A Bay Area Journalist's First-Hand Account Of How Mayor Jerry Brown Screwed Over Oakland On His Way To Sacramento
THE UNREST AT ALICE ARTS
J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
A lot of Oakland performing arts performers and followers always been more than a little bit nervous about the Oakland School For The Arts moving into the Alice Arts Center. Yeah, yeah, they know that City Hall’s Brownies and Bobbies has always insisted that the Academy’s presence won’t force out the existing performing arts groups. Still, you can’t be too careful when it comes to promises made by Oakland government. [Editors Note: Mr. Allen-Taylor explains that the Brownies and the Bobbies (aka the BB Crew) are that group of young, fresh-faced Oakland City staff members working for City Manager Robert Bobb and Mayor Jerry Brown; the ones who come from out-of-town thinking that they could make Oakland a wonderful place to live, if only those old backwards Oaklanders would just get out of the way and let them fix it up.]
The Oakland School for the Arts was one of two private charter schools proposed by Mayor Brown a couple of years ago (the Oakland Military Institute was the other). The Mayor’s Arts School was approved as a charter by the Oakland Board of Education to open for classes in the fall of 2002 in the city-owned Alice Arts Center off of 14th Street. The trouble is, Alice Arts was already occupied.
In fact, the Alice Arts Center is one of the arts successes of Oakland. Several nationally-known dance organizations have been using the center for both performance and rehearsal space for years, including Citicentre Dance Theater, Dance-A-Vision, Dimensions Dance Theater, and the Oakland Ballet (for rehearsal, only). Citicentre’s dance classes are among the most popular cultural resources in Oakland; hundreds of residents make use of the theatre’s various studios in the course of each week, from little children to teenagers to spry senior citizens. It’s working exactly the way the performing arts community and city planners, staff, and Councilmembers envisioned it when Alice Arts first opened in 1993…the city provides the venue, and the arts community provides arts service directly to the citizens. So why mess with success?
That’s a subject for another column. For now, let’s just say that the City of Oakland is in danger of losing some or even all of the valuable arts programs being offered at Alice Arts. And the troubles…coincidentally or not…are coinciding with the upcoming opening of Brown’s Arts School.
The School For The Arts is supposed to be holding classes in the Alice Arts basement, which is just finishing up a $1.5 million, or so, city-financed renovation. The Theatre’s various arts organizations were promised by City staff that their operations and studio classes would not be disrupted.
But the arts organizations got nervous some months ago when City staff proposed drawing up one-year leases for the organizations. Staff told City Council that the leases were for the protection of the arts organizations, but the arts organizations were afraid that the City was merely setting them up to kick them out at the end of the year. The organizations protested to City Council, which eventually voted to offer the groups three year leases. And so people outside the Alice Arts community thought everything was settled.
It hasn’t been, at least according to a couple of the arts organizations.
Since Council made its lease decision, Oakland Ensemble Theater, one of Alice Arts' founding companies, has moved out of its Center offices, with unconfirmed reports that the organization was evicted. Citicentre Dance Theatre, another founding company, has refused to sign its lease based upon what it calls unacceptable language, and is operating on a month-to-month basis at the center. Dance-A-Vision, which serves Oakland teens and came to Alice Arts a year after the center opened, says they have not even been offered a lease contract. Dance-A-Vision, along with several other companies, also says it was moved out of its mezzanine-floor office space to make way for the Arts School’s offices. There is worry among the companies that intentionally or unintentionally, they are slowly being squeezed out of Alice Arts, and at least one group is already looking for alternative space.
You figure maybe this is just one of those misunderstandings, and the Alice Arts groups really have nothing to worry about? I think I’ll give the folks at City Hall a call, and see what they have to say.