Public/Private/Community Partnership Shines Spotlight on Diversity, Quality, Volume and Accessibility of Arts in the East Bay as one of America’s Highest Per Capita Arts Regions.
Today there was a press conference to launch the 510Arts.com portal website. I live in Oakland. I work in Berkeley and the Western Museums Association has its central office in Berkeley. Around these parts, there’s the Oakland Museum, the Richmond Art Center and the Berkeley Art Center. And Emeryville’s opening its annual Celebration of the Arts tonight. I'm all about the “510,” I guess. It's the local area code. San Francisco's is 415 and further east in the growing expanse that is the Bay Area it's 925, and down on the peninsula, it's...well, you get the picture.
At the press conference, the cities of Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland and Richmond announced an unprecedented four-city collaboration that promotes the arts as a "proven catalyst for economic revitalization and community sustainability."
Each city -- Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland and Richmond -- was represented at Oakland's City Hall this morning, along with a small host of institutional funders. It was a great kick-off event. Today's launch was the culmination of a two-year initiative, with early champions in John Killacky of The San Francisco Foundation, Mary Ann Merker of Berkeley and Steve Huss of Oakland.
It’s funny being a once New-York based transplant, because there are parallels here in what’s known as the San Francisco Bay area that are similar to the relationship between Manhattan and, say, Brooklyn, Queens etc. And when I was leaving Manhattan some years ago, the Brooklyn and Queens art scenes were really taking off.
Artists and younger, new arrivals were settling in “the outer boroughs.” Manhattan was too expensive and the art scene felt entrenched. Arnold Lehman had overseen a significant expansion of the Brooklyn Museum, some years earlier the Sensation exhibition had drawn huge attention and then later the Brooklyn Museum's social media presence and collections activation through those pipes expanded to be identified as maybe THE leader in the field.
Now the Oakland Museum is gaining in national attention with their successful expansion, thanks in large part to the leadership of Lori Forgarty. Fogarty recently recruited René de Guzman from SF’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. One of America’s most promising curators. The East Bay, as this area is also known, waits with bated breath to see what he will unleash in the new Oakland Museum of California.
Oakland’s Art Murmur gives on the feeling the “scene” is gaining traction. Berkeley’s theater scene, represented by the Berkeley Rep, Aurora Theater, Central Theater Works and others, is doing things like launching Green Day’s American Idiot. Berkeley’s own Judah L. Magnes Museum has been curating traveling exhibitions getting national reviews. The Berkeley Art Center has new leadership in Suzanne Tan. And Richmond's East Bay Center for the Performing Arts is developing a new space. With Pixar Studios expanding in Emeryville, the city’s poised for big things, and it's been a home for artists for decades.
But really, all that's "old news." Soon enough, and if the "portal" gains traction, if you want to know what's going on right now in the four cities that make up a large portion of what's known locally as the East Bay, you can now go to 510Arts.com.
The East Bay Culture Corridor is one of the highest per capita arts regions in the nation. This four-city collaboration is believed to be the first of its kind in the US and is designed to serve as a model of forward-thinking, economically and socially viable partnerships that put the arts forward as a proven catalyst for economic development, quality of life and community sustainability.
It's hoped that with the increased focus on the East Bay Cultural Corridor and the development of this new web portal, it will foster relationships between the diverse arts communities of each city, leverage new audiences and resources for the arts, increase the visibility, accessibility and sustainability of arts communities, leverage new resources for each partner city and benefit local businesses through partnerships with the arts.
Together, the East Bay communities boast:
● One of the highest per capita artist populations in the country with more than 6,000 professional artists calling it home.
● More than 150 languages spoken and many times that number of culturally specific art forms practiced.
● One of the nation’s largest per capita collections of public art.
● For decades East Bay communities have consistently ranked at the top of national city diversity figures and their arts reflect this depth and variety.
● Hundreds of non-profit visual arts, music, dance, theater, culturally specific, multi-disciplinary and innovative organizations from the internationally known to neighborhood programs, education programs and offerings for youth, seniors and others.
● Alameda and Contra Costa Counties are home to 5,532 arts-related businesses that employ 21,477 people
Hats off to the funders. The developed understanding for an East Bay Cultural Corridor and the creation of 510Arts.org, through focus group work with artists, was supported by grants from the East Bay Community Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and Leveraging Investments in Creativity.
It's this kind of forward thinking that helps to combat the often entrenched or unmovable ideas of locals. The Oakland Tribune already ran a piece about the new portal this morning before the launch and wrote, "...wishful thinking that a regional cultural identity will become a lucrative reality. Besides the 510Arts Web portal, there is no hint of a concrete project or money flowing to any arts organizations."
It's O.K. For me, it is the very nature of the not-for-profit and arts professions that they remain eternally optimistic. In fact, it is the very act of facing a blank canvas and seeing more that can define much of art making. The same goes too often for keeping cultural organizations afloat today. And a perfect example is the success of the Oakland Museum's continued expansion despite the current economic downturn.
Sure, a web site is not going to address the deep-seated issues that consistently present comparative economic challenge to the decentralized areas that surround and comprise a megalopolis like the San Francisco Bay Area. It's the tourism and high real estate value in the center that often keep capital near to the core. But as Diane Sanchez, Director of Grantmaking and Donor Services for the East Bay Community Foundation is quoted as saying on the Oakland Tribune piece:
...the project was an extension of an ongoing program to help artists become more successful. "This is just one piece," she said.
Really, it is both the effective integration of the use of the 510Arts.com portal, along with an understanding that the portal itself is emblematic of a desire to work effectively across boundaries of commerce and art, and a heartfelt desire for recognition balanced with an understanding for integrity and the need for informed philanthropy.
There have to be other geographic areas that can learn from this kind of collaboration, transcending city lines and arts organization limits. While these other regions in America may not be able to claim the kind of per-capita artistic concentration cited above, it is still an important collaborative, civic model to explore.
And not just for larger, richer areas like the Twin Cities or Tampa and “St. Pete,” where there must be issues related to limited resources and need for increased exposure for distributed arts offerings.
It is also important for other regions around the nation to consider, like those known to themselves as "Tri-cities" like northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to "Quad-cities," like around Davenport, IA.
The Statement of Operating Principals listed on the site makes for a substantial case study and starting point for most any exploration into the arts, civic engagement and economic stimulus.
Are there other places served by the Western Museums Association where you think this kind of approach can help? I am looking forward to watching this new portal gain traction and, more, watching how this trans-civic collaborative arts and cultural marketing impacts on the individual artists and cultural organizations its been built to serve.