Social Justice Street Art
Thursday, July 8, 2021
Artist collectives in Oakland are plenty, and widely involved in creating a close-knit community of artists and activists throughout the Bay Area. With missions such as uplifting BIPOC, teaching art and activism to the youth, and continuing celebrated traditions of the diverse people found in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, art collectives are on brand with the reputation of Oakland in that they push activism and reform through community. Involving the community as a part of these think tanks and solutions for a better tomorrow, these collectives place the responsibility for change and reform on the shoulders of those that can speak loudly through positive action and community demand. Although many of the collectives may have different agendas, they all lay the groundwork for individuals to realize that with one contribution, they, too, can make a difference and feel a part of something that brings about needed changes and policy reforms for the good of the people. Highlighted in this blog are just a few of the artist collectives making an impact in the Bay Area.
The Bay Area Mural Program (BAMP) is a well-known non-profit organization made up of several well-known street artists, art instructors, youth artists, and volunteers that come together to create public art in spaces in and around the greater Oakland area. Its inception in 2015 began with the creation of the “Gateway to Vallejo” mural, a two-month long project executed by Andre Jones and Derrick Shavers. Andre Jones aka Natty Rebel serves as the executive director for BAMP where his dedication to youth art education and public engagement drives the success of BAMP.
Getting the community involved and providing an outlet for all people to share in the experience of creating these larger-than-life murals is BAMP’s way of connecting people in the community to help ignite difficult conversations and shed light on some of the injustices that require hard action for reform in a very free and open environment. With heavy hitters like Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith, Timothy B., Rtystk Shavers, Shido, and Jones at the helm of design and execution of BAMPs’ art projects, Jones’ organization produces world class murals bringing awareness to subjects including social justice, community inclusivity, inequalities, and reform on local and national levels while capturing the rich history, culture, and vitality of Oakland.
Trust Your Struggle is an art collective based out of Oakland and New York that focuses on driving community activism through art. Celebrating histories and stories often forgotten, their art directly relates to the indigenous traditions. Their art-based story-telling and educational workshops are a means of handing down from generation to generation the legacies and traditions of their people. Made up of photographers, designers, muralists, silk screeners, videographers, and visual artists, Trust Your Struggle collective paints all over the globe to build solidarity and elevate their histories. Their work explores social issues such as migration, race, resistance, and resilience. With Nancy Pili Hernandez, Cece Carpio, and Miguel Bounce Perez planted in the San Francisco Bay area, Trust Your Struggle’s work is seen and heard through all movements for social justice. Their impact from art, education, and activism is truly concrete where they lead in teaching the younger generations what it takes to root themselves in community and the struggle for equality for all people.
At the helm of Hungry Ghost Productions, David Burke is an artist and muralist who fuses the natural world with the man-made in brilliant interwoven landscapes portraying both harmonious and chaotic realities reminiscent of humanity’s use of nature and nature’s ability to adapt and survive the ever- increasing demands of mankind. The Hungry Ghost Collective is made up of art educators representing Filipino, Black, LGBTQ+, and Indigenous people across the Bay Area. It is only natural that their murals portray issues of social justice, celebrate diversity and local culture, and tell these amazing stories of perseverance, struggle, and community. The Black Lives Matter mural located in downtown Oakland in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd was an exquisite mural capturing the natural energy of Oakland and its community of liberation fighters and youth. The story conveyed is one of BIPOC women persevering through constant struggle with strength, grace, and hope. Love Letter to Oakland is a current project underway which will include five murals celebrating the generations of artists and activists that have made the Oakland arts community grow to what it is today. The first of the murals can be seen in the Jack London Square neighborhood off of 4th Street, where it spans an entire block. Hungry Ghost Productions is a model collective in bringing together classically trained artists, street art, activism, youth involvement, and the spirit of community citizenship.
Named after Betti Mabry Davis and Yoko Ono, Betti Ono’s mission is to build power through culture. A neighborhood favorite, the Betti Ono gallery located on Broadway at 14th is diverse in and of itself, and is used as performance, retail, design, and community arts event space. Founded by Anyka Barber, Betti Ono is a multicultural community hub welcoming experimental solutions and collaborative think tanks to promote equity in opportunity, cultural justice, and fight anti-blackness. Showcasing social activists and artists’ work such as Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith, Damon Davis, Adreinne Waheed among many others, Betti Ono proactively provides audiences with opportunities to see positive reflections of Oakland’s BIPOC while empowering the community to continue work toward reforms at the local, state, and federal levels through art and activism.
Over 16 years ago, a group of Oakland’s emerging artists formed the Rock Paper Scissors Collective (RPSC), opening a space on Telegraph Avenue in the Temescal where art and commerce would come together to eventually create the Oakland First Fridays street festivals. Rock Paper Scissors is very local centric, with a focus on teaching, celebrating, and exhibiting art by and for the people of Oakland. RPSC is a non-profit fostering community involvement and offers low-cost art classes and workshops in a broad range of mediums from jewelry making, painting, textiles dyeing, and sewing. With a full calendar, RPSC runs through their volunteer program with talents of artists both classically trained and self-taught. While RPSC has relocated to a new storefront on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, they are always expanding and offering new opportunities for the community to create, shop, and engage with fellow Oaklanders. Boasting one of the largest zine libraries for DIY and independent publications, Rock Paper Scissors Collective has something for every skill level and every interest. Their outreach in the Bay Area is expansive from hosting workshops through the Oakland Public Library Youth Programs, their in-house sliding-scale classes, and partnerships with numerous organizations in the East Bay. RPSC is largely responsible for the art maps and art walks that have become so popular recently with the emergence of street art, social justice art, murals, and massive art works that continue to be brought to life in public spaces for the sake of social awareness, community involvement, and activism for racial equality.
As one of the places with the highest proportion of artists per capita, the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area is a haven for activism and preserving cultural traditions through visual and performance arts.
About the Author
Johnna Spikes is a legal assistant at the law firm Haddad & Sherwin, LLP in Oakland, California. She is a graduate of FIDM where she studied product development and has worked in sourcing and wholesale assisting emerging apparel designers and brands. Switching gears during the pandemic, Johnna decided to pursue a new career in civil rights law and landed a position with Haddad & Sherwin, LLP while earning her degree in Legal Studies at UC Berkeley. Johnna enjoys participating in Oakland’s local art scene where she volunteers for Bay Area Mural Program, participates in community art events, photographs local bay area art murals to upload to the Walls of Justice website, and enjoys writing blog posts for Walls of Justice.