The Inside Interview: Arts District Brings Variety to Berkeley Community

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Editor's Note: The following is an interview with Mary Ann Merker, the city of Berkeley's civic arts coordinator. This interview was edited for length.

The Daily Californian: Why is the Arts District good for the Berkeley community? What does it bring to its citizens?

Mary Ann Merker: Well it provides a focus Downtown and near the university, where people can come and enjoy all the different art forms in one small section of the street. You can go to a play, you can go over the capoeira and watch the kids do their Brazilian dance, martial art. You can look at the windows-the Addison Street windows that we run-also as the fine art that changes regularly ... all these different experiences as you walk along. So it works on many levels. It works as an economic draw. It works as an educational draw. And it works as just fun.

DC: And are you looking to expand the Arts District?

MAM: There's a great possibility that they may build a new (university art) museum right here on the Oxford side of campus ... so that's going to expand the Arts District because the UC Berkeley Art Museum, if all goes well, will then become the jewel and the crown of the whole idea ... And so yes, the Arts District is spreading ... The City Council (created) a West Berkeley Artisans District.

DC: Could you tell me more about that?

MAM: That's where a majority of the potters, glassmakers, jewelry-makers live, have their studios and their kilns, so they're mostly noted for that. So the city has put up banners and is helping them with their publicity there-to spread that.

DC: Is Berkeley a role model then to other neighboring cities or to other cities in general?

MAM: I get calls all the time from other cities who ask us to share information about our public art program ... So it's very exciting because then Berkeley becomes a model for the people who make laws for the state, and we're hopeful that this will, in better times, when there's more money, encourage more of these around the whole state of California, and that we will then be the model that they will look for.

DC: With the new mayor ... what do you think is going to be the future of the Arts District?

MAM: I don't know exactly what kind of policies Mr. Bates has in mind, but I do believe that he came out very strongly in support (of the arts), so we'll just have to wait and see.


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