Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Rise and Fall of Oakland's Art Murmur

For the last year, my friends and I have greatly looked forward to the once a month Art Murmur in Oakland's Downtown. The first Friday of every month a conglomeration of Art Galleries on or around 22nd and Telegraph open up to show the latest projects from local artists. Best of all, the party spills out onto the street where people sell t-shirts, buttons, patches, snacks, and even the occasional alcoholic beverage. I've been lucky to see the artwork of several friends and acquaintances there, and am always happy to have a look inside the galleries, check out the street scene, and be a part of this vibrant mix of people.

As much as I like the art in the galleries, I've long been intrigued by the informal economy sprouting up on the street. Over the last few months, for whatever reason, the crowds had gotten bigger, and the vendors more plentiful. we marvelled at what a wonderful community event this had become.


As the summer progressed there arrived vendors of tamales, vegan and vegetarian burritos, hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pie, cake, cookies, and even a man with a cooler who would sell a shot of whiskey and a beer. Because of expensive and restrictive regulations in America, all of this was technically illegal. And that's were the problem started.


Last month Art Murmur just wasn't what it used to be. The street seemed confined to a smaller area by the presence of traffic cones, many vendors were simply absent, and most troubling, there were hired security goons shouting at people for drinking on the street. My friends and i did a double take at this for isn't Oakland the ideal place to drink on the street? My much looked forward to shot and a beer was nowhere to be found. Sadly we just found the nearest hardware store so we could huff some paint in a bag inside the provided outhouse.
I was forwarded the following mail from Rock Paper Scissors just the other day:

As you might have noticed this past First Friday, we've had to make some changes to the street fair we host monthly to accompany Art Murmur in efforts to make this event a continued safe and enjoyable success for everyone.

• We will need to know if you're coming in advance and ask that all people interested in vending their handmade wares or performing email 23rdstreetartwalk (at) from now on to participate. If you have not, and have not received the a-okay from the event coordinator, then unfortunately you won't be allowed to set up--so please do!

• We need to make sure we are all up to code. Unfortunately, this means we can't have people selling any food products on the street since our permit does not allow it. This event, and the number of food vendors who started showing up each month, has gotten too large to pass off as a bakesale. Sorry to all the vendors who came out last month and got turned away without earlier notice! By emailing us to sign up we hope to prevent any short notice surprises in the future.

• We really can't just drink in the streets (surprising, we know!) and we're going to have to be a pain in the butt about it again...

So there you have it. It's not dead but we just might see this event be regulated toward blandness and that would be a bad thing. What so intrigued me about this event is how it was a thriving organic event showing us an interesting side of Oakland culture which is being snuffed out by way of unnecessarily restrictive regulations. The demand is certainly there, but the rules simply don't allow for it. Come next First Friday, I imagine that some people will do something else somewhere else, and that's a real shame.


nicklally said...

bum out!!

look at how much fun i was having in july!

Robyn said...

I started reading this post thinking 'Wow, here's something cool we could do when we're in CA this autumn.' Well, so much for that.

This post, combined with your previous post on the 'street food' fest in San Fran, just make me sad. Talk about regulating events to death.

a said...

times have changed my friend...

I've more...

But actually, don't totally write it off. I'll check it out next week and let you know.

This autumn huh? I have some places for you to go...

a said...

So another first friday came and went are here's a brief comment:

Underwhelming. Maybe it was the shorter daylight hours, the fewer galleries open, or my broken clavicle, but it just seemed duller than usual.

I eavesdropped on the conversation between the woman running the show and her handsome, well dressed, well built head of security. The rules were as expected: no selling along the sidewalk. No street food. No booze. No performers except for the legit one(s) and so on. No surprises really. But certainly a buzzkill.

Art murmur really had turned into a beast this past summer. An adolesecent out of control beast perhaps, but a really entertaining one. It was really something to see what kind of an event people wanted to have. Educational to see what stands in the way. At present we can be assured that there are legions of bored people sitting at home on any given night.

mat.desma9 said...

From knowing the characters involved personally (although harboring no inherent bias) I can say that although it is frustrating to be subject to these kind of restrictions, the Art Murmur organizers have been under severe pressure from the City of Oakland to clean it up. Many of these people involved are involved in other spaces here where you can do whatever/whenever, but when the event and their own business/livelihood is being threatened by the local authorities, you kind of can't really blame them for towing the line a little.

Drinking and vending rules in this country are ridiculous, but that is not their fault!

a said...


Of course it's not the good folks at Art Murmur's fault. I don't really think I suggested so. The main thrust of the whole piece and subsequent comments is how sad it is to see what happens to events and how they are regulated into blandness, either from the very beginning, or snuffed out some time later.

Needless to say, because of this I don't look forward to Art Murmur like I used to, and I've even skipped it altogether.

Unknown said...

I wasn't suggesting so, and I actually agree with you. I was more shedding some light for those reading and commenting.

It is a shame to see the effect of regulation on what is an integral event for the city of Oakland, but I still think that there is plenty happening on the periphery of the event that is worthwhile of everyone's attention!

a said...

yeah, I got the idea you agreed... And you know, you are right! It is most interesting these days on the periphery. Forgot to mention it. thanks for reading and adding your thoughts!

Howard said...

This is cool!