March 17, 2009

Oakland Arts Thrive

Over the past two days I had the pleasure of participating on a City of Oakland Cultural Funding Program grant panel. Sitting on a grant panel is the best possible way to create a community of practice and really get to know some amazing folks. This is the third or fourth time I've sat on this panel over the years. In past years funding was limited but we knew it was there. This year the City of Oakland has cut funding and reduced the already meager program staff, so we were really doing this process to prove that Oakland arts needs to be supported.

After months and perhaps even years of hearing only bad news about Oakland I spent the past two days celebrating Oakland's diverse arts and cultures. Over thirty organizations submitted proposals and nearly every one of them is promoting excellence and pride in the community. Ranging from professional music ensembles to inner-city youth arts programs, these organizations are keeping Oakland healthy despite the odds. The city funding being cut is like shooting Oakland in the foot.

I also had the opportunity to get to know my fellow panelists and the passionate and highly-qualified staff of the funding program. It is like being on a jury for two days. You start to know each other's strengths, weaknesses, preferences and can even predict their thoughts. To reflect Oakland's diversity the panel itself was highly diverse in so many ways. In discussing these arts organizations that promote harmony and understanding we built resonance amongst panelists. There were times when we cried, laughed and sighed together and with the applicants who were invited to respond to our questions.

Oakland rocks. City council members - please fund the arts and keep Oakland rocking.