The Next Wave

“Oakland at the turn of the millennium looked very different from the city that was ranked as one of the top places to go in 2012 by the New York Times,” Anna Carey wrote recently in The Daily Californian. “Since then, the sparse neighborhoods of desolate buildings and fast-food restaurants have been replaced by art galleries, restaurants and new businesses.”

What is responsible for this new turn in Oakland’s fortunes? Much of the credit can go to Oakland Art Murmur, a First Friday art walk that started in 2005 when a small handful of galleries in Uptown to the north started promoting a monthly gathering. “As it turns out, the same people who go to the galleries also want to eat and drink, so it has encouraged more restaurants and bars to open,” says Danielle Fox, director of Art Murmur.

“Having more people out and more restaurants and bars has encouraged more galleries to open, and so the cycle continues.”

Recent attendance figures estimate that 20,000 people are coming out each First Friday night to enjoy art at venues like Shadravan’s Art Gallery, Crown Royal and SLATE Contemporary, while grabbing a bite at Luka’s Taproom and Lounge or even the still-active Stork Club. “Any city would kill to get the attention and excitement happening at Art Murmur,” says Sarah Filley. “It’s a really organic expression of the people who live there, a very bottom-up energy.”

So has Oakland’s time finally come? The city’s economic challenges remain: In some census tracts in and around downtown more than 35 percent of residents live in poverty. But with a strong underpinning in the arts, a thriving art walk and a hot restaurant and bar scene, Oakland is experiencing a new energy that hasn’t been seen since the 1940s.

What is an ArtPlace? It’s a place that engages residents and draws visitors. It’s a place that has a backbone of creative culture. It’s a place with small, local businesses and shops. It’s a place where you can walk to run your errands or find a local pub near the new theater or performance space. America’s Top ArtPlaces are neighborhoods where the arts are central to creating the kinds of places where people want to be.

A report released by ArtPlace, an initiative of national and regional foundations, federal agencies and major banks to accelerate creative placemaking, identifies the Top ArtPlaces in 33 of the nation’s largest U.S. metropolitan areas with neighborhoods that have been exceptionally successful at combining art, artists and venues for creativity and expression with independent businesses, retail shops and restaurants, and a walkable lifestyle to make vibrant neighborhoods.

“Arts and culture are underused assets for increasing the vibrancy of cities and local economies,” said Carol Coletta of ArtPlace. “This list reveals the real potential in cities everywhere to tap into that resource and create exciting, successful places.  These neighborhoods demonstrate that art and artists help create the kind of places where people want to be.”

The process of identifying the America’s Top ArtPlaces involved an initial search of 33,000 zip codes to find areas that scored highest on a set of six indicators indicators identified by Impresa Inc., a Portland-based consulting firm specializing in the study of metropolitan economies.  Four of the indicators measure ingredients of vibrancy: the number of retail and service businesses; the percentage of independent businesses; the neighborhood’s Walk Score; and the percentage of workers in creative occupations living in the neighborhood. Two arts-related indicators were also used: the number of arts-related non-profits and the number of arts-related businesses. Finally, neighborhood scores were normalized for family income so that neighborhoods with the highest concentration of income did not skew the results.

The greatest concentration of indicators in the highest performing zip codes was identified, around which a half-mile radius was drawn. This allows a unique, block-by-block view of activity that sometimes spans traditional neighborhood boundaries.

Map of Oakland, CA / Downtown, including Chinatown, Old Oakland and Jack London Square

Excerpts from Full report:

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