Devin Satterfield's Culture of Chaos 

This underground art maven and city culture commissioner embodies all his scene's contradictions.

Page 3 of 6

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."

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