but I didn’t even wish for it

Got a call from Steve Huss, the city liaison to the Cultural Affairs Commission, and he informed me that I had been appointed Chair, was I aware?


Uncertain whether this represents an apex or a nadir in the Mayor’s engagement in the arts.

Results of ego-check
some cross between three things:

  1. Outrage. Surely ensuring proper leadership of Oakland’s local arts agency would require more than a perfunctory note to staff. Coincidentally the current Harpers has a great re-visit of the monkey-typewriter-shakespeare contemplation, so maybe that’s where we’re at now. It hardly matters who is on the dais for this body because it’s highly unlikely anything will come of our exercising. Unfortunately, I don’t know if we’re playing the role of the monkey or the role of the typewriter. It’s appropriate to the think the Mayor might play the role of Shakespeare.
  2. Forehead Slapping Irony. Leadership appointments are the least of our worries in light of the amputating cuts to arts funding the City is gearing up to implement. But if we can hang with the subject a bit longer: I had numerous conversations with staff and commishees about what the Commission’s resolution’s guidelines were for replacing Chris Johnson, the Chair who termed out of the Commission this month. Staff had a recommendation for the Mayor which included a Vice Chair, but that position is elected annually by the Commission itself, something it hasn’t thought of doing for several years. Who would want to be chair, I repeatedly wrote and said, when s/he would have to preside over the dismantling of the arts agency and the death of the commission itself? How could I be chair, I thought to myself, when my conflicts of interest have led to repeated losses of quorum?
  3. Diabolical Delight. For a wee moment, there is a perception of authority, however restricted, about as close to my persona as is likely to occur ever. As a situationist and a freak, I feel this appointment is a liberation, albeit a liberation to live an Evelyn Waugh book, or a Terry Gilliam movie.

    The future of Oakland Arts is quite horrible from a bureaucratic standpoint, but a thousand flowers continue to bloom. Importantly, it looks as though no one is really paying attention. Since most good things happen when the hall monitor is looking the other way…

Let’s get started.

Studio One Public Art Commission

Had I known this (I was at the meeting! Nothing was mentioned!) I’d-a shouted a leetle earlier:

Please help us announce a great opportunity for lovers of Oakland and the arts. We’re making one last big push to distribute this Call for Artists. It’s been out now since mid-January and the deadline is a few weeks away (March 15). This is a major public art project, open to artists nationally, for the City of Oakland’s own Studio One Art Center. You can assist by passing on the RFQ (attached as a .pdf file) to any artists who might be interested. You can also refer people to the RFQ posted on the Web at: http://www.oaklandculturalarts.org/main/documents/Studio1RFQfinal.pdf

The Studio One public art project is one of the Measure DD projects approved in the annual public art plan. In January the RFQ was mailed to our database of 1200 artists and posted on numerous websites; we’ve had a lot of interest from artists already. For more information on the project, prospective applicants can contact Christin Hablewitz, Measure DD Public Art Project Manager, at (510) 238-2105.

Thank you,
Steven Huss
Public Art Coordinator

City of Oakland Cultural Arts Department

1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, 9th Floor
Oakland, CA 94612
phone 510.238.4949 fax 510.238.6341

Ring the Bell that Can Still Ring,

forget your perfect offering, there is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

Cultural Affairs Commission Retreat today. It ended in a way no one anticipated, so the universe (via laughing squid) provided its explanation with a random calendar listing driven by the quote above.

Right before the agenda crashed, there was a screeching sound. The little red ball that rolled out in the street is stored out at spokes of a hub. Go get it and throw it back here.

We can get a few more up before it gets too dark to play.

And thanks to these folks for putting on a show that required laughing squid in the first place.

not on my watch

For months now I’ve had feeling that the City of Oakland’s 2005-2007 budget preparations were going to pull the rug, and the floor, and the earth below out from under Oakland Arts. Staff seemed to carry the calm of the Routinely Doomed, but it wasn’t until Thursday night a note came in over the transom:

Hey kids –
Nothing is set yet, but due to continued City deficit the Cultural Funding Program is being asked to propose a series of cuts to the grant programs.
We may suffer anywhere from a 10% to 50% plus cut to our fund allocation. That means we would have to either greatly reduce and/or eliminate some of our grant opportunities.
Proposals for reductions are due to the budget office next week. They’ll put things together for reports to council, etc., for debate and consideration over the next few months before permanent reductions are put to a final vote with council at the end of June/early July.
It may seem early, but now is the time to gather forces to keep funding for the arts if not intact, then with minimal reductions. I’m hoping you guys can help carry the torch and rally the forces. People can contact their councilmembers, attend council meetings to make open forum statements, lobby the mayor, etc.

