Found on the Fringes


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Whether you're an artsy-fartsy type or simply craving the cinnamon-sprinkled kiss of a glass of horchata, crossing the bay to go the Mission District can feel like visiting a visual and gustatory holy ground. From Dave Eggers' old-timey-pirate-supply-store-cum-tutoring-center, 826 Valencia, to the vintage zine shop, Goteblud, Valencia Street offers a spectacular array of creative curios. Just a little ways east, however, Mission Street and the blocks beyond tell a much less glamorous story.

Brooklyn, the Mission, uptown Oakland - these neighborhoods are often likened to one another because of their youthful artistic communities, historically underserved local residents and bourgeois business development. In other words: gentrification.

At a cursory glance, the Mission may appear starkly divided by an invisible line drawn somewhere in between the pricey Valencia antique shops and the Van Ness corner liquor stores. However slowly, Oakland seems to succumb to a similar process as more galleries and art spaces emerge, setting off a chain reaction of new outside visitors, cafes and escalating living expenses for the original residents - the work of the indifferent, invisible hand unfolding.

Perhaps taking cues from larger cities' precedents, some prominent members of Oakland's arts community seem to consciously interweave rather than impose their practices into the city's established milieu. Arguably the most concrete example of such, Tina Dillman and Naaman Rosen are a husband-and-wife artist duo whose cozy 40th Street home serves the triple function of their studio and visual and performance art venue, WE Artspace.

"We're bringing color and community into an area that is not necessarily exposed to art, so it's really great to just see the neighborhood and the locals walking by and being exposed to something that they may not (see) in their daily lives," describes Tina as I pet the couple's black lab amid WE's August exhibit of candy-colored drawings, paintings and sculptures of amoeba-like formations by T. Joseph Enos.

"(Naaman and I) are very bare-bones and do things out of our pocket, and I think the same thing goes for other art spaces that are opening up on 25th and 26th ," Tina continues. "In the lifespan of how gentrification works … artists in general tend to come in and make a very vibrant impact on a community and then they end up getting kicked out themselves because other businesses start moving in afterwards… It's kind of like a catch-22, unfortunately."

With a sizable portion of Tina's resume coming from local art nonprofits, Tina and Naaman use WE as a means to give emerging Bay Area artists a foot in the door of Oakland's growing gallery scene. When the space opened, they began to curate themed group shows, but soon began to focus on solo exhibitions in order to allow individual artists to develop more extensive bodies of work. Mining the Bay Area for unique talent, they seek to work with those dedicated to becoming active professionals within the community.

"Each artist that comes in the space really develops their work around our space… some of the work specifically is made for (it)," says Tina, gesturing to Enos' cartoonish, carved wooden panels lining the walls. "It's really important for us to have a good rapport with the artist because we are inviting them into our home, so the two have got to mesh cohesively."

In order to keep their art space financially afloat, Tina and Naaman balance a variety of part-time jobs with their own artistic careers (Naaman is a photographer and Tina is an abstract painter). On Fridays and Saturdays, they open their home to the public for WE's gallery hours from 12-3:00 p.m.

Unlike the Mission District's somewhat segregated arts sector, uptown Oakland's small galleries pepper the landscape among local markets, adult entertainment stores and beauty salons. Once a month, many of them join forces for the elbow-bumpingly popular Oakland Art Murmur, a nighttime art walk that draws in a variety of food vendors (homemade, vegan cupcake stands and taco trucks!) and live performers to the small cluster of galleries on 23rd Street at Telegraph and the surrounding bike-able area.

A laid-back and thoughtful conversationalist, Tina enjoys networking with the artists and community members she meets at her other jobs. She is the events coordinator of Art Murmur and the office manager of one of its central venues, Rock Paper Scissors Collective.

The free Art Murmur block party (and often free beer and wine served at the galleries) draws in a mixed public. Taking advantage of its placement at the heart of a variety of cultures and communities, RPSC engages in various public service projects such as fashion design classes for local high-schoolers, writing and sewing workshops, open submission art shows and whatever other ideas their volunteers can put into action.

As the invisible hand of capitalism or Father Time, whichever it may be, silently continues the often unwelcome process of gentrification in Oakland, the arts community's Murmur grows increasingly louder. Hopefully by putting a paintbrush or a camera in that invisible hand, the likes of Tina Dillman and Naaman Rosen can draw together Oakland's residents instead of erasing them from the picture.

Paint Tha Town with Nastia at [email protected]

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