When the Burning Man “burners” return home, Oakland is where you’ll find industrial artists at work (and play). The range of artists here is as diverse as the city itself: welders, sculptors, glass blowers, and even fire artists inhabit West Oakland’s warehouses, just across the Bay from San Francisco. Here, we take a look at the changing face of Oakland art.
Artists in search of space big enough and cheap enough to build large-scale art were drawn to the vacant buildings in the neighbourhood. Today, these makers are helping Oakland rise as a cultural destination, hosting celebrations like the Mini Maker’s Fair and opening up their studios to the world. Public displays can also be found at the Uptown Art Park next to the Fox Theater along Telegraph Avenue, or downtown in the Oakland City Center plaza.
Mandela Parkway is home to what has been called the “West Oakland Industrial Arts Corridor.” Drive through too fast, and you might miss Karen Cusolito’s 30-foot sculptures peering out of the American Steel Studios alleyway. The adjacent warehouses spanning six acres are hard to miss, but it’s not always obvious to the everyday passerby that more than 100 artists and innovators of all mediums work here. American Steel holds private tours and partakes in Oakland Art Murmur’s first Friday celebration, where you’ll be witness to larger-than-life steel human sculptures and vehicles as fire-breathing horse-headed art cars.
Further down the corridor in a former foundry, Lost & Foundry’s smaller-scale collaborative space is the creative hub of artists Nemo Gould, Jeffrey Hantman, and Sean Orlando. Hosting two-three open houses a year and numerous private events, this is both a working studio and a show space – a kinetic jukebox-turned-robot and plywood umbrella sculptures are just some of the rotating pieces you’ll find here. Twelve tenants occupy the space, a studio where artists from all walks of life meet in the middle.
“The industrial arts community here is a Burning Man motivated community,” says Nemo Gould. “But Oakland is a borderland where all interests meet.”
To Gould, it’s fairly obvious why so many industrial artists call Oakland home.
“Just look at it. The buildings still retain function as an industrial space,” says Gould. As opposed to San Francisco and other cities where warehouse structures have been reverted into yoga studios, tech hubs and the like, Oakland’s spaces are largely unaltered, keeping property values affordable and space functional.
Down the street from Lost & Foundry, Oakland’s abstract sculptor master Bruce Beasley has been building up his more than 50-year-old studio complex and sculpture garden. You may have spotted Beasley’s work at places like the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (he’s been featured in museums all over the world). Now, the long-time West Oakland resident has made a generous promise to the Oakland Museum of California: he has gifted his complex as the future Bruce Beasley Sculpture Center. The space will be open for tours in 2015, but for now private tours are held upon appointment.
Let the experts show you how to get your hands dirty at The Crucible’s 56,000 square foot warehouse space, where classes in everything from welding to fire dancing to woodworking are taught. If you don’t have the time for a multi-week course, try a three-hour taster to find out which medium suits you. Just be sure to plan how you’re going to ship it all home.
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Have you explored the Oakland art scene? What did you think of Oakland’s industrial artists? Let us known in the comments section below.
Written by Lindsay Wright