Once a month residents of the East Bay celebrate the week’s end by heading out to Oakland’s First Friday Art Walks, an eight-block street festival in the heart of the city. The event, which started as a traditional open gallery walk sponsored by Art Murmur in 2006, has grown into a Bay Area hot spot for artists and art lovers alike. Over thirty galleries and mixed-use art spaces throughout the City of Oakland feature work of local painters, sculptors, live music, local food vendors and everything in between.
“It became a real, spontaneous, authentic grassroots street festival as people roamed in and out of the galleries, enjoying our balmy Oakland weather and the amazing creativity of our people,” says Pamela Mays McDonald, a board member at Oakland Art Murmur. “But eventually it got too crowded for people to see the art in the galleries, and up to 20,000 people descended on a few blocks within a three-hour period each month.”
The Oakland Art Murmur organization eventually turned over management of the non-gallery scene to a new organization, now called Oakland First Fridays. The event continued to grow, eventually closing down major streets in the area, such as Telegraph Avenue, creating better security and a safer event for the people of Oakland.
“We have now expanded from the Uptown/Koreatown-Northgate districts to include galleries throughout town; Old Oakland, Jack London Square, Jingletown,” says Mays McDonald. “The geographic scope of the movement is growing every day.”
Aside from the perks of experiencing art in this great community setting, many gallery owners and other participants reap the benefits, as well. Kerri Lee Johnson, owner of Marion and Rose’s Workshop on 9th Street, a two-and-a-half year old gallery that showcase over fifty American artists, designers, craftspeople, manufacturers, and artisanal food makers, continues to watch support for artists grow.
“First Friday has always been a great night to promote the shop and the city for that matter, to a new audience and group of people who are often exploring Oakland for the first time,” says Johnson. “People are not always ready to buy art on that night, but very often come back in to find out more about the artists and to then buy something. From day one it has been a great way for local artists to have their artwork seen by a large audience. The First Friday often brings out curators, art consultants and interior designers who are looking for fresh new talent.”
Chandra Cerrito who runs a contemporary art gallery representing twenty artists on 23rd Street also participates in the event through scheduling art openings on First Fridays.
“First Friday art walk started before 2007, so we have not experienced life as a gallery before that time,” says Cerrito, who opened Chandra Cerrito Contemporary in 2007. “That was a significant reason why I decided to open a gallery in Oakland. It already had an established art audience that was growing every first Friday.”
Between the world class art, music, food and other activities both indoors and out, Oakland continues to attract and maintain a tight-knit, eclectic scene for creative people of all ages and backgrounds.
“The people of Oakland are without a doubt some of the more adventurous, tolerant, friendly and fun people anywhere. They are used to mingling, working, socializing and living with people who may not look, love or believe the same way they do, says Mays McDonald. “They love getting together and hanging out in public at street fairs, which are a big part of our Bay Area culture. They are scrappy and they are creative! They know how to deal with life as it comes, to use what they’ve got to create the best life possible. Oakland boasts the highest number of census respondents who list “artist” as their occupation. Not San Francisco, Oakland. Everybody here has got a touch of the creative spirit in their soul.”
Oakland First Fridays takes place the first Friday evening of every month at Telegraph Ave between 19-27th Streets; 5-10pm. For more information, visit oaklandartmurmur.org or www.oaklandfirstfridays.org.
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Photo Credit: Mazzarello Media and Arts via Flikr.