We all know the story: Artists move to a low-income area in search of cheap space, settle down, and end up attracting richer interests that repel longtime residents. But in East Oakland, a coalition of artists and educators are trying to rewrite the narrative by doing something improbable: putting a new development at the service of the community.
The new space is a former cotton mill intended to be redeveloped. Upon completion of the project, the 200,000 square foot Jingletown building complex near the Fifth Avenue Marina will become a new arts and culture complex called The Loom (2150 Livingston Street). It’s an ambitious project that promises solar power and a permaculture garden, spaces for classes and events, affordable artist studios, restaurants, retail, below-cost cohabitation spaces. from the market and even a hotel.
While plans for most of these features are still being worked out, an art space called Agency has already settled into the bare bones of the cavernous brick warehouse. Agency is a collaboration between Rosalyn Nash of the People’s Conservatory, which provides arts education for underprivileged students in Kindergarten to Grade 12; Assan Jethmal, event producer with Endeavors Oakland and co-founder of Good Mother Gallery; and Natalia Ivanova from the nonprofit ProArts downtown art gallery.
Each player brings with them a vast network of artists and activists, many of whom are people of color who do forward-thinking work and need affordable places to create, come together and perform. And their goal isn’t just to get a symbolic nod to diversity and inclusion from the developer, but to give the community direct access and influence.
“What we’re bringing to the table is bringing people who are boots on the pitch, who work with the community, create Oakland arts and culture,” says Nash. “As developers, they have the capital, they have the space. But we have the culture.