Walk around Downtown Oakland these days and you will witness an open-air art museum.
Block by block, up and down Broadway and Telegraph and their cross streets, there are more than 1,000 beautiful and powerful murals that cover storefronts that reflect the values of our Oakland community.
They support Black Lives Matter and condemn police brutality, but the messages are too nuanced, different and thought-provoking to capture in a paragraph. The murals must be viewed in person.
One such mural, a Black Lives Matter mural on 15th and Webster, was completed by artists from the Bay Area Mural Project (BAMP), a nonprofit organization that facilitates and creates public art. Andre Jones, one of the artists for that mural, is the Executive Director of BAMP. He said he’s glad he’s able to take part in this movement and excited to be a part of change.
“Being an Oakland-based artist, and an artist who has lived in other parts of the country, I’ve seen gentrification, I’ve seen police brutality, it’s nothing new to me as I’ve travelled around this nation,” Jones says. “So I’m glad to see people having a conversation, on the macro and micro. There’s change that’s happening, from statues being pushed over to renaming of buildings. If people are opposed to that, you’re on the wrong side of history.”
As Jones is talking, he’s sitting with Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith, the Creative Director for BAMP, near another Black Lives Matter mural they’re working on in the Fillmore District in San Francisco. Wolfe-Goldsmith says it’s “dope to have this conversation starting” and has hope that “this movement will make real change happen.”
“You can’t talk about police brutality without talking about prison reform without all these other levels and systems that racism is a part of,” she says.
Wolfe-Goldsmith and BAMP recently completed another mural, miles from Downtown Oakland in Sobrante Park, Deep East Oakland. The mural is on the corner of Lodestar Middle School, newest school in the Lighthouse Community Public School family, and covers two sides of the building.
The concept was designed by Lodestar students, who were supposed to take part in painting it as well, but were unable to when COVID-19 shut down learning at school. The mural is bright blue and green, a beautiful and peaceful outdoor setting with grass, trees and mountains that features students reading and enjoying nature. The bright mural especially stands out against the neighborhood backdrop, grey and industrial.
Corbrae Smith is the Making Arts and Design teacher at Lodestar, and a founding teacher there. He says that the mural captures how Lodestar students perceive Oakland. “They’re looking at the city from their perspective,” Smith says. “Adults can be really jaded the more they understand how the world is actually working. For them, they’re out there with their friends, that’s how they view Oakland and their neighborhood, regardless of its issues. I think it’s a beautiful thing.”
When Lodestar secured the building, Smith broached the idea of students contributing to a mural on the school. He had previously met Jones, and they discussed a project that would include students in the entire process. BAMP facilitated a workshop with the students to talk about how they envision Oakland and Sobrante Park: symbolism, images that create feelings, and sketch out what the mural would become.
“It can be hard to imagine a process they’ve never done,” she says. “We stoked the fires talking about symbology and the different kinds of symbols we see in our everyday life, and what they see representing their neighborhood. A lot of it was togetherness, friendship, music, ‘I like to read, we like to play soccer.’
“We got some deeper insights from kids who grew up in the struggle and were like, ‘Yeah, this neighborhood is really rough and I’ve seen challenges.’ There’s the reality of it, too. We got a multitude of stories, everyone’s story is different.”
Smith says that “any mural depicting Black and Brown kids doing more than what the world perceives them doing is powerful.”
“Black kids are looked at older all the time, like they don’t hurt and can take more pain,” Smith says. “They’re looked at as older than they actually are. They’re innocence is taken away so early. So depicting Black and Brown kids and educators being educated and having fun fights the constant narrative that we’re up to no good.
“The reputation of Sobrante Park is unfortunate,” Smith says. “I’m hoping that with this mural and in general what our school represents, and what’s happening now with everyone being educated around their own biases and negative perception of people of color, can stand there and show people that people of color are more than what you think we are.
“We’re educated, we’re trying to have fun, we’re trying to just be who we are. It’s a very timely mural and fits perfectly with the narrative we’re trying to push on America right now.”