On, Saturday October 30th from 3-6pm, at 5733 San Leandro St. Oakland CA, The Oakland Cannery Collective will exhibit their work in honor of Arthur Monroe and the remaining Cannery artists in an exhibition space, once an artist home and workspace, that has been purposefully left vacant by the new building owners in an attempt to weaken the community. The remaining artists have chosen to occupy and transform this vacant space. The exhibit will provide the public a sense of the impact of the Cannery Collective and pay tribute to art and Arthur Monroe’s community building.
There’s no “Their”, there.
Oakland has a protracted history of being a place without a “there”, without an identity, an ethos, an epicenter. This was punctuated succinctly by Gertrude Stein when she reduced her hometown to a one liner: “Theres no there, there”.
Before parts of east Oakland were selected to become the “there” of Oakland’s cannabis green zone- the city’s latest attempt at economic redevelopment- the creative community was here . Over the past 40 years these empty warehouses became “their” studios and “their” homes. They were here when there was no there. As in many of America’s most suffering cities when manufacturing pulled out, the creative community filled those voids. Where investment turned tail, accepted losses and bet on a different horse, the creative community became the custodians of entire swaths of abandoned places.
Artists took the detritus of the failing post-industrial cities no longer making brake pads, soup cans, or coat hangers and they produced culture. Our identities, as Americans, are wrapped in that culture, both when it is comforting and proud and when it is hateful and scarring. That culture is a record of who we are, and in that, it is profound and invaluable. Beyond the arts that flourished here, something else happened. The arts community reimagined the possibility of what these vacant properties could become. This is perhaps the most valuable result of these endeavors, they created their own affordable housing.
Arthur Monroe founded these spaces at the Cannery following a similar model he helped start in New York. These repurposed buildings became communities that served both the arts community and the city well. However, while the arts community viewed itself as a vital component of the city, the city viewed that community as a stop gap measure; place holders in the absence of new investment. New investment arrived in 2018 in the form of legalized cannabis. Men and women in suits gathered around a conference table at city hall to discuss the placement of Oakland’s “Green Zone”. They looked to east and parts of west Oakland and said “How about there?” As if these spaces were still vacant and still up for grabs. In that discussion a big part of Oakland’s creative community was all but forgotten. After 45 years they had yet to earn a possessive pronoun. Overnight, the spaces artists built had accrued in value exponentially. Artists, like those here in the cannery suddenly found themselves as an impediment to cannabis investors and a new gold rush.
For close to 4 years, the artists at the Oakland cannery have been enduring constant harassment, code violations and threat of eviction. Arthur Monroe passed away in October of 2019 under these conditions, fighting for the right to remain in the place he had built. Of the 20 studios in the cannery, 9 are now vacant.That number will be 11 in a few months. These vacancies are a result of concerted efforts by cannabis developers, who now own the cannery, to make our tenancy so unpleasant that we simply leave voluntarily.
This exhibit of Arthur Monroe and the remaining cannery artists is an effort to pay tribute to both Monroe’s art and his community building achievements, and at the same time give the viewer some sense of the breadth of the cannery collective . Not long ago, this exhibition space was a home with tenants. It has been purposefully left vacant by the current owner in an attempt to weaken this community. The remaining artists here have chosen to occupy this vacant space, and transform it. What better way to demonstrate and celebrate the ethos of Arthur Monroe and this collective.