The Oakland Artists Project

The Oakland Artists Project is a living archive that seeks to chronicle and present the lives and locations that have shaped Oakland’s emergence and ever-evolving role as a hub for creativity and innovation in the arts. As such, the site is an online encyclopedia that captures and makes available for a global audience the past, present, and emerging shape of literature, visual arts, music, dance, and theatrical performance in this unique city. As the project works to chronicle the depth and breadth of Oakland arts across forms, it by definition captures the complexity and diversity of this community, now and in the past.

A mosaic of small square and rectangular photographic portraits, many people are smiling, some are serious, and one holds a tenor saxophone.This interactive, evolving record of Oakland artists and their work was created by Mills College students through the “Oakland Writers and Artists in Community and Context” course taught by Professors Ajuan Mance and Kirsten Saxton. This course is part of the We Are The Voices: Poetry, Performance and Public Humanities project supported by the Mellon Foundation. The grant connects Mills College students with local and national poets, performers, writers, and scholars to collaborate around transformative art and critical scholarship. The website developer is Mills College alumna Kristin Jones.

Mills College students immersed themselves in archival materials, community histories, and personal interviews, to showcase the artists of Oakland, from those who achieved international renown to those whose lives and work have been all but erased from memory. The Oakland Artist’s Project gives special attention to those missing from, or hidden within, standard accounts.

The Oakland Artists Project imagines and presents Oakland artists as embedded in place, centering their lives and work in relation to the city and its temporal histories. This curated archive includes narratives and documents/images focused on the artist’s relationship to particular “haunts” or places in Oakland. The site is bounded by the geographical borders that currently define the city of Oakland. Though the project confines itself to the present city limits, it seeks to include artistic practice dating back to the earliest presence of people in the region, long before the concept of Oakland proper had been conceived.

In a moment when the heart and soul of Oakland’s art and cityscape are rapidly changing, we hope this site helps to create a sustainable and responsive archive whose growth and change over time will reflect the ever-changing landscape that incubates and sustains its artistic creations and creators.

The We Are The Voices logo WATV in dark blue with the program name next to it in small gold letters