Devin Satterfield's Culture of Chaos 

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

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"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.

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