Artists in Cities, Displacement, and Ghosts – a Panel Discussion

Tuesday January 17th I BARTed my way to a panel discussion called “Urban Ghosts: The Future Of Artists, Place and Displacement in The American City” at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, CA and put on by Berkeley Arts + Design and Arts Research Center.

It was part of a series of events during Inauguration Week here in the US – the arts community doing  important out-loud thinking about where the hell we go from here.

And of course, given the recent Ghost Ship fire and tragedy in Oakland, CA, it was also in response to the constant pressures on nonprofits and arts organizations to stay in place and maintain some form of continuity when their presence is so often unsustainable for them.

But this wasn’t a strident or reactive discussion at all. It was not yet another description of the problem. It was visionary, and wide-ranging, and hopeful, and renewed my sense of purpose in very groovy ways.

Each panelist, each in a totally distinctive tone, emphasized the fact that it is actions, not policies, that shape space and shape the world. Fantastic Negrito spoke of growing up amid drugs and crime and what most would consider an environment empty of rules. And how he gave himself permission to figure out what he wanted to do and who with.

This theme repeated over and over, in the context of architecture as a reflection of everyday lived life as opposed to “designed” space, Architect Walter Hood speaking of daily living as a way to think about creating, not walling it off. Treating barbers and shopkeepers as creators. Even the Cultural Affairs Manager for the City of Oakland said, “Just f*ckin’ DO it!”

So that was THING 1: Actions create shape. Doing makes space. Not the other way around.

THING 2, which lurked just beneath, was the notion of permission. Heavy in the room was the incoming administration and the sense that an evil stepmother just moved in who would never, ever encourage or support anything beautiful or inclusive.

But over and over it came up: You have to give that permission to YOURSELF. Many lives are filled with boundaries and barriers. Fantastic Negrito said, “be like water.” Moy Eng, Exec Director of the Creative Arts Stabilization Trust, asked, “Are you at the table, or are you on the menu?” Jeff Chang of the Stanford Institute for Diversity in the Arts did a beautiful job of drawing out these themes, and getting his fellow speakers to elaborate.

And finally, there was the idea of Love. And Belonging. And Community. And how if these are your motivators, you do not NEED permission. You need to take action.

Exactly my hope for Drooly Dog, the world’s tiniest media company. I’m ready to go.

Here are the panelists if you’d like to look them up/learn more:

Fantastic Negrito, Musician
Roberto Bedoya, Cultural Affairs Manager, City of Oakland
Jeff Chang, Stanford Institute for Diversity in the Arts
Moy Eng, Executive Director, Community Arts Stabilization Trust
Walter Hood, Founder, Hood Design and Professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning and Urban Design, UC Berkeley

Moderated by Shannon Jackson, Associate Vice Chancellor for the Arts + Design, UC Berkeley.

I highly recommend getting out and having some conversations. Think of it as one of your actions, changing the shape of the world.

Betsy Streeter is a novelist, artist, cartoonist, founder of Drooly Dog Media (the world’s tiniest media company) and serves on the board of the California Shakespeare Theater.