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ghost town redux

Posted in Uncategorized on May 28th, 2009
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Yesterday I met up with a friend at Mama Buzz Cafe, located on Telegraph and 23rd Streets in Oakland,  the same block where the Oakland Art Murmur takes place. When I was thinking about how to frame the book’s introduction as a discussion of the current state of independent arts communities, it was logical to begin things there, since Mama Buzz was for a long time the informal headquarters of Kitchen Sink Magazine, a live music and spoken word venue, art gallery, and community space. In the two years that have passed since I drafted that intro (which you can download on the Oakestown home page as a PDF or read online at the book’s Holt website), the block of galleries around 23rd street has changed a lot, and my friends Jen Loy and Nicole Neditch no longer own Mama Buzz. Estaban Sabar’s gallery is gone, replaced by the new Fort Gallery space. Ego Park is also no longer around; its space is now occupied by Hatch Gallery, which is overseen by Adam Hatch, late of the Lobot performance space and gallery, where we threw many, many KS parties with bands like Rogue Wave and Deerhoof before they were, you know, famous.

Spaces change all the time in a city and we are in a nasty recession that’s had a big impact on my always struggling hometown of Oakland, so these alternative gallery spaces do tend to come and go. It’s nice that Mama Buzz appears to still be thriving as a business (packed at 3pm on a weekday), and RPS, the local crafting collective, has started to do more outreach work with kids from local schools. To be honest, however, now that I’m no longer helping to run a magazine that served as a kind of community organ for the Oakland indie scene, I feel a little bit distant from that stretch of real estate. I actually live farily close to there, but since my work takes me up to Berkeley most days of the week, I tend to spend more time in that region (the slow creeping death of Telegraph Avenue’s formerly robust independent book and record store scene is a whole different ball of wax).  Art Murmur is actually pretty fun if you like a gallery scene that’s neither snooty nor unaffordable (with free live music to boot), so I’m heartened to know that’s still surviving as well. Community is such an indespensible part of any indie arts scene, but as we all know, the tricky thing about community is figuring out how to make it sustainable. Hopefully the folks around Telegraph and 23rd have that figured out.