downtown oakland
Downtown Oakland circa 1910

Category — art

Art Murmur Encompasses Downtown

April 6, 2012

It’s First Friday of course, and the big news is that the Art Murmur is expanding to include all of downtown. But what does that mean?

The Art Murmur is an association of art galleries and arts-related businesses. The association sponsors First Friday, the monthly art and cultural fair which closes part of 23rd Street. The Art Murmur also sponsors a weekly Saturday Stroll of art galleries, and provides publicity and other support to its member galleries. Having arisen of necessity – to manage the 23rd Street closure permit – the association was somewhat fluid, sometimes incorporating gallery events as far North as Temescal. Now, perhaps in an acknowledgement that Uptown is only one part of Downtown, the Art Murmur has defined its geography to include the entire downtown area south of 27th.

So you can check out the new entrants to the Art Murmur, including Swarm (560 2nd st), Oaklandish (1444 Broadway), Pro Arts (150 Frank Ogawa Plaza), and Crown Nine (461A 9th St) tonight, though you won’t see a Broadway street closure. But this now downtown-wide art gallery association, which already enjoys a strong relationship with the downtown business improvement districts, provides an opportunity for more arts-oriented events and a stronger arts-based economy.

This Weekend’s Events

Two highlights of First Friday art galleries are: the closing of radical artist Favianna Rodriguez’s poster art show at Betti Ono (1804 Telegraph) with live art outside; and the final stop of a traveling quilt-based environmental art project at Hatch Gallery (492 23rd St).

For music tonight, the Uptown’s monthly First Friday free show features popular local indie bands Religious Girls, Mister Loveless and French Cassettes (1928 Telegraph); and Era Artbar celebrates its two-year anniversary with the Latin Soul Brothers spinning and live art upstairs (19 Grand Ave, no cover before 10pm). Saturday, Somar Bar hosts Chicago-based house DJ Tyrel Williams (1727 Telegraph).

In film, the Great Wall returns to the first block of West Grand (at Broadway) with a projected series of short films celebrating natural beauty and lamenting environmental destruction, tonight.

The Oakland International Film Festival comes to the Oakland Museum this weekend. The charming, downtown-based short film 10,000 Steps (which features a brief interview with yours truly) is part of the 7-10pm series. Go to the OIFF website for more information.

Lest we forget the culinary arts, the Chronicle’s Inside Scoop blog and the East Bay Express have more information about Duende, Paul Canales’s venture around the corner from Flora on 19th Street in Uptown. We can look forward to it this Fall!

Enjoy your DTO weekend! I’ll see you at the Art Murmur!

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Five years of the DTO

March 30, 2012

The end of March marks five years after I published my first post on this blog – about an invasion of SF-based restaurants into Oakland. The restaurants surging in Uptown, combined with the strength of Old Oakland, were kick-starting a renaissance five years ago: a renaissance which is thriving even after years of recession.

The most popular categories on this blog are: Old Oakland, the original happening hood, and where I used to live; Uptown, downtown’s showcase district; dining, which is one of the key draws to downtown and Oakland in general; and nightlife, of course. This reflects a host of exciting developments in the 160+ years of Oakland’s existence as a city.

Perhaps most significant for downtown was the reopening of the Fox, a long-cherished community dream that was enabled by Redevelopment dollars generated by private investment in Uptown. About five thousand people moved downtown during the last half-decade or so, and despite an oft-repeated myth, there are few empty condos or apartments in the downtown area (in fact, Oakland appears to be experiencing an apartment shortage that may jump-start new housing construction). With all the excitement and investment, what helped downtown improve?

Key factors in downtown’s rebirth

  • Broadway Shuttle: The Broadway Shuttle today is just great. A transit investment study, with implementation funds in the upcoming transportation sales tax hike, may provide a major new transportation link throughout greater downtown in the near future.
  • Cabaret Ordinance Reform: In 2010 a long-sought change to Oakland’s outdated Cabaret Ordinance legalized DJs at bars, clarified the rules for dance clubs, and created a late-night permit for a few establishments.
  • Pop Up Stores: Generous landlords, far-sighted city employees, and the assistance of the Downtown Business Improvement Districts have enlivened downtown with temporary and lower-cost boutiques and art galleries, from Oaklandish to Betti Ono Gallery. The trend culminated in the Pop Up Hood in Old Oakland, which may be leading that district out of recession into retail success.
  • Updated zoning: Ten years after Oakland passed a new General Plan, downtown’s zoning was updated to reduce planning headaches for developers, concentrate residential and commercial construction in appropriate areas, and ban surface parking lots as a bane to pedestrians.

Remaining challenges

  • Public safety: There are precious few beat cops downtown and the helpful Downtown Ambassadors can only do so much. Considering how light the police presence is, it’s miraculous that downtown has relatively few crimes.
  • Infrastructure: Despite almost a decade of city promises to private investors, Uptown is still marred by inadequate sidewalks and and a crumbling Telegraph Ave.
  • Capricious public policy: The Oakland City Council is famously myopic, and can swing radically from pro-growth policies as outlined in the Downtown rezoning to the development-last approach of the Lake Merritt Specific Plan. Outdated ordinances like the Amusement Fee continue to bother businesses. But Downtown will get a new City Council Member next year, and no matter who wins, we’ll see a fresh approach to downtown.

Enjoy your downtown weekend, and thanks for reading this blog, and enjoying the heart of our fair city!