Detail from facade
Neighbors and friends gathered with city officials at East Oakland’s Maxwell Park on Saturday to celebrate the completion of a four-year mosaic project.
All walls of the park’s restroom structure are now embellished with mosaic art - and neighborhood organizers say there is more to come.
The park was once derelict - the bathrooms a haven for illicit activity - but today the park is the pride of the community: Mosaics have transformed the restrooms into a jeweled box, exalting the fruit of an organized and motivated community.
The first wall was completed in 2009 and another wall has been tiled every year since. This year neighbors tackled the building’s façade. Through a collaborative process they created a design that synthesized diverse ideas.
The mural depicts a cheerful vista: a broad rainbow sweeps across the wall, beneath it a lush tableau unfolds against blue sky and green slope; a little boy and girl play in a crowd of surreal creatures and a waterfall pours from the sky to meet a bustling river.
Though this design required rigorous planning, it was flexible enough to incorporate spontaneous ideas.
“It sort of developed as we went,” said Neighborhood Councilwoman Nancy Karigaca, who spearheaded the project. The result is a reflection of the close-knit community. Tipper and Carlita, a neighbor’s dogs, are rendered in tile shards; so is the hallmark cane of a deceased neighbor.
“In every little corner you can feel that there are stories in this mosaic,” District 4 Councilwoman Libby Schaaf said. “I hope all of you who know them pass them along to us.”
Each mural took roughly five months to complete and this year, Karigaca said about 40 adults and 40 children participated - including a fifth grade class from now-closed Maxwell Park International Academy.
“People would just come up and want to work and we would let them work with us,” Karigaca said.
Ten-year-old Keeley Ward has worked on all four walls. She pointed out a recent contribution.
“It’s a snail with a cape,” she said, crouching near her gray and yellow creation.
“It’s kinda cool how all this stuff is put together and I was part of it,” beamed 10-year-old Aden Lounds. She remembers a drab park of years prior. “Now it’s like a different park; it’s not like a regular park.”
Mayor Jean Quan was in Brazil for the Rio+20 U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, so Special Assistant Richard Cowan attended the ceremony in her stead. He recounted the mayor’s directive: “She says ‘I want you to go on your Saturday because there is nothing more important than Maxwell Park to me.’” Quan was councilwoman for the Maxwell Park area, when the project began and facilitated the effort.
This mosaic work is part of a broader community effort initiated in 2008 to reclaim Maxwell Park for the neighborhood. Trees have been cut down to give the park more sunlit hours and restroom interiors have been overhauled. The mobilization for park improvement began with the Maxwell Park Neighborhood Council.
Karigaca called a meeting focused on park improvement and to her surprise, 30 people attended. Friends of Maxwell Park developed from this meeting, creating a forum for work centered on the park. From there, committees were formed to tackle fundraising, outreach and other specific needs.
Over the past four years, the project has secured funding from its city councilwoman, community development block grants and Keep Oakland Beautiful. Friends of Maxwell Park works closely with the Oakland Public Works Agency and the Oakland Police Department’s Neighborhood Services Coordinator.
Karigaca said usage of the park has increased and police are receiving fewer calls about park activities since the effort began.
“We feel like we’re having an effect,” she said. With some funds left, the group hopes to do more mosaic work on a retaining wall in the center of the park.