Community must win. Organizing and uniting can triumph over profit and greed. A national epidemic drunk on money and power corrupts institutional systems. Like a cancer, it has no regards to the host it consumes. However, art proved once again its positive benefits of cultivating and sustaining vibrant communities. Case in point: Oakland’s Alice Street mural.
On April 7th, the Community Rejuvenation Project (CRP) hosted the Alice Street Symposium on Community Engagement Strategies and Best Practices at the Elihu Harris Memorial Auditorium in downtown Oakland. Highlights included a short screening of the documentary Alice Street, presentations, and a panel discussion. The event featured the intersection and cultural resilience of the Chinese-language Hotel Oakland residents and the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Performing Arts Afro-diasporic community. They organized against gentrification, to preserve historic culture, and to protect a mural representing these values soon to be blocked by new construction.
Artists Pancho Peskador and Desi Mundo’s Alice Street mural faces displacement similar to the community in which it resides. From ALICE STREET’s website: “As the mural painting commences, the dynamic of these communities is further revealed. The mural has an overall positive impact on the neighborhood, one of Oakland’s most diverse demographically, yet one which is ground zero for the gentrification wave impacting the city. Tension arises in the form of internal dynamics among these communities, a neighborhood resident who is personally offended by the mural’s content, and the property owner of one of the walls, who plans to build a 37-story unit on the site. After the mural is completed with great fanfare and a vibrant celebration, the news comes that the owner of the parking lot in front of the mural has decided to develop the property, obscuring the mural which has become a symbol of cultural diversity and neighborhood identity.”
When will local governments listen, protect, and preserve the communities they serve?
Vetting new developments to verify shared values of the citizens they seek profit from must be top priority. An eagerness to build immediately instead of properly investigating future neighborhood impacts becomes buried underneath “progress”, paperwork, and political will. Land, culture, and diversity must be protected.
It’s up to the people to do the work and push for change. Doing nothing erases identity. The spirit of the Alice Street mural will continue and we must fight on. That is the power of art.