City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney will ask the city council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee next Tuesday to approve a resolution to designate the downtown 14th Street corridor as the Black Arts Movement and Business District (BAMBD).
“This legislation will make it clear that the City of Oakland values the historic and current contributions of Black arts, artists and business leaders,” said McElhaney, who began working with community members on this proposal in 2014.
This resolution calls for the city to preserve and support Black arts and culture in Oakland creates to recognize movements and leaders that have placed Oakland on the national stage.
From the Pullman Porters union to the Black Panther Party, Oakland’s Black communities have played a significant role in advancing equity and inclusion for Blacks in American society.
“It’s a history that is known to some, but up until now hasn’t been formally acknowledged,” said McElhaney. “Highlighting African American contributions on 14th Street simply extends the theme of International Boulevard (E. 14th Street) to the spine west of Lake Merritt and includes Black contributions to arts, culture and business in the celebration of Oakland’s rich diversity.”
McElhaney held formal meetings with a diverse group of stakeholders of prominent Black leaders to shape this proposal to create a Black cultural and business district. The designation is timely in light of the Red Moon incident last year when African drummers were detained at Lake Merritt and Black churches have had to address potential fines when new residents complain.
McElhaney’s legislation will create the district on the 14th street corridor west of Lake Merritt in order to recognize institutions of long standing artistic and cultural importance to the Black community such as the African American Museum and Library, the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, Joyce Gordon Gallery, the Oakland Post, Geoffrey’s Inner Circle and Uncle Willies BBQ.
The inclusion of “Black Arts Movement” in the name draws direct connections to the national and global movement for Black empowerment centered on artistic expression. Oakland’s own Marvin X Jackmon, an author, playwright and lecturer, was a co-founder of the Black Arts Movement, who has championed the institutionalization of support for Black cultural and business activities over the past 10 years.
The creation of this district also sets the stage for bringing resources and government support to preserve existing institutions and support a new generation of Black artists and culture makers.
Official designation by Oakland allows for future applications to the state for funding as well as creates a means for funneling arts and culture grants to the Black community.
“This is just step one,” said McElhaney. “We will need to back up this resolution in the future with dedicated funding and creating institutional oversight. But this is a solid beginning to affirm our intention to make sure that the contributions of Black people are valued.”
Anyka Barber, owner of Betti Ono Gallery said the proposed 14th street corridor arts and business district program model can be applied to neighborhoods throughout the city, recognizing Oakland as a culturally diverse and vibrant arts and small business focused city.
Barber urged McElhaney to involve staff from the Mayor’s Office-Director of Equity and Strategic Partnerships, City Budget Office, Department of Race and Equity, Cultural Arts Department, Oakland Arts and Culture Commission, Cultural Funding , Real Estate Department, Planning and community stakeholders.
If approved by the CED committee, the legislation is expected to go to the City Council in February.
McElhaney says arts groups and members of the public who support this proposal can send letters to members of the City Council by email at [email protected].