This. Is. HELLA. Oakland.
GIA Conference blogger Lara Davis turns in her initial notes on the 2018 GIA Conference in Oakland, California.
When I walk the streets of downtown Oakland to attend various conference sessions, I think of Angela Davis who wrote about art on the frontlines, cultural organizing at the intersection of art and activism – people’s art as she deemed it, as exemplified by struggles for Black liberation which have always been steeped in musical, artistic, and cultural narratives.
This year’s conference theme of “Race, Space, and Place” is alive in Oakland, reflected by a city rich with roots in movement building, and the beauty and complexity of many cultures. When john a. powell opens his keynote with, “Welcome to Wakanda!” you know what time it is. And, when he closes with an homage to Richard Pryor’s skit lamenting the stolen dreams of a brother who’s been incarcerated, you feel the call to action.
Oakland pride fills the air this morning. From Joyce Lee who blesses the stage with spoken word magick, to Mayor Libby Schaaf who speaks with authenticity about the role of art in cities and Oakland’s fierce pride in its diversity, and the generationally influential Roberto Bedoya, a central leader in advancing Oakland’s first cultural plan in thirty years, entitled Belonging in Oakland: A Cultural Development Plan. The culture of this community’s passion is palpable in its love for justice, art, and the people.
As a culture worker for the City of Seattle, I appreciate the marching orders from Oakland’s municipal leader, “We, as government must take more risks, be more creative, evolve, be iterative, and not work alone.”
So, all college reminiscing aside, I am grateful to be in a community of artists, funders, and cultural organizations who are thrust into this moment of inconvenience so that we can critically analyze and interrogate power in the work we do every single day in this field, and for many of us, in our daily lives. Did I mention that the morning plenaries are taking place under a big top? Seriously. An actual circus tent. It’s kinda fly. And, hella Oakland.