People are still talking about the future of First Fridays and Oakland Art Murmur, following a fatal shooting Feb. 1. Many conversations, in fact, are taking place simultaneously on seemingly every level of strata, from well-lit chambers inside City Hall to dimly-lit bars downtown. That’s a good thing, because the more dialogue the community engages in, the closer we are to finding viable “win-win” solutions.

As a member of the OaklandFirstFridays.org communications and city liaison teams, I’ve been privy to several of these discussions, including a Monday morning meeting attended by Mayor Quan, City Administrator Deanna Santana, City Councilperson Lynette Gibson McElhaney, police chief Howard Jordan, local business owners, residents of the neighborhoods where First Friday happens, and representatives from both OAM and OFF.org.

While I can’t share any particulars just yet, I will say that stakeholders are moving forward with plans to firm up First Friday’s organizational structure and develop a blueprint for sustainability, while at the same time addressing youth-on-youth violence and the need to create a safe, peaceful space within Oakland’s unique monthly cultural art festival. If all goes well, next First Friday, March 1, could be a turning point for Oakland.

One thing I can report on is the #respectourcity movement, which grew out of a blog post by Lukas Brekke-Meisner at 38th Notes(which reportedly received more than 80,000 hits!), which in turn led to an ongoing discussion among artists, musicians, promoters and other stakeholders in Oakland’s cultural arts scene.

One tangible result is that 38th Notes has teamed with Oaklandish to create a limited edition “Respect Our City” t-shirt. T-shirts will be sold for $10 in Oaklandish’s retail store on Broadway; for each t-shirt sold, Oaklandish will donate a t-shirt to a youth.

While a t-shirt with a slogan may not seem like much, it can be effective antiviolence messaging around First Fridays if enough people wear them on March 1—at the same time giving the community a sense of ownership in our city. Much respect to Brekke-Meisner and Oaklandish’s Natalie Nadimi for making this happen.

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Warehouse 416 is a groovy art space, located in the heart of Uptown’s gallery row, on 26th St. Their current exhibition, Innovators: Transforming the Landscape of Black America, highlights everything that’s cool and hip about Oakland’s art scene right now. Co-curated by Melanin Buford and Angela Scrivani, the show—the gallery’s 3rd annual Black History Month event—spotlights seven super-talented African American painters and visual artists: Buford, his father Lawrence, Eesuu Orundide, Aswad Arif, James Gayles, Sage Amewa, and Keena Romano.

The art chosen for the showing focused on iconic symbols of black expression, including Orundide’s portraits of Lauryn Hill, Fela Kuti, Jimi Hendrix and Jean-Michael Basquiat, Arif’s representations of Black Panther leaders Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Angela Davis, Melanin Buford’s psychedelic homage to hip-hop producer Prince Paul, Lawrence Buford’s sculpted bust of a Kemetic Pharaoh, and Gayle’s fine art renderings of Nina Simone, Etta James, Michael Jackson, James Brown,  and Barack Obama.

“Three of the artists—Aswad, Eesuu, and James—are artists I look to for inspiration. So it was a chance to bring those three together around with artists from my generation, Sage and Keena, along with my father. This is the first time I’ve ever shown with my father, and I wanted to expose him to these modern artists as well,” Buford said.  The theme of the show, he added, reflects “people who are pushing the boundary of black thought and black life” whether through art or political action. Sometimes, he said, “the art itself is pushing boundaries.”

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The exhibit, which runs until February 23rd, offered a chance for an informative art talk last Saturday, moderated by Pamela Mays McDonald (who, among other things, has worked in official capacities with the Smithsonian, the DeYoung, and Museum of the African Diaspora), with Orundide, Arif, and Gayles.

The chat was lengthy, but very informative, as McDonald delved deep into each artist’s creative process, what it means to be a black artist in America, and the future of Oakland’s art scene. I learned quite a few things, among them the fact that each artist identified as being self-taught, although some bolstered that with varying degrees of formal education. Orundide said he kept taking basic art classes like figure drawing over and over again, each time learning something new. Arif noted that “art is a very healing and empowering practice, a way to express emotions I wouldn’t otherwise be able to express.” And Gayles’ career trajectory took him from studying Bible illustrations to winning an Emmy for TV graphics and working at Bay Area News Group for a decade.

Iconicizing notable figures in black culture, Gayles explained, is important because “as an African American, our heritage gets cut off. My life is black history.” His Obama portrait, originally commissioned by BANG for the 2009 presidential inauguration, and titled “It Happened in Our Lifetime,” holds deep personal meaning. The painter elaborated that he’s “been through the whole process” from growing up in a racially-segregated society to seeing America elect its first black president.

Orundide, who uses Facebook to seek portrait commissions and prints his own t-shirts, spoke of the need to build self-sustaining commerce around art, and specifically black art, in Oakland.  He described the city, which became his home 16 years ago, as “like a womb for the artist in me.” Aswad, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of making art accessible to kids and said, “where Oakland goes determines where a lot of places can go.” Spoken like an innovator.

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Bryant Terry never ceases to amaze me. The vegan soul food chef and author’s latest impact on the pop culture landscape is a Scion commercial which began airing nationally Monday. For the TV spot, Terry’s life over a two-week period was filmed using a handheld cam. Those two weeks were edited down to one-second clips from which the 30-second spot was made. The commercial shows Terry in various scenes: watering his garden, shopping for fresh produce, chopping kale, tasting soup, looking at a recipe, serving a finished meal, laughing with another chef in a kitchen, appearing onstage during a speaking engagement, feeding his daughter, kissing his wife, and driving around various bay area spots, including Lake Merritt.

“I loved showing the beauty of Oakland,” Terry said via e-mail.  Al though he didn’t get to keep the car, the ad allowed him to pay his daughter’s preschool tuition, and he hopes it will help him sell more books and “get more people excited about the food justice movement as well.”

All in all, it’s pretty cool not only that one of our resident local celebrities (and all-around nice guys) is being featured in a national ad, but also that the automobile maker is endorsing healthy food and health awareness. Now if only Scion made a car which runs on vegetable oil.

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Here are this week’s picks:

Brooklyn Reconstructed: “Zipper”
Tuesday, February 12, 7pm-9:30pm, $8, the New Parkway, 474 24th St.

Hub Oakland presents: Grits and Greens Vol. 3 with Ashara Ekundayo, Chinaka Hodge, Kimberly Bryant, and Mike Duhon, with food by Sarah Kirnon and beverages by Equator Coffee & Teas.
Wednesday, February 13, 7:30 am-9:30am, $13, Miss Ollies, 901 Washington St.

The 45 Sessions 3 Year Anniversary “Love Jams” edition with special guest DJs Shortkut & Rhettmatic of the Beat Junkies, plus Mr. E and residents Platurn, E Da Boss, and Enki, along with host Jern Eye.
Friday February 15, 9pm-2am, $10, Disco Volante, 347 14th St.

Big Fun with DJ Rich Medina
Friday February 15, 9pm-2am, $10 (presale), Era Art Bar, 19 Grand Ave.

Friday February 15,
Tony Rebel and Queen Ifrica
Sunday, February 16, 9 pm, $25 (presale), the New Parish, 579 18th St.

Got hot tips on art, music, film, or other cultural happenings in Oakland? Email the author at eric@oaklandlocal.com

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