Local Artists Look at the Lives Affected by Displacement

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By Kate Abbey-Lambertz, Huffington Post

 

As Oakland, California, undergoes massive changes, an art museum is calling on residents to speak out about being pushed from the city they call home. 

 

“Oakland, I want you to know…” opened recently at the Oakland Museum of California and celebrates the history and culture of West Oakland, a neighborhood where rents are rising, tech workers are moving in, and longtime residents, particularly African-Americans, are being displaced.

 

The interactive installation ― a replica of West Oakland’s streets, shrunk to fit in a room ― is as much about community organizing as it is about art.

 

Chris Treggiari, a local social practice artist who curated the show with Evelyn Orantes, OMCA’s curator of public practice, said he wanted to “create a platform that can house what the community is saying, what the community is thinking.”

 

“Gentrification is happening; there’s a shift in demographics; there’s displacement,” he said. “These are words that we’re hearing from the community.”

 

Orantes and Treggiari hope to encourage visitors to tell their own stories about living in West Oakland. The exhibition draws from interviews with residents and contributions from over 700 artists, students, residents and community groups.

 

The miniature city includes structures and spaces inspired by recognizable Oakland sites: a classic Victorian mansion, a historic blues club, the BART subway, a new loft, city streets and a community garden planted with felt vegetables.

 

Each space is centered around an aspect of the neighborhood’s identity, like its deep-rooted arts community. Treggiari hopes the semi-private spaces will allow candid and respectful conversation between friends and strangers.

 

To give visitors a nudge, there’s a question posted at each site. For instance, signage at the loft space, which examines race and housing, asks, “What can we build together to help the future of Oakland?”

 

That’s an optimistic way to tackle the issue when some residents aren’t sure if they’ll have a future in the city at all.

 

Oakland’s rents are now among the most expensive in the country, thanks to the Bay Area’s housing crunch and its growing population of tech workers. With San Francisco rents already astronomically high, Oakland’s comparatively “affordable” housing ― at least on a tech company salary ― has been steadily drawing professionals to the other side of the bay.

 

A number of companies are following suit: Uber will open offices in the city next year.

 

As tech workers stream into the city ― sometimes clashing with longtime residents ― Orantes and Treggiari would like newcomers to come away from their show with an appreciation for West Oakland’s strong community and identity.

 

“I want them to understand and realize that we can’t lose this culture,” Treggiari said. “I hope the show brings that to the surface and makes people aware and starts conversations, starts people thinking, ‘Yeah, we need to preserve this and celebrate it.’”

 

“Oakland is an amazing place to live, and I think all of us look to San Francisco and see what we’ve got to lose if we don’t do something,” Orantes said.

 

The exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California will continue through Oct. 30. The museum is located at 1000 Oak St. in Oakland.

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