I cast about like a flopping fish on Friday trying to get confirmation, sending out early warnings to the Spokes, Dan Fontes, a couple Commishees, Heather Tunis, who co-chairs the Oakland Arts Funding Advisory Committee, and Peter Brown, an artist with guts to whom I turn when when the issue, ostensibly about the arts, is actually about equity.

I mentioned to the Spokes that the Cultural Affairs Commission was finalizing its agenda for its Feb 2 Retreat, and there was talk of tabling the item to discuss the budget, and the role the Commissioners play (if any!) in its development and adoption. Some Spokes thought it might be a good idea to gather the outrage, bum rush the show on Feb 2 and demand the Commishees take the item up. This after Sanjiv reprimanded the Commission on Monday night for breaking Brown Act laws by conducting the retreat during the day, instead of the evenings and weekends when the public could reasonably be expected to have time to attend.

Established Spokes over at Tribe.net to take advantage of all the built-in networking and calendaring we’ll need to mount an effective advocacy campaign. If we proceed correctly, and then maybe not even then, the budget that the Mayor and City Administrator present to City Council in May won’t contain any cuts to the arts.


There’s Something About David H

it’s a song title,

and it made me feel like that deadhead in the parking lot who insisted that Jerry knew exactly when, and to whom, to play He’s Gone. He is gone, the deadhead said, flame shooting out of his eyes, and, with a sweep of his hand toward the high wall of the arena soaring above us, with a long slow exhale that left us in a cloud, he testified: I had to let him go.

With the song, I added. With the song, he confirmed. Who? I asked. My brother. I see, I said, I’m sorry.

He opened his arms and smiled, shaking his head.

That’s what songs do if they’re good, right?

He closed his eyes, so that the fire was only visible where his lashes didn’t mesh and stood there, hearing the song again in his head, his head bobbing, mapped to the song’s changes. It wasn’t like I could leave, but there wasn’t much to do while staying: I started trying to remember the mourner’s kaddish, no mean feat for a suburban lutheran.

Yis’bawrach, v’yishtabach, v’yispaw’ar, v’yisromam, v’yis’nasei, v’yis’hadar, v’yis’aleh, v’yis’halawl sh’mei d’kudshaw b’rich hu L’aylaw min kol birchawsaw v’shirawsaw, tush’b’chawsaw v’nechemawsaw, da’ami’rawn b’all’maw, v’imru: Amein

David (not H) taught it to me in fourth grade and I never ever got it right except for this part that mirrored a technique we had as children for describing the most superlative expressions of existence: the bestest mostest outrageousist almighty wing ding hubba bubba blue ribbon grade a plus plus bitchin… fill in the blank.

roller coaster,
sting ray bike ever to fly through mid-air, and
ice cream.

Granted, these types of existence really reflected the fact we were children. But they still seem to me to be the places where G-d might hang out.

But that’s when it started. When things got really, inexpressibly good, I would start this section of the mourner’s kaddish. I know. So upside down but check it out:

Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, Blessed is He beyond any blessing and song, praise and consolation that are uttered in the world.

And the thing that usually got a callback:
Now respond: Amen.

So I spent the last few days being sudden: suddenly flying to New York with M to suddenly bury his father, suddenly sitting shiva with his mother, suddenly writing against suddenly multiple deadlines for clients using a 1998 version of clarisworks and a 48k dialup modem, suddenly, but quietly, using the phone to accept a sudden job offer, suddently red-eye-ing to Oakland to grab the gear, suddenly think better of it, and just driving to the Mission to suddenly see the Nels Cline Singers. Nels was suddenly back, permitted, I think there was a collective hope, free reign after a tour with Wilco in which indy fans, I think there was a second collective hope, understood how good things were when he suddenly pulled a whisk out of his pocket to use for his guitar solos.

M is still in New York? the Singers asked. Some family matter? I gaped. Dudes, his father died and he didn’t tell you and I am telling you, exposing him but there you have it, I told them. They sank. So play David H for him and his father, yes? Yes, the Singers said.

And when they did, my eyes caught fire too. I didn’t initially realize it. I thought I might explain away the intensity of feeling by checking to see if someone had tampered with my beer. This involved dog science: looking at the mouth of the bottle accusingly for evidence. Eventually I realized that although it really felt my chest was going to split open, the reasons why would not be found there and, anyway, clearly, I would survive it as long as I had ears.

I wish you could hear it and I suppose, in your way, you have and this story of grief is your story too. And when the rabbi turned to the grave and told M’s father to go, because he had been called, I felt in the presence of one of the most superlative expressions of existence: its opposite.


parking lot deadhead: amein.

mount eden in vahalla: amein.

tears, silence and song: amein.

