telegraph and Broadway are largely industrial until the hospitals, the highway, and finally the Mosswood Park community and 40th Street. Many buildings in this area were not being used when I moved here nearly ten years ago. In the neighborhoods north of Telegraph Avenue live quite a diversity of people, from Ethiopia, the Middle East, China, Korea, and no doubt Kansas, Texas, and New York. New people coming to Oakland are often surprised by the degree to which the (downtown portion of the) city shuts down after dark and on weekends. Office people go home and not much happens, despite the city's well-placed attempts to encourage street fairs and outdoor concerts. When one combines this situation with the largely vacant, formerly industrial spaces once available in this area with a youthful energy and artistic temperament, it comes as no surprise that someone would want to make something happen here. So people have come here and done this, and something has happened. It is unfortunate that it coincides with the city's stupid redevelopment attempts, but we are not developers, as Marcel Diallo suggests; rather, we are recyclers.

Ignorance of the history of an area one moves to with a specific intent like work or school is natural. Any ignorance of the history of this neighborhood in particular comes from a lack of exposure of that history. New people are not exposed to it, and there really isn't anywhere to learn about it unless one makes a colossal effort. I am confident that this history would be treated with respect if it were exposed, certainly with more respect that the developers (whom Marcel Diallo equates the artists to at one point) give it. Perhaps someone should propose a show detailing this history to 21 Grand or one of the other galleries. In the case of the former, I know that their interest in Oakland is well placed and not "whitewashed," as Downs and Diallo assert. In fact, the desire to name your venue after the part of town it resides in might actually reflect respect rather than the disrespect Diallo implies exists. Of course, it may be geographical, you know, like a store named after its neighborhood, Fruitvale Liquors or something. In that way, the names 21 Grand and LoBot Gallery are not that much different.

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