By Calder Anderson

Despite the negative news cycles that have been circulating around Oakland in recent years, the city has much to offer. Nowhere else can you find the rich diversity, deep history and radical ideals that the city is best known for. Oakland has always been dedicated to envisioning a better future for itself and its people and, even when the odds feel stacked against the city, Oakland continues to rise. This is seen in its unrelenting dedication to the arts, to community and to the pride that comes with loving this city so deeply. 

“We have so much here in our backyard. We don’t need to leave Oakland to find art that is exciting, enriching and challenging.”

Oakland Art Murmur sat down with four of Oakland’s leaders in the creative community who shared their love for Oakland and the bright future they see for our beloved city. 

“This city rejects hierarchy, creating a more horizontal terrain for Oakland’s artists and art spaces,” says Christa Cesario, Program Director of Mills College Art Museum. “Oakland breaks the mold in a lot of ways.” Here, you can find collectives, community spaces, fine art galleries and renowned museums spread across the city. All are welcoming and deeply committed to their city and its people. 

She tells us about two arts organizations in Oakland she’s particularly interested in. Crisis Club Gallery in North West Oakland and Bloom Collective are two different projects that are unified in being people-focused. Compared to a typical gallery’s “object-focused” goal of exhibiting and selling art, these spaces put people first – a theme that runs through much of Oakland’s art programming. 

Crisis Club Gallery playfully refers to themselves as “just some freaks in Oakland,” when in fact they are building immense amounts of social cohesion through creativity and community. While Bloom Collective, a curatorial collective, advocates for queer and trans artists by centering inclusion and identity building. Cesario believes that both these institutions are exemplary of Oakland’s ethos and are moving in the direction of what art spaces should look like now and into the future. 

When asked what she’s most excited for at her own institution, she enthusiastically tells us about their current exhibition: Look Up To The Sky, Hung Liu’s Legacy of Mentoring Women Artists. The late Hung Liu is a Bay Area legend who dedicated her life’s work to her own practice and to those of her students, teaching at Mills College for over 20 years. The exhibition focuses on the impact of Liu’s teaching and the instilling of the strong work ethic that is so expertly shown in her students’ work. The exhibition, a legacy of some of Oakland’s finest work, is on view until March 24. 

Eric Murphy, who’s been at Joyce Gordon Gallery for over ten years, recently became Gallery Director. His goal in his new position is to preserve Joyce’s 20 year mission of exhibiting top-tier talent while continuing to build the gallery’s legacy as a pillar of Oakland’s art community. 

The gallery has shown internationally renowned artists like Richard Mayhew and Louis Delsarte and, despite this notoriety, continues to make room for emerging and mid-career artists; establishing itself as a space for its people. The gallery supports artists from various backgrounds, ethnicities and locations that fit their program’s mission, however, their focus has always been showcasing Bay Area artists of color. This year, it is their intention to highlight more female artists. All this happens alongside their annual exhibitions like their Youth Art exhibition and their satellite exhibition for Art of the African Diaspora (currently on view until February 24). “We respect the creative pursuits of artists while making the work accessible to a broad audience here in Oakland,” says Murphy. The gallery provides a level of quality in its programming that helps put Oakland on the map. 

He thinks of Oakland as one of the biggest art communities in the nation with a huge draw for fresh artists looking to find their way. Despite this, the city is often left out of conversations within the greater art world context. Looking ahead, Murphy hopes that more art lovers will come to Oakland to see, and collect, the valuable and unique work the city offers. He shares that he’d love to see a more coordinated effort in bringing people and commerce to Oakland from the greater Bay Area and beyond. Most importantly, he wants more national recognition for all Oakland has to offer. He hopes that the region’s notable, like local politicians and celebrities, will advocate for the vibrant culture here. “We influence the nation with our way of life and our ideals,” says Murphy and it’s time the city is rewarded for it. 

“I’m just a regular guy,” says Jared Jethmal when asked his thoughts on the art world, “so my opinion is the same as anyone else’s.” The notoriously humble gallery owner opened Good Mother Gallery 9 years ago when he and his brother, Ian Jethmal, were in their early twenties. 

