CCA in the Scene: Perspectives on Oakland's Art Murmur

This is the second installment in a series of artist profiles that depict CCA's connection to the Oakland Art Murmur -- in particular to 25th Street in downtown Oakland, where in almost any given gallery, shop, or studio, artists from California College of the Arts are making their living in the arts. Collectively, they are changing the cultural landscape of Oakland, elevating its reputation as one of today’s most talked-about art scenes.

About the Oakland Art Murmur

"If you craft it, they will come." That’s the going mantra in downtown Oakland, the heart of the East Bay’s newly exploding art scene. The recent surge in the city’s contribution to the wider Bay Area’s cultural arts scene is attributed, in large part, to the hipster-driven, Dionysian celebration known as the Oakland Art Murmur, a monthly nighttime gathering of art enthusiasts of all ages . . . and those who love them.

Watch Getting Out for Oakland's First Fridays, CCA's video tribute to the Oakland Art Murmur!

Art Murmur takes the first Friday of the month from 6 to 9 p.m., but for those who like to take things a little slower, a next-day Saturday Stroll from 1 to 5 p.m. exists that lets folks who prefer to meander the galleries at a more . . . mature pace enjoy the art tour without the fanfare that typically accompanies the nighttime crowd. December offers multiple Saturday Strolls.

See schedule »

Oakland Is the New Scene

Oakland is revealing itself to be quite the up-and-coming arts scene for doers and makers as well as for buyers and sellers. Earlier in 2011 Art Digital Magazine artist and editor Max Eternity acknowledged the “benefits of a hip and thriving art scene” in his Huffington Post online feature, “Oakland’s Art Explosion.”

“Part of Oakland's artistic success may be the result of its once-a-month Oakland Art Murmur,” explains Eternity. “It's a ‘First Friday’ meet and greet, for which 24 participating galleries located in relative proximity host receptions and open-house gatherings from 6 to 9 p.m.”

The festive and enthusiastic attendance at these gatherings has steadily increased, now drawing in an estimated several thousand artists each month, which has contributed to Oakland's newly acquired reputation as a hip art scene.

And in the midst of this so-called cultural (r)evolution, not surprisingly, one can find a disproportionately large number of CCA community members: students and alumni alike.

In fact, as one walks along 25th Street (between Broadway and Telegraph Avenue), which is now included as part of the Art Murmur route, half a dozen establishments in this relatively short distance have occupants or residents who are directly tied to CCA:

See the Art Murmur map »

Changing Cultural Landscape

It used to be Oakland was better known for its downtrodden economy and social unrest, but the Oakland Art Murmur has caused a ripple effect in this repressed city, inspiring its citizens to paint a new picture for artists, and by extension recoloring the reputation of the city.

It’s fair to ask how one relatively small social event can change the reputation of an entire city, but the appeal of the Oakland Art Murmur and its faithful followers has led to the addition of bold and innovative private galleries; studio cooperatives whose artists are pushing the boundaries of what craft means today; and business collectives that are implementing sustainable solutions in their industry practices.

For all these reasons and more, it's time to hear firsthand from the artists themselves what the heck is going on in Oakland, and to what extent is CCA a subculture of this exciting movement.

Ceramicist and FM Cofounder Joe Kowalczyk

Joe Kowalczyk (BFA Ceramics 2006), pronounced Ko-väl-chick, along with artists Ofra Fisher, Michael Steffen, and Peter St. Lawrence* (BFA Ceramics 2001), is a cofounder and director of FM (located at 483 25th Street), a studio collective in which artists can rent space to produce and showcase their work during Art Murmur as well as open studios, both of which play a vital role in keeping the artists' work visible in the community.

FM Gallery & CCA Artists

In addition to the eight studio rentals at FM, an exhibition space located at the entrance is also used to promote local artists each month. In February the gallery promoted Alexis Aurora Babayan's (BFA Painting/Drawing 2004) exhibition, East Bay Window, which featured woodcut prints. In July 2010 current Illustration student Mike Lees's Welcome to Hobo-Opolis: An Illustrated History was featured.

Curator and craftsman Chris Vogel, who studied in CCA's Printmaking Program in 2006, will have an exhibition at FM in February, titled Vs., that will feature new work that "explores perspective and dimension through geometric modules." An opening reception is set for Friday, February 3, to coincide with the Murmur. (Visit the artist's website ».)

Two additional CCA tie-ins to FM are current student Jessica Jenkins and Julie Ann Travis (MFA 2007) who each rent space at FM.

Kowalczyk will have an exhibition of his latest work, Savior, Scarecrow, and Spirit of Ancient Past (a working title), at FM gallery March 2 through 31, with an opening reception Friday, March 2, from 6 to 10 p.m.

The Artist's Perspective: Joe Kowalczyk

What's something you've learned at CCA and applied directly to your work?
(JK) CCA introduced me to effective studio habits such as the importance of balancing work and play. I developed a strong and diligent work ethic, but also learned this needs to be balanced with habits of play that inform and inspire my creative ambitions. I was able to develop voice, craft, and focus within my work so that when I finished school I had already established ideas to work off of and further develop.

As for business, I learned how to fix kilns at CCA, and now I run my own kiln repair business.

Why Oakland? Why 25th Street?
(JK) The Oakland Art Murmur has become a more accessible outlet for artists in general. It has snowballed from six participating galleries in 2006 to over 20-something galleries (not including the unlisted galleries) of all different levels.

The exciting accumulation of venues on 25th Street developed within the last two years. Why there are so many CCA alumni probably has something to do with the possibility that when people graduate, they enjoy the Bay Area so much that they decide to make it a home, stay connected, and stay active.

In general CCA seems to produce a population of artists that stay active and thrive.

What are some of the values and lessons you learned at CCA?
(JK) I attained the understanding of networking with fellow peers and faculty (i.e., staying in contact about shows/events that you or your friends are working on -- and attending them). I didn’t know what networking actually meant. Before CCA, my perception of being an artist involved a bitter life, hungry and alone in the studio. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I learned that we have each other and we’re all in the same boat. Whatever the relationship, be it artist and gallery, teacher and student, manager and renter, looking out for each others' needs helps us and the entire community.

I also learned about patience; that success doesn’t happen immediately. That the artist's path is one of constant development and it can take a lifetime. It’s a lifestyle, not just a career choice.

Artists never really retire, and I find comfort in that perception.

What advice do you have for potential students at CCA?
(JK) It’s to be expected that there will be a competitive mentality in art school. And while competition can be a good thing, it can easily become unhealthy. Be sure to nurture and help out your peers in school. That’s one way you can look forward to a future network of artists.

Why did the Oakland Art Murmur take off as it has?
(JK) The growth of the Murmur gives a platform to many more artists than it did six years ago. The Bay Area is saturated with creative energy and it needed a healthy outlet such as the Oakland Art Murmur to help foster it."

Anything you want to say to folks back at CCA?
(JK) I have to give thinks to the Ceramics studio manager, Craig Petey, who took me under his wing and taught me all about firing and repairing kilns. That kind of knowledge is greatly empowering. That's what led me to owning my own kiln repair business, which ultimately helps fund my studio practice.

* In the next installment of "CCA in the Scene," CCA alum and FM cofounder and director Peter St. Lawrence will provide his perspective on Oakland's changing reputation and the role Art Murmur is playing.


Learn more about CCA's Ceramics Program »
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[photo: Jim Norrena]