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Slanted and Enchanted: Introduction Excerpt

Introduction: Scenes from an Independent America, 2007

After a hot and stuffy Fourth of July, hung-over and weary revelers woke on the fifth to find the Bay Area covered in a more typical summer blanket of fog. As Friday the sixth rolled around, the organizers of Oakland’s Art Murmur, a monthly gallery walk that had recently grown into a full-blown hipster street fair, expected that the crappy weather and lingering sour stomachs from barbecue and beer would probably keep people at home. It was a prospect welcomed by some of the storeowners on the route in question. Art Murmur has become something of a conflict between scale and idealism. Launched a year earlier by three scrappy, funky galleries within a block’s proximity of one another who hoped to attract a bigger clientele, it rapidly attracted a cadre of young and middle-aged indie artists, musicians, crafters and hangers-on who, enticed by the prospect of an artist’s community, began to crowd downtown and West Oakland in search of cheaper rent and the cameraderie of other artists. Lower Telegraph Avenue, where the Murmur occurs, had in the 80s and 90s become home to several sketchy bars and boarded-up businesses, as well as a brisk trade in male prostitution. Visitors drawn to the area by its newer populace of artists are likely to spot paint-spattered eccentrics in skinny jeans among the neighborhood’s majority population of immigrant store owners, street hustlers, and newly arrived loft-dwellers, and all those skinny-jeans-wearing artists love congregating on First Fridays. The cops were called by unfriendly neighbors more than once, intolerant of the influx of noise and eccentrics that broke into the usual rundown but quiet monotony of the street. A recent crackdown on drinking on the block due to crowd control issues followed, and signs posted on street corners notify patrons of the ban. The festivities had even taken a violent turn at the May Art Murmur, when someone took a pipe to the head in a fight.

 

Copywrite Kaya Oakes, 2009