Reflections on last Friday’s Oakland Art Murmur

Pub date February 8, 2013
WriterLaura Kerry
SectionPixel Vision

I pictured writing a different sort of response to last Friday’s Oakland Art Murmur and accompanying street festival. The fatal shooting of an 18-year-old, however, taints the memory of the evening and retroactively adds a hint of menace to the crowded streets.

In OAM’s responding statement, what begins as condolence, transitions into a reaffirmation of the monthly festival’s aims: “The Oakland Art Murmur and the First Friday Street Festival are the products of communities coming together to showcase the best of what people create together.” As questions surround the future of the event — most pressingly, can it continue as before? — it is important to remember this.

The mood on the streets before the shooting was celebratory. In the stretch of street closed to traffic, random pockets of activity testified to the joyful and creative possibilities contained within a diverse crowd of thousands.

On Telegraph Avenue, I saw an eclectic group dancing in front of a DJ booth; a block later, a man banged on his bike with drumsticks to accompany a small drum circle (whose members found it as strange as the onlookers did); and a pint-sized child rapped along to music on the back of truck that had been converted into a stage. Another wonderful surprise came in the form of the best pork bun I’ve ever tasted from the food truck, The Chairman (apparently I’m behind on food truck culture). The music, food, and general merriment on the streets occupied much of my time. And it was a great time.

But before I stray too far from the event’s original purpose seven years ago, I should mention that I also saw some compelling art and visited some intriguing spaces. My favorite stop of the evening was the antithesis to the raucousness between 19th and 27th Streets, the store and gallery Umami Mart on Broadway and 8th. Started by high school friends from Cupertino, Yoko Kumano and Kayoko Akabari, the pop-up shop (and hopefully soon-to-be mainstay) exhibits art and sells kitchen-themed goods that all reflect the stark elegance of the Japanese aesthetic.

Brother-sister duo Aya and Sylvan Brackett added to the warmth of the space. Raised in Nevada City, Calif. in a traditional Japanese home, the siblings each filter elements of their background into different arts in the Bay Area — Sylvan through food and his catering business, Peko-Peko, and Aya through her photography. Umami Mart showcased samples of both arts with udon noodles meticulously prepared from scratch at a stand in the corner, and striking photos on the wall surrounding the heading, “Home is Oakland; Home is Japan.”

The familial atmosphere in a store whose every surface revealed a delightful intersection of California and Japanese culture amounted to an excellent example of “the best of people create together.” So did the food trucks, the spontaneous dancing, and the different music flooding the street every half block. After last week’s event, the future of the Oakland Art Murmur raises complicated concerns. But I hope that it will continue to allow more positive examples to arise in the future.