Oakland's Art Murmur, the wildly popular night of open art galleries, artists' receptions and street performances that happens the first Friday of each month, has grown by such leaps and bounds that now organizers find the event needs more, well, organization.
At meetings in recent weeks involving gallery owners and members of community business groups from Koreatown, Downtown Oakland and Lake Merritt-Uptown neighborhoods, as well as a couple of people from city government, stakeholders in the famed event discussed how to better manage the flow of crowds along the sidewalks where artists, vendors, food carts and performers set up, according to participants.
One decision was to forgo, at least for this Friday, Aug. 3 Art Murmur, the street closures at 23rd Street and Telegraph Avenue since vendors and performers have spread out beyond that area. The original network of 30 art galleries that launched Art Murmur five years ago also is ready to enlist the help of other entities in logistics planning.
"The event is one of the things that draw people to Oakland consistently," said Katherine Canton Titus, a photographer involved in the Rock, Paper, Scissors Collective of galleries and administrative gallery coordinator for the Pro Arts Gallery. "It just needs more people to be in the organizing process. We need to have more community members. Also, vendors are really serious and want to have input."
Steve Snider, district manager of the Downtown Oakland Association and of the Lake Merritt–Uptown District Association, said people all these groups regard the First Friday Art Murmur events as important to Oakland.
"We believe First Fridays are an excellent marketing and economic development tool for both the art galleries and for Oakland," Snider said. He praised the "creative and entrepreneurial spirit," that is behind the Art Murmur and slew of events that have built up around Murmur Fridays.
He confirmed that between KONO, downtown, uptown and Jack London Square, the First Friday and Art Murmur events draw 10,000 people.
But in some places the crowds have become a safety issue because they spill off the sidewalks onto the streets. So the stakeholders that are loosely forming to be the new planning committee are talking about assigning vendors and performers to specific spots or letting them sign up for specific locations in the city, so that the event is sufficiently spread out to diffuse congestion on the sidewalks and ensure pedestrian safety, Snider and others said.
"We're looking at the best way to position artists, vendors and performers to maximize the community's creative participation, while also allowing for the smooth flow of pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks," Snider said.
A stakeholder group has taken shape from the meetings, with artists, gallery owners, representatives from neighborhood business districts and some city staff.
The Koreatown Northgate Community Benefit District - KONO - whose members include artists, residents and businesses near 23rd and Telegraph - where Art Murmur began - and the Downtown Oakland Association and the Lake Merritt-Uptown District Association have all agreed to assign community ambassadors to the streets on First Friday nights to assure order and who can pick up trash and watch out for things, according to the officers of these organizations.
Since 2007, the open art galleries and gallery talks that occur on those Friday evenings at the start of each month have drawn larger numbers of people and spilled out from Telegraph and 23rd Street to some 20 blocks northeast along Telegraph and southwest into downtown and beyond to include Jack London Square. First Fridays now also includes not only art, but live music, food trucks and craft vendors.
"Frankly, I think it is one of the most positive and creative things happening in Oakland," said Phil Porter, president of KONO and a dancer and artist who runs the Interplay dance studio on Telegraph Avenue. "I expect that the various folks who are looking at this event will come up with creative ways to help it thrive. KONO is very committed to that process and we expect to be in the center of the conversations along with many other partners."
There's plenty of interest in getting involved in planning. Not only from community groups and artists, but staff from the City Administrator’s office and the Oakland Police Department also have been involved in the planning talks.