The two are artists themselves and sought to create a space for their peers to show their art and have fun. They’ve since curated over a hundred shows and events, amassing a huge following and, more recently, opening a second location in Los Angeles. Their curation is subversive and the magnetic pair are always searching for undiscovered talent. Many artists who exhibited at the gallery in the genesis of their careers have since become darlings of the artworld like Jahlil Nzinga, Jeff Cheung and Mario Ayala. Jethmal notes that Oakland has always been an incubator of sorts – drawing incredible talent and motivating artists to keep expanding in their creativity. The fact that the two could open a gallery at such a young age is a testament to the duo’s vision as well as Oakland’s ability to foster young artists with big dreams and, more importantly, make them a reality. 

Jethmal continues to approach his place in the art world with authenticity and an individuation not typically seen in the sometimes homogenous industry. In fact, he and his brother have always been anti-art world and are celebrated in Oakland for their out-of-the-box programming. Unexpected curation, undiscovered talent, humor and a genuine love for the artists they showcase has placed the gallery in their seat of success. Besides their ambitious shows, the gallery continually and generously shows up for its community through events like vendor markets, holiday toy drives and local collaborations. During Covid, the brothers designed and printed t-shirts that featured Oakland’s local businesses that were trying to stay afloat like the New Parkway Theatre, Cam Huong and Essence Beauty Supply. All the sales from the shirts went directly back to the businesses. 

What is Jethmal looking forward to in the future? He says he wants “to keep watching artists grow.” “And for people in Oakland to buy more art,” he adds. “So I can take my mom on vacation.” 

“We can get away with anything in Oakland and we do.” laughs Lori Fogarty, Director and CEO of the Oakland Museum of California.

“There’s an incredible freedom, demand and expectation, even, for Oakland to be bold. We can create programming here that colleagues across the country can’t believe we’re able to do. And, of course, we’re able to do this because of the artists and communities that we have here.” 

The Oakland Museum of California dates back to three predecessor institutions founded more than 100 years ago that came together to form what is now the museum. The museum that we know today opened to the public in 1969 and, since its founding, has always been committed to uplifting the radical and visionary voices of its city. Fogarty feels the museum has a responsibility to amplify what makes this place unlike any other. From its inception, the institution’s mission has remained the same: to bring art, culture and education to Oakland through partnership with its community and a strong emphasis on social justice – something the city will always be a leader of. 

“Oakland needs and deserves a museum,” she says. It needs and deserves art to reflect its pivotal role in the country’s history.  

This year, the museum plans to bring two extraordinary exhibits to the community. In June, the museum presents an exhibition showcasing Chicano poster archivist Margie Santos’ seminal Calli Americas collection along with contemporary art commenting on themes of Chicanismo, Indigeneity, feminism and more. In the fall, they will exhibit photography by Dugan Aguilar, a documentary photographer of Native California and its cultural practices. 

The museum continues to explore why Oakland makes the important art that it does. In Fogarty’s words, “it’s more than art here, it’s the soul of our city.” 


Calder Anderson is an artist, writer and consultant. She provides branding, marketing, strategy, and copywriting expertise to a wide range of clients mainly in the arts and non-profit sectors. She was formerly the Assistant Director at Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco as well as holding positions at Pace Gallery. Calder has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art and Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Mills College Art Museum is located at 5000 MacArthur Blvd in Oakland. They are open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 am – 4 pm with extended hours until 7:30 pm on Wednesday.

Joyce Gordon Gallery is located at 406 14th Street in Oakland. They are open Wednesday through Saturday from 1 – 6 pm.

Good Mother Studio is located at 1955 Broadway SUITE E in Oakland. They are open Monday through Friday from 12 – 5 pm and by appointment.

Oakland Museum of California is located at 1000 Oak Street in Oakland. They are open Wednesday – Sunday from 11 am – 5 pm. They are currently offering Thursday After Hours from 5 – 8 pm every Thursday.

Image Credit:

  1. The Garden on OCMA’s Friday Nights; Courtesy of Oakland Museum of California and Andrew Jorgensen
  2. Hung Liu, Fu (Happiness); Courtesy of Mills College Art Museum
  3. Installation View of Joyce Gordon Gallery; Courtesy of Joyce Gordon Gallery
  4. Installation View of Good Mother Studio; Courtesy of Good Mother Studio
  5. Oakland Museum of California; Courtesy of Oakland Museum of California