Tag Archives: ghosttown

Elements of Power ~ Voices of Change

oakland mural, oakland mural art, ghosttown mural art

I love this mural, despite its dilapidated state. Painted 10 years ago by folks from Laney College, the East Bay Institute of Urban Arts, and Pat McElroy on the corner of 31st and MLK, it’s definitely showing its years, not to mention the heap of dump-destined-junk dumped in front of it. I thought about going back to snap another shot without the pile of junk, but then decided it was more authentic to just show you how I saw it when I first came across it.

This is typical in West Oakland, and the symbolism does not escape me.

Here you have symbols of power and change for people of color – activists, political leaders, artists, musicians, migrant workers, athletes, and more – all stitched together into a positive tapestry of, dare I say, “hope”, and some thoughtless person obscures it with a bunch of trash they’re too lazy or cheap to dispose of properly. It makes me mad. Trash gets dumped here daily, and I don’t just mean kids throwing their candy wrappers on the sidewalk as they walk home from school (which also happens). I mean large trucks advertising dumping & hauling, who likely charge folks to take their trash away, and then come dump it in my neighborhood so they don’t have to pay the city dump fees. Argh. The city still ends up paying for it, through blight clean up crews, and even more so, reduced property taxes.

It sometimes feels like a losing battle… which reminds me of this essay I read yesterday. It’s a breakup letter to the city of Oakland, from a resident who, after many years of struggling to make this city a better place, has given up. She’s movin’ to the country. Check it out… Ode to Oakland.

I’m not there… yet.

mural artists in oakland, laney college mural

Directed by: Edythe Boone and Meera Desai (if that name rings a bell it’s because she was also involved in the Martin Luther King Jr. mural I covered when I first started this blog – To Ignore Evil…)

Ghost Town Farm

The mural that I highlighted yesterday (May Peace Prevail on Earth) is located just a block off 27th Street, a street I drive weekly. In the nine years I’ve lived in West Oakland, I’ve probably cruised past this spot hundreds of times and yet only noticed the mural just recently…

I decided to get out of my car (hurray!) and walk the neighborhood a bit…. it’s hard to really see things when you’re cruising by at 30 miles per hour. I found a lovely little elementary school with wonderful murals of its own (to be featured at a later date), a sweet pocket park next door, the gorgeous and historic Calou building (also to be featured another day), and this gem… the Ghost Town Farm.

What was so exciting about finding this spot is I had literally heard a full-length radio interview with the creator of the farm just days before on KQED’s Forum program… you can listen to the archive here.  Her name is Novella Carpenter and she is practically a local celeb – as a student of Michael Pollan at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism she has her own book: Farm City – The Education of an Urban Farmer, her own blog: Ghost Town Farm, and her own agenda to share stories about “people who follow unconventional paths,” herself most definitely included.

What’s largely unconventional about Novella’s farm is that she’s literally homesteading on someone else’s land.  It’s a large vacant & abandoned lot next door to her house that she simply decided to adopt and care for as her own.  As she says in her blog, “it all started with a few chickens, then some bees…” but what she has cultivated over the last ten years is a real working farm with rabbits, goats, pigs, fruit trees, and tons and tons of vegetables.

One of the things I found interesting in her interview on KQED was her discussion of the difference between a “garden” and a “farm.”  She said gardens tend to produce for an individual or one family… if someone picks your tomatoes, you might feel slighted or offended. On the contrary, farms produce for the community… when she sees someone picking her tomatoes she feels proud that they can enjoy food that she has grown. She maintains an open door policy and community members are welcome to view the farm, pick produce, meet the goats (though the day I stopped by they were secured behind the house for safety), and learn about sustainable urban farming.  This girl is cool!

During the interview with Dave Iverson, there was also a fascinating discussion of the legality and appropriateness of commandeering someone else’s property… do check out the audio archive.  Or better yet, check out Ghost Town Farm.  As far as I’m concerned, this is an act of guerilla art at its finest.

Ghost Town Farm Entrance

Ghost Town Farm Welcome

Ghost Town Farm

Ghost Town Farm Bees

Ghost Town Farm

Put on a happy face

I got a new sticker yesterday on my speed bump post outside.  And it made me happy on a day when not many happy things happened.  No sir-ee.  But I did get this cool sticker.  And I did see a huge rainbow retreating eastward as I cycled down 32nd street in the rain.  It made me smile.  In fact, it made me want to yell out to everyone I passed, “Hey!  Do you see that awesome rainbow?!?” But I didn’t.  I’m a dork.

oaktownart_20091019

p.s. – back to the gardens tomorrow…

U.S.P.S.

I saw this artist’s first sticker just outside my house… the same speedbump signpost as our “remember: shame is a 4 letter word” sticker from Monday.  Recognize it? (Note yellow house in background.)

Since seeing this first one, I’ve seen other works by this artist all around West Oakland and Uptown.  I saw one the night of Art Murmur on the front of a stop sign (people more often slap stickers on the backs of traffic signs).  I saw several the other day on my ride down the Mandela Parkway greenbelt.

What’s cool about this artist’s stuff is that many of them are individual, original pieces of art.  He/she has a whole slew of stickers around that are hand drawn on various United States Postal Service labels (this one’s actually two), and then slapped up.  A unique little work of art with no reproduction involved.  I think this is so cool.

What’s also neat is to recognize an artist’s work as you move about town… I recognized other pieces by this same person after seeing only one because his/her style is very distinctive and he does a lot of faces similar to this one, with a wide square nose, oblong head, and various hats or hair.

CRW_8325

The use of thick lines and USPS labels also seems to be trademark.  Here’s the one I saw the night of Art Murmur

CRW_8433

And for those of you who’ve made it this far and are twisted enough to notice or care, I’m fairly certain that’s chocolate frosting dripping off the stop sign, and not poo.

Sticker Kick-off!

So last week I focused on murals, and believe me, there are many more to come… we haven’t even scratched the surface.  But I want to take a 180 this week and talk about the very different world of small-scale Sticker Art.

While murals can be produced by individual artists, more often they are the products of collaborative efforts, with students and community members coming together to contribute to large scale efforts under the direction of one or a few professional artists. They can take months or more in the planning & production, and often live on in the public space for years, even decades… note our “Oceanus” entry from last week, first produced over 30 years ago and still beautifying Claremont Avenue (with help from a restoration in 2003).

Stickers, on the other hand, are fast and inexpensive to produce… perfectly bite-sized projects for the solo artist.  They’re also easy to transport and affix in any number of places.  And compared to large scale murals, they have rather limited permanence (depending upon the materials used), and will often fade, disintegrate, or simply be removed within a relatively short period of time.

We’ll delve into more details as the week continues… how to make ’em, where to stick ’em, famous sticker artists, and more.  But for now, here’s my first entry:
oaktownart_20090907

Someone graced the speed bump signpost outside my home with this one…  I love it!

It shows “2:AM” in the lower right-hand corner… don’t know if this signifies the artist somehow… these things are usually anonymous.