life on the water

Ask any 5th Avenue studio artist what the Oak to Ninth project is and you’ll get an earful. For years now the City and Port of Oakland have had their eye of improving the waterfront from Oak Street to Ninth Avenue… and maintaining a place for the long-established arts community on Fifth Avenue was not an explicit concern, despite the good counsel of their own staffs, dozens of community groups, and scores of public hearing attendees.

Now that Oakland’s City Council has annointed the deal with Signature Properties to place highrise housing and commercial space along the estuary, a group of community activists is snowballin to stop it… at least until Dellums can take office as the Bay Guardian suggests.

Where’s the Art Vote?

Three things should be of concern to local artists on this one:

  1. The fate of fellow artists and arts enterprises on Fifth Avenue. It’s not surprising that the role of the arts in redevelopment is little understood, but it’d be nice if a white hot light of community involvement made it difficult for the City to put these people out on the street. No plans to do so at this point, but please. How many times do we have to see this to know it’s coming? more >>
  2. The loss of the 9th Avenue Pier to potential arts and community use. This historic building, already a City landmark, would, if Oakland were in Canada, be redeveloped into working artist studios, performance space, dining and shopping flanked by the Art Ship (remember that? It ended up like this.). Instead it may be simply in the way so 90% of its 164,000 square feet has got to go. more >>
  3. The obligation to retain a percent for public art in the development of civic space. Typically the City reserves 1-1/2% of the cost of every build-out, from sidewalks to refurbished city halls, to fund public art commissions. The system works and debates are lively about the results. The Port of Oakland is subject to a more miserly 0.5%, but realized when it was designing projects in the $300 million dollar range that spending $1.5 million on art would be… fabulous, no not fabulous, sorry, it would be insanity. So it used a loophole to cluster 30 projects on the waterfront into a single one, which subjected the public art component of all that madness going on from JL2 to Quinn’s to a cap of $150k. If the Port won’t pay it, not likely Signature Properties will either, but it might be worth a polite question.

Get Involved

Artvote.org is going to start hanging with A Better Deal Coalition to see if they can get this one in front of Oakland voters. Naturally we’ll be trying to remind everyone about the role of the arts in these solutions, or, in this case, reclamations. You should too.