Posted on Tuesday, May 22, 2012 by Christina Linden
Eduardo Pineda (right) plans the Shorenstein site mural with students in his ENGAGE at CCA course
Eduardo Pineda is a recent addition to CCA's Diversity Studies faculty, but he is a member of long standing in Bay Area community-arts circles. Since he has begun teaching at the college, he has gravitated in particular to the programs hosted through CCA's Center for Art and Public Life, especially the ENGAGE at CCA courses, in which students work with community-based organizations and outside experts to address pressing local issues.
Center Director Sanjit Sethi says, "The work that Eduardo does embodies the values of the ENGAGE at CCA initiative and those of CCA as a whole. He has amazing creativity and artistic excellence, combined with a strong sense of empathy and the ethics of community engagement."
Pineda has embarked on an ambitious multi-semester ENGAGE course in which students are making murals on the site of a big Shorenstein-funded development project in downtown Oakland. Located at 12th and Jefferson Streets, the new site is slated to host an office complex, housing, large companies, and foundations. For the next few years, however, it is a gaping hole in the ground surrounded by a white-walled construction barrier. Usually such a fence is left blank or drenched in advertising, but the murals that Pineda's students are working on offer a far more creative and engaging alternative. The project is well under way; right now you can go see the work of the spring 2012 class.
Productive Partnerships: Shorenstein and the Harrison Hotel
Thanks to Shorenstein's generous support, the murals will be designed and created in semester-long stages. Each stage will be a collaboration with a different community-based organization, and the finished paintings will give voice to the questions and issues that concern that particular community group. The plan is to cover one side of the lot per semester (the course will be offered again in spring 2013 and spring 2014). The actual painting is being done in studios on CCA's Oakland campus, with the final panels subsequently transported to the construction site.
As part of the City of Oakland's Public Art Program, development agencies like Shorenstein are often required to incorporate arts and public outreach into their long-term construction projects. Because this site is downtown, near businesses, a public park, and residential neighborhoods, the city is particularly invested in a mural as a way to facilitate good neighborhood relationships.
Shorenstein, for their part, has been more than enthusiastic. "It is great for the students to know that not every corporation is closed and self-serving, like the stereotype," says Pineda. "Shorenstein is a big corporate development group, sure, but they are enthusiastic about the idea that whatever goes up on that site should be a completely free message. Whatever the students and the partner organizations develop together, that's what we're painting." Jeannie Rainer (MFA 1987), a CCA alumna, is a development manager at Shorenstein and the company's primary liaison with CCA. In fall 2011 she contacted the Center to find out how CCA students might contribute to the transformation of this site.
Each ENGAGE course involves an outside partner organization, and the partner in this case is the Harrison Hotel, a nonprofit housing facility within walking distance of the construction site. Operated by Resources for Community Development in cooperation with Lifelong Medical Services, the hotel is open to formerly homeless men and women and participates in the federal Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program.
Students enrolled in the course are asked to volunteer at the Harrison Hotel once a week as a way to learn about the complexities of the local community ecology, and to cultivate the kinds of trusting relationships that are integral to any collaboration. These deep connections move the project far beyond public art for its own sake, and turn it into an incredibly invested process on all fronts. Hotel residents have visited CCA to discuss the progress of the mural panels, and will continue to do so. This enables everyone to place a (literal and metaphorical) frame around a project that is in complex and meaningful ways changing the face of a neighborhood.
Beyond the Studio: An Extended Practice
Says Pineda: "Ask a non-artist if they ever make anything -- quilting, dancing, music -- and they most often answer yes. They just think of this activity as separate from the fine arts, and so in the same breath they'll tell you they're not really creative. This is why I care about outreach. It's about getting ordinary people to realize the connection between their own creativity and the more sophisticated visual language that surrounds them."
Outreach has been Pineda's specialty for the past three decades. He arrived in the Bay Area in 1978 to study painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. He found himself drawn to the local artists he was meeting here, like Osha Neumann and Ray Patlán, more than he felt engaged with what was happening in the classrooms and studios at school. Neumann and Patlán were both involved in the community mural movement, and Pineda soon joined them and others in making murals in Bay Area neighborhoods. He kept on with this kind of work through the 1990s. "It taught me a lot about collaboration, our neighborhoods, and the different types of organizations that make up what we call community."
Painting in the urban landscape became the focus of his creative work, and he and Patlán even started a mural business called Fresco, a partnership that received funding from various businesses, foundation grants, and public funds through nonprofit fiscal sponsors. It was creatively satisfying, but not the steadiest gig, and when Pineda eventually started a family, he found himself looking for salaried positions.
Happily, he discovered that his resources and skills were extremely marketable: "In the late 1980s and early 1990s I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time," he explains. "Larger cultural institutions were trying to find a way to be culturally diverse, and to forge the right relationships with expanded audiences. My skills proved very useful for their outreach programs." He started working with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on the exhibition CARA: Chicano Art Resistance and Affirmation, and this turned into a 16-year, full-time stint in SFMOMA's Education Department. When the Museum of the African Diaspora launched in 2005 in San Francisco, he left SFMOMA to work there, and stayed for a year and a half.
Hunger Close to Home: Revelations at the Food Bank
Being involved with ENGAGE at CCA has enabled Pineda to bring together his many experiences and interests. He's painting murals again, both in his teaching practice and as a personal practice. "CCA's Center for Art and Public Life is great at building relationships with organizations outside the college," he says. Last semester, for instance, he taught a mural arts course connected with the Alameda County Community Food Bank, which followed up on the work of a prior ENGAGE studio course taught by Interior Design faculty member Amy Campos. "Being able to work with the same organization continuously over multiple semesters is so valuable: for the organization, for the students, and for me as an instructor."
Interesting conversations and revelations that came up through the project concerned access, resonance, and the nature of public space. Working on a mural inside the food bank's warehouse-type building, which is near the Oakland Coliseum, forced the students to reconsider their preconceptions of the idea of "public." Thousands of volunteers from all walks of life frequent the facility, Pineda points out. His own assumptions were also overturned when he realized the diversity of privilege among CCA students. The students' research for the mural revealed some surprising statistics about hunger and food insecurity in this county, and Pineda was likewise surprised to learn that there were students in the class who had experienced food insecurity themselves.