Oakland's Art Murmur: A Phantasmagoria of Visual Delights

I definitely don’t want to go back into retail work, for a whole slew of reasons, but for a night, it was kind of amazing to be good at something I was not expecting to be good at.
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s.e. smith
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I definitely don’t want to go back into retail work, for a whole slew of reasons, but for a night, it was kind of amazing to be good at something I was not expecting to be good at.

In early April, I went to Oakland’s Art Murmur, a first Friday art event that started as a few galleries timing their openings for the same night, expanded as street vendors decided to take advantage of the foot traffic, and now has become a full-scale Event complete with food trucks and live music.

I went, however, as a participant rather than a consumer, which made it a very interesting experience for me.

As I joked to my friend, whom I was helping at the event, “I do words, not visuals.” This is a sentence perhaps best experienced in person, when I am flailing my arms about in a manner that is supposed to suggest creating visual art. My friend does visual art – amazing visual art, actually – and it’s like a completely different kind of brain is involved.

After my friend set up, I took a minute to wander through and quickly scan the scene before settling back in. I grabbed some awesome vegan gluten-free cupcakes (I was even nice enough to bring one back for him) and ambled between the street vendors and popped my head into a few galleries.

The Art Murmur stretches up for several blocks, and the goods on sale range from poorly executed paintings to truly amazing works of art. A man was screenprinting posters on the street and a pair of women were selling intricate and delicate jewelry while another man created a large-scale chalk drawing on the sidewalk. Juggling all my belongings in the crowd, I couldn’t fish my camera out, but when I saw this frock, I had to stop:

frock

This picture doesn't even begin to convey the awesome. 

This photo doesn’t come anywhere close to capturing how amazing this garment is in person – made from recycled and reclaimed fabrics, it’s an intricate miracle of garment construction, and it had a full skirt that flounced out in the back. I was in awe, staring at it, when the artist came up behind me. The artist, janay rose of the window lady clothing, chatted with me when she saw me taking the picture; the gown took her three weeks to make.

I was amazed it only took her three weeks, given the level of detail and intricacy. She sets up every month at the Art Murmur, on the sidewalk outside Rock Paper Scissors, a gallery collective that had some very interesting stuff on display this month.

It was like being asea in an amazing world of art. Reluctantly, I trailed back up the sidewalk to our own stretch of turf to help my friend out; time to shill art on the street, something I've secretly always dreamed of doing.

Initially we had a lot of time for people watching, as people ambled along looking at art but not really buying. As the evening stretched on and the booze was flowing, more and more lookie-loos turned into buyie-loos, and I swung back into my retail habits like I’d never left, chatting people up, talking about art, and walking that fine line between convincing people to buy things and being pushy and annoying.

I don’t have the greatest social skills, but I get into an interesting headspace when I’m retail; I can actually rock it pretty thoroughly, in a way that surprises me every time. I flirted unabashedly with pretty much everyone who went by1 and had tons of fun talking with people about art, and other things.

Another artist stopped by for a while and we talked about tacos as a form of currency. We collectively decided that we should start thinking about every transaction in terms of how many tacos it would buy. A friendly lady with amazing hair offered me a bite of her burrito. I petted a very large dog. A woman with amazing boots admired my stockings and we exchanged store information. I started to feel like I was floating outside my body  because this was so far outside my usual activities.

Being a participant instead of an observer in a scene like this is completely fascinating. Usually I find these kinds of events really tiring and emotionally exhausting, but instead I was starting to get buzzed and I began to have tons of fun by the end of the evening. I didn't really want it to end and briefly indulged in a fantasy of taking to the road with a suitcase full of art and a cash box.

“Everyone needs more unicorns in their lives,” I informed an adorable couple who stopped to linger over this piece.

I definitely don’t want to go back into retail work, for a whole slew of reasons, but for a night, it was kind of amazing to be good at something I was not expecting to be good at. I stayed natural and relaxed and was actually deeply enjoying what I was doing. I loved meeting people and seeing how they reacted to the art and the scene around me and I was deeply, deeply jealous of many amazing hairstyles along the way.

Seriously, y’all, Oakland has some amazing fashion going on right now.

At the end of the night we packed up and wandered the sidewalk to check things out, catching the last few people who were still out. We climbed inside a converted schoolbus to look at a show; I joked that they could start the van at any time and whisk away with us as part of the installation. Everyone was still hyped: on art, on the warm spring night, on food and human energy. I went from being at the heart of the buzzing beehive to watching it, and I wished our own First Fridays were one tenth as vibrant and alive.Want to check it out?The Art Murmur happens every First Friday from 6-9 PM along Telegraph in Oakland, between 22nd and 26th streets. Be sure not to miss galleries and vendors tucked away in side streets. Drivers should plan on getting there early because parking tends to fill up. Public transiters can take BART to 19th Street/Oakland, and AC Transit lines 1, 12 and 51A service the area.  Theoretically the venue is wheelchair, scooter and stroller accessible, but it can get really hard to navigate in the dense crowds. Parents of young children may want to be advised that some of the art contains mature content and that smoking and drinking are omnipresent.

1. I’ve recently discovered a newfound love for flirting. Return