We are all mourning Lobot. And Ghost Town Gallery. And Rock Paper Scissors. All three bastions of the bygone hey day of Oakland arts scene partying and art shows. Having succumbed to the economic forces of gentrification, it’s easy to pin the demise of these iconic Oakland galleries on the demon of tech people moving in and us being forced out. As someone who remembers spending time at all of those places twelve years ago when I was in high school, there is something like a feeling that we are in the cemetery of a city upon which something glittering is being built for people who are not like us.
Because while I can recall many a dilapidated party warehouse being closed up because of similar financial or mismanagement circumstances or shady landlords, it’s the narrative of gentrification that has a chokehold on stories like this. I mean, fuck, come on, I got forced out of the first place I ever lived in Oakland in 2005, the Noodle Factory on 26th and Union, because it was being converted into condos – but gentrification was not a word in our mouths at that time. Party houses come and go, but for the ones that have managed to hang on and persevere through the typical narrative of being an artist in Oakland, watching the end come is painful. Watching the end come is always painful.
But the end always comes, and somehow we still persevere. Nowadays the mourning is much louder and much clearer; in earlier days, it was par for the course, and then we could find somewhere else to relocate. This isn’t an option so much anymore because money has become the language of this city. You’d think that in theory after years and years of being here and being creative, we would have found a way to be successful. And some of us have. Some of us have money now. But the fact of the matter is, being creative has always only been barely lucrative, and the price of art and the art market have not been adjusted to reflect the insane inflation of the housing market. Because while, yes, there will be more and newer party houses – just because this is Oakland, and we will always find a way to party, even if it’s ghost riding in the middle of the street til the cops shut us down – what happens to the artists that can no longer live that lifestyle?
I’ll be honest. I’m sick of sitting around mourning, and I’m sick of feeling defeated. I know there’s no way to win now, but in the face of the death of the art scene: what now? I have mourned the changes in Oakland for long enough. And I refuse to leave just because the going gets tough. I’m not going to complain just because things are hard. At the end of the day, at least we have each other, even if we are cold and suffering and out on the streets still. We have ended up no better than when we started – or have we? Perhaps the passage of time has allowed us to have each other, and while the idea of home might be something that we are constantly sacrificing or reimagining, if we have each other, can that be enough? If not, we should make it enough. Which is perhaps overly idealistic, but isn’t that what brought us here in the first place? What the world needs now is more artistic solidarity. It’s our best weapon in the face of our current capitalist apocalypse.