Open Studios, & Art & Music in the Gardens

Last year I somehow missed the Pro Arts Open Studios. This hardly ever happens. According to the website,, they have been running their open studios program since 1974. For those folks who have just landed from another planet, the Open Studios movement implies that artists invite you into their workplaces and exhibit their work where they make it.

In reality many artists now gather in spaces set up as temporary galleries for the Open Studios rather than open up their often cramped work spaces. On the one hand, you can see a bevy of artists gathered in one spot rather than search for the many little studios spread around the whole Bay Area’s twelve cities.

On the other hand, there are many more large studio buildings where artists jointly rent space than there used to be and seeing artists in their natural habitat can be more instructive and personal.

It was for just that reason that I began taking my children to Open Studios in the late 80’s. At one studio we saw an artist shooting hoops (it was a toy net) in his work space. I thought it would encourage my athletic son to see that he could make art and still have fun. I liked to provide my kids with art supplies, including small sketch pads to take wherever they went, as my father had done for me.

I remember not too many years ago when you could visit artists in the redeveloped empty warehouses down by Jack London Square. Seeing these repurposed buildings was as much fun as looking at the art. Now empty big box retail space, the Barnes and Noble building, for instance, vies for reuse as a makeshift gallery.

It makes one think that maybe the enduring usage for many buildings in Oakland should be actual artists’ live/work spaces. Here I’m not talking about lawyer lofts where open concept living rooms full of Italian leather and kitchens with granite counter tops and stainless steel are the hallmarks of someone not making a living making art. Going from industrial to post industrial then retail to post big box retail back to art makes one wonder what city planners are thinking. Have they noticed the irony?

First, my friend and I set out in the afternoon and were able to take in a gallery in a beautiful home in the Lakeshore area, then onto the Swarm Galleries, finishing with the post-big-box space on JLS. At the first gallery, I ran into artists whose work I had watched change and grow over the years.

Next we moved onto  The Hive Gallery at the end of 2nd Street near the Square. We found more artists than were actually listed in the Pro Arts booklet but some of those listed had not yet opened.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this was last Saturday when it had poured on and off in the morning and early afternoon. Since I have almost completed the process of becoming a true Californian, I do think it’s my birthright to enjoy blues skies, and I have even developed the natural fear that I might melt if caught out in the rain. So, as you can imagine, attendance was sparse.

At Hive we found so many variations of art/crafts/sculpture that I can’t really describe the creativity on display by these folks. Since I had decided not to take my still or video cameras and don’t have a camera phone, I can’t even show you these wonderful things. You just have to go, really you gotta go.

We met an artist who makes cute dresses, charming cloth chickens (I mean really charming) and carves puppets, incredible, another artist who lived in Nepal and taught art there, a painter/muralist who takes videos of herself performing the layers of her process, and too many others. Wait, don’t forget to ask for the artist who has the movable untoy, Mickey Mouse meets the Raiders. Oh, and the artist who sorely tempted me into taking on debt with his resin treated works using paint, string, rulers, fabric, well, I may have to go back.

Then we headed down to the former Barnes and Noble building and ran into old friends, both artists and visitors, like Rita Sklar who has become well-known for her beautifully crafted watercolors and many more until they dimmed the lights and ushered us out.

So then on Sunday I decided to walk down to the Lakeside Garden Center since my neighbor, co-owner of the fabulous spot that is Garden Hortica (, had been bombarding facebook with the happenings at Lakeside Park,  Art & Music in the Gardens. Not officially part of the Open Studios, but the event took advantage of the excitement of the weekend.

Artists were showing their wares both outside and inside and gardeners were likewise demonstrating their art. There was food being purveyed by the Oakland Museum while musicians played on the stage.

Rather than tell you about the goings-on, check out my photos and short video of some of the grounds and what the artists say about their work and Oakland. Listen in particular to Christian Moffat of Create in Clay, (barring problems with my video editing program!) and what he says about the Town.

I managed to come away without buying a single piece, but I’m not proud of that. This has been one of the toughest years for me financially since my kids were little, and I’m not sure I believe things will get much better. But there is one more weekend and I’m determined to find something I can afford, at least spiritually.

If, by some awful chance, you are one of those people-and I have friends like this- who buys posters of the great masters which you frame and stick up over your couch, please get off that damned over-stuffed chair and go out and buy a piece of art.

There are no excuses for not having a piece, many really, of original, locally crafted art somewhere (everywhere?) in your house. Mine is loaded with it and it gives me joy every day, more than a new car or new clothes ever could. You still have another weekend-so go out and support a local artist. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

You can still preview the artists before you venture into their neighborhoods by visiting Pro Arts Gallery where 400 of them will be on display until June 12th-150 Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland.

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