Community fights to save arts center
By Bill Hackwell
In a struggle that symbolizes the clash
between community culture and corporate redevelopment, an
historic arts center here is fighting for its life.
For over 20 years, the Alice Arts Center has been home to
the multicultural performance arts community in Oakland. It is
nationally and internationally renowned for its vitality and
immeasurable contributions to the city. Known affectionately as
the Alice, this majestic building on Alice Street in downtown
Oakland houses 74 artists who live in single-occupancy
residences, and studio rooms for 22 artistic organizations that
serve the community with low-cost classes, workshops,
performances and cultural programs.
All this is threatened by Mayor Jerry Brown's redevelopment
plan, which is designed to shut down the Alice and expand a
charter arts school that he temporarily had put in the
Brown has become known as the gentrification mayor. He is
responsible for eliminating much of the affordable housing in
Oakland while catering to corporate real-estate interests.
Displacement is so widespread that many who work in Oakland
are forced to commute from as far as Sacramento--85 miles
To combat Brown's plan, the artists and residents of the
Alice have, with growing community support, formed the ARTS
(Artists and Residents Survive Together) Coalition. The
coalition points out that the city owns and controls over 1,000
properties, many of which are suitable for the charter arts
The ARTS Coalition has a strong distrust of Brown, who has
failed to live up to promises to improve maintenance at the
Alice. Despite a long waiting list, he has allowed 25 to 30
artist apartments to remain vacant so it will appear that the
building is running at a financial loss.
Brown had to retreat on some of his threats to close the
Alice after 400 artists, residents and community supporters,
many of whom take classes at the center, marched to Oakland
City Hall on May 27. The march was led by Fogo N' Ropa, a
Brazilian-style drum orchestra, which rents a space for
capoeira classes in the building. Capoeira is a Brazilian
martial art played to music.
As the marchers moved down 14th Street, their strength and
spirit drew many onlookers to join in and brought shopkeepers
out of their stores. At City Hall the protesters were so loud
that the city council sent representatives out to try to quiet
The people were so charged and determined to show their
opposition to closing the Alice that the rally grew even
Speakers included artists, performers and residents, as well
as representatives of the community group Just Cause and the
The movement to save this community jewel continues to grow.
Organizers say they will be out in force on June 10 when the
city council discusses the Alice Arts Center's future.
Azania Howse, one of the artists who organized the May 27
protest, explained this community struggle's importance in
light of cutbacks nationwide: "What is happening here in
Oakland to something so positive as the activities of the Alice
is just another projection of what is happening around the
country. Money is being stolen to build up the military at our
expense. Poor people are just going to be out of luck if they
don't fight back."
Reprinted from the June 12, 2003, issue of
Workers World newspaper
This article is copyright under a Creative
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
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