Letters for the week of November 5-11, 2003 

Why Richard Aswad's art deserved a grant from Oakland. Why El Cerrito residents are angry about the loss of views.

"Ear for Trouble," Bottom Feeder, 10/1

His art displayed merit

Will Harper's column is not a news column, but a gossip column disguised as a news column. Written in an inflammatory style, notice how he leads with the "N" word. Also notice how he didn't ask any of the other individual arts panelists for comments and doesn't include any of their names. My fellow arts panelists were David Wagner, Chiori Santiago, dani eurynome, Enrico Antipordo, Arnold Kemp, and Wilma Bonet. Notice how Will didn't list all the people named in the restraining order. It's called leading the reader ... only notice the facts I tell you about, even though many more facts exist.

Okay, let's discuss this in more detail: During the panel process, Mr. Aswad's behavior was very respectful, quiet, responsive, and nonaggressive in every sense. As I told Will, staff gave me Richard Aswad's application, which was unacceptable in many ways. Aswad writes at a middle-school level; his résumé was practically empty. His written application can be best described as minimal. In fact, his stellar letter from Phil Linhares of the Oakland Museum was his only "trump card" other than his art. I still have Phil's letter of support for Richard. I figured Crafts and Cultural Affairs Department staff would try to hang any problems on me in their ongoing war against arts advocacy. Predictable. I agreed with Mr. Linhares how Aswad's paintings are substantial and represent several years of diligent work, and how he is an accomplished painter and student of visual arts theory. No, this doesn't make Aswad sane.

But as panelists, we were not asked to judge the man, but the art. During deliberations I raised concerns about his lack of previous shows. I also brought up the business about how showing the artwork did not enhance cross-cultural understanding, which was among our criteria. It didn't stop the other jurors from signing off.

Another interesting fact that was not noted was how out of the 23 applications we received, 21 of them were funded IN FULL. I think this speaks volumes about the inability of the Cultural Affairs Department to get the word out about the grants and deadlines. And it's not like this is the first year when people didn't know when the deadline was! This is an ongoing issue going back well over a decade! Where was the wide range of worthy candidates that might be considered? I am not the first person to note how odd it is that year after year so few people apply for funding. I've heard the complaints from artists for years -- "It's the same people applying who get funding year after year."

A few years ago, I heard that there were more than 10,000 visual artists living in Oakland. As a member of the Board at Pro Arts, I know we seldom have fewer than 450 artists in our annual Open Studios. Only 23 applications received by the Crafts and Cultural Arts Department for ALL the arts disciplines? Remember ANY arts discipline can apply to this category, musician, film, writers, and poets ... any! Why so few applications?

While I was a member of the Funding Advisory Committee (two years) my repeated requests to get the applications translated into other languages, such as Spanish and Chinese, fell on deaf ears and empty city purses. My concerns about this issue was put in what staff called the "parking lot" of issues. This "parking lot" never got the attention it deserved. My repeated requests to distribute the applications into new parts of town was taken up by CCAD staffmember Jason Jong, who did an excellent job of finding new places to put the application. But you can't make artists pick it up and take it.

Even so, Aswad's behavior during the selection process was not all that strange. One applicant came in wearing their sunglasses upside down on their face, which I also thought was original, but sort of odd. As a panelist, you let go of these minor personality tics as a form of respect. It later turned out that this person had a sight problem.

I just know I have to balance what I read with more facts than are offered.
Dan Fontes, Oakland

"Trees, Views, and the Other 9/11," Cityside, 10/1

We just want the law enforced

While generally even-handed, Kara Platoni's article on the view dispute in El Cerrito contained a few inaccuracies. The Friends of El Cerrito Trees do not want a "Tiburon-style" ordinance, they want NO ordinance AT ALL. Homeowners with views simply want the city to restore and implement the original view protection ordinance that has existed since 1988. The article said the city of Albany doesn't have a view ordinance, but fails to mention that they are considering adopting one.

The 9/11 Tree Commission workshop was not by any means a screaming match. In fact, it was boring. That's why a reporter from Channel 7 left early. The Friends are only saying that to convince the city council to nullify the decisions made at that meeting. They want the council and the public to think they were "bullied and threatened." The fact is, they were simply far outnumbered by citizens who want a view ordinance and said so through a lengthy but organized process. However, this is only the latest "big lie" told by the Friends that I'm sure will be repeated again and again.

Finally, the "airspace" argument is already showing its age. No one has a right to the air above his or her house. There is no ordinance in El Cerrito that protects anyone's "airspace." But there is an ordinance that says homeowners have a right to the view they had when they purchased their home. Because that ordinance exists, many people, myself included, were assured we would keep the view we had when we purchased our homes. We know very well that trees grow, as we are also tree owners. But when your tree grows and blocks my view, is it too much to ask you to trim it? Why can't we all just get along?
Glenn Davis, El Cerrito


The photograph that accompanied our October 29 article "Zoot Suit Boogie" was not credited to its photographer, Jeremy Harris.

In last week's Cityside, "Banking on the Baby-Faced Killer," the name of Warriors owner Chris Cohan was misspelled. D'oh.

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