It’s Just Little Things Making Slightly Bigger Things

N asked me to attend a meeting for her with the nanotechnology people, her eyes sounding all oogily-googily over the phone. I can’t go, I said. Yugen rehearsal. Yu means deep, quiet, other-worldly. Gen means subtle, profound, dark. But it’s a $10,000 contract for a month’s worth of work, tops! she cried, slightly to the left of the speaker phone thingie she had attached to the cell phone that plays a Green Day song when certain people, but not all people, call in.

So to me it sounded like:

But– ten–dollar– workshop– ahh!

So I think she’s gone mad. A $10 nanotechnology workshop? She can go herself. Yugen pays me $4.13 / hour to compose (I worked it out while feeling sorry for myself, and waiting for my feet to wake up after a performance that required a mere 90 minutes of Noh kneeling). My standards have been established.

Please help me, she said the following week. I don’t know anything about nanotechnology. It’s easy, I said. It’s the industry that seeks to create little cellular engines with instructions for you, you know, to make your life easier and give you more leisure time. Stop it, she snapped. We don’t need to know anything about it because they are hiring us to… to… wait, why are they hiring us? To raise some money for them!

My new gig. Oh yeah. They need money. Plausible. So I go to their site and read their utterly simplified explanations of nanotechnology. Then I write up three critical bullets that she’ll need to memorize so that if they actually read her face during the meeting, they will know she is not 100% heathen.

Here you go, because, why not? or skip this and get to the next story:

[soandso] is focused on stage-setting for molecular nanotechnology, which


“the name given to a specific sort of manufacturing technology. As its name
implies, molecular nanotechnology will be achieved when we are able to build
things from the atom up, and we will be able to rearrange matter with atomic
precision. This technology does not yet exist; but once it does, we should
have a thorough and inexpensive system for controlling of the structure of

The three remarkable things about this are:

We’re talking small. An atomic machine can go places your vacuum cannot.

We’re talking efficient. An atomic machine creates a precise product, and the manufacturing waste can be, since it’s an atom, recycled into new machines.

We’re bumping up against the moral and ethical issues of how these ideas will be applied.

The thing people worry about may not be realistic: Nanomachines released into a soccer stadium replicate themselves and bust peoples’ heads in order to take over the world! run for your lives!

At best, get ready for another industrial revolution. Atomic robots will build things very efficiently. Many atomic robots will work in parallel to create much larger robots that will build things very efficiently (convergent assembly). I think we’ll lay down our quaint hammers and start writing poetry. Not so bad. Until.. until we run out of food.

Nah, jes jokin.

We landed the contract, and I had to go see them since I was going to be the one to do the work (see money, above). They do this work from the edge of a residential district, on a street that has a wall raking up 40 feet one side to disguise a freeway. I found my way in by terrifying a worker in the back yard with my wandering about, hunting vainly for a door to the house. She saw me through a window and I could hear her, through the thin suburban tract siding, screeching What The Hell?

N claimed to the client, aloud, several times, that all she knew about nanotechnology I had taught her. They were extremely interested in my credentials which, sadly, included a single entry: a lackadaisical bachelors in art history. It was so horrible we had no problem changing the subject. After an hour of explaining the conventional alliances and resources we were about to seek for this new phase of their operation, I mentioned I just recently had seen a model where we could manipulate the ballot initiative process of the State of California to create a 3 billion dollar bond (double with interest) to fund their research. They laughed and laughed and laughed. I felt like one of the family.

As I was leaving, they pressed the layman’s guide to nanotechnology in my hand with a warm squeeze of the elbow. I opened the soft cover seven times already, but no connection was made with the little marks on the paper. What are they… you know.. words! Yeah. I’m saving those up for this weekend, where I think I can spend my entire visit to the secluded beach house on the Pacific Coast not going through the cabinets of the famous owner thanks to the author of this book.

Can’t wait. About to get lairnt.

Wish me luck.

2004.05.21 ears

  • the sound of the mysterious michael z softly respirating in that ocean that will not admit me

A CD from Neighborhood Public Radio arrived with the air check of House of Zoka speaking extemporaneously about documentation of the Bay Area’s creative new music scene.

We listened to it while enjoying fresh pieces of rockfish baked veracruz-style in a chipotle salsa, which, as I ate, seemed to be slightly more sophisticated in flavor than I really deserved, yet, there it was, or wasn’t, because I was inhaling it.

Listening to you and your partner talk while you and your partner sit in silence, eating randomly exquisite food, is odd. Then, as you might expect, as we listened to ourselves begin to disagree on some subject, and begin to talk over eachother, we took up the issue from the radio program and began to have the very same disagreement, talking over the talking over. It was like putting the stereo between two mirrors and watching the sound stretch into infinity.

I pulled a bone from my mouth and set it gingerly on the side of the plate.
We’re always careful with the tiny things that could take us out.

the difference between a proletariat and a proletarian

something more than a consonant.


I only mention it because in a post that I forwarded on behalf of Spokes of a Hub, Proletariat Bronze was called out as Proletarian Bronze. I hate misspelling band names almost as much as I hate hearing band names mispronounced by KALX DJs when they read the calendar listings.

But yes, Oakland Arts, it’s all up inside those references and here’s why:

Spokes of a Hub is convening again:

  • tuesday 25 may 2004 at 6pm
    at the new pro arts
    550 second st at clay
    oakland, california
    alliances, collaborations and advocacy
    a candid panel discussion with funders and collaborators

This is my first billing as a Moderator and I’m hoping it goes straight to my head. I’ll spend Sunday morning watching the news shows to hone my skills.

agenda for 5/19 cultural affairs commission

OK, so I blew it and did not let people know about the Oakland Cultural Affairs Commission meeting this past Monday. It happened to contain a tish-load of action items regarding public art commissions all over town and the approval of the cultural funding program package.

This is what I had to do:

  • recuse myself from the item that approved the review panel for the open proposals program because mocha has a open proposal in front of the open proposal review panel.
  • recuse myself again from the item that approved the cultural funding program recommendations for the cultural funding program because mocha has two recommendations for funding inside of that.

Recusing is fun. Before the item came up I just left my seat and walked out of the room, sitting on the steps in the City Hall rotunda, studying just how Doric the interior is. When I say Doric, I mean Dull. The 70s Disco Ball chandelier is still stunning, however, and I had a magical moment of staring at it while it was turned on for the evening. How Times Square.

Dan Fontes came out on his cell phone attempting to help caller Randolph Belle deal with a flat tire. I think Randy asked Dan where he was, and Dan said: commission meeting. Then in a few seconds he said: No, just the same old shit. That’s when I put my head in my hands.

Here’s the tricky part: When I left the room the Commission momentarily lost its quorum. So it couldn’t vote on the action items I was conflicted about. So I might as well go back in, I thought. But then it would gain a quorum and take up the action item. But I had a conflict with that action item. So I had better stay put and not listen to Dan.

I looked up at the ceiling and squinted: perhaps the answer was hanging there, or I could pretend it was. Many many many moments passed. I can’t tell you exactly how many. It was as if much weed had been smoked, and the simplest decision about the order of events was lost to me forever, due to a dank, bureaucratic overlay. The door to the chamber opened and a big wafting aroma of Kafka bloomed out the portal.

It’s official: I’m Part Of The Problem.

Agenda for 4/19 Cultural Affairs Commission

Cultural Affairs Commission
Regular Meeting
Monday, April 19, 2004
5:30 – 7:30pm
City Council Chambers
Oakland City Hall – One Frank Ogawa Plaza, 3rd Floor

  1. Call to Order / Determination of Quorum
  2. Open Forum
  3. Action Item – Approval of minutes from: March 15, 2004
  4. Oral Report – Chair
  5. Oral Report – Department Director / Staff
  6. Oral Report – Amy Kweskin re: 6 Women with an Idea for Sustaining Oakland’s Arts & Culture
  7. Agenda Building
    Next CAC meeting – Monday, May 17, 2004 5:30 – 7:30pm, City Council Chambers
  8. Announcements
    Cultural Affairs Commissioners invite all interested to monthly post-meeting discussion and socializing at Cafe Van Kleef Contemporary Art Galley located at 1621 Telegraph Aven, two blocks from City Hall.
  9. Adjourn
  10. Note: Action Items will become Informational Reports if a quorum is not established.

    Whoa Baby!

    First off: check back here in a few days for Six Women and an Idea. Yes, I’m involved and I’m also in production with the students at the San Francisco School of the Arts. Hello. Kids First, People.

    Second off: Agenda Building. In a world gone mad (you know the kind, where you are the 6th largest economy in the world and ranking dead last in per capita arts funding), what the helly hell hell would you want your local arts commission to do? Tell me.

    Third off: Socializing at Cafe Van Kleef. I caught a nearby neighborhood gallery owner explaining Van Kleef’s as a space that has been there for thirty years with its proprietor and his predilictions, but only recently opened its doors to the public. Most times it seems that everyone inside is having a good time, in that Caligula kinda way. As a first step to making the Commission accessible to Oakland’s arts community, we may have already sprained something.

    Nothing that can’t be cured by a restorative at Mama Buzz, of course.