For nearly five decades, Pro Arts has served as an institutional platform which fosters collaboration and the cross-pollination of ideas in support of the freedom to present challenging, non-commercial work that wouldn’t be possible in any other setting.
Pro Arts is among the oldest and most significant institutions for contemporary art in Oakland. Founded in 1974 as the Alameda County Neighborhood Arts Program, it soon became a national model for utilizing CETA funds for artists and arts projects. By 1980, the organization was renamed, and an emphasis on the visual arts became the cornerstone of programming.
Over the years, Pro Arts has supported more than 20,000 artists and provided them with the opportunity to experiment, take risks and connect with new audiences.
When I joined Pro Arts as the Executive Director in October 2015, my first task was to expand the programming to include a wider range of genres and modes of presentation. My second task was to strengthen the organizational commitment to inclusiveness, diversity and equity in all of Pro Arts’ operations and programs. To that end, I work closely and collaboratively with artist, curators, and cultural organizers to develop and realize contemporary work in all media, ranging from installation and performance to interdisciplinary events and public art projects. Under my leadership, Pro Arts gallery’s location in downtown Oakland has transformed into a vibrant meeting spot for artists and the local community, and a catalyst that sparks dialogue and opens up new perspectives.
During its four decades of existence, Pro Arts has been located in numerous Oakland neighborhoods: West Oakland, Old Oakland, and Jack London Square. In 2017, I negotiated the first of its kind, long-term lease for our City of Oakland’s owned space, located at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, right in the heart of downtown Oakland.
Today, Pro Arts continues to champion new art practices and emerging forms of cultural production. Annually, we support close to 100 contemporary artists and attract a gallery audience of over 10,000.
My artistic and programatic institutional approach is multidisciplinary so that we can provide different perspectives on real world or complex problems, offering thus paths for creative resistance.
Our visual art program consists of new commissions, solo and group exhibitions, and related public programs that take place at our 2,200 square ft. gallery in downtown Oakland. Our window gallery (Project Space) is designated for the presentation of solo projects.
In 2016, we adopted the W.A.G.E. model for artist compensation which resulted in a significant increase in artist fees. This model has allowed for stronger programming, and better public perception of who we are and what we do, as well as an increase in attendance.
I work closely with the City of Oakland to activate the public space of Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, through temporary site-specific public art projects, artistic interventions, music concerts, talks, festivals, film and new media public screenings, and performance. All programs are realized under the title Pro Arts @ the commons.
In 2017 and in response to the growing demand for affordable arts space in the Bay Area, I launched the first Studio Lab Curatorial and Artist Residence program at Pro Arts.
Studio Lab Artist Residency is a program that provides artists and collectives, working in a diverse array of media and across genres, with research and development space and resources. Studio Lab Artist Residencies are highly customizable, flexible, and inclusive of all artistic and research based practices, with an emphasis on experimentation within medium and form.
The Studio Lab Curatorial Residency provides curators and cultural organizers with research, development, production, and exhibition space and resources. This residency program is also highly flexible and inclusive.
In 2016, I initiated The Hybrid Series at Pro Arts. The series blurs the traditional boundaries between artistic disciplines, such as visual and performance art, music and literary arts, and film and architecture. It also, on occasion, presents works that are a cross-breed between art and other disciplines, such as natural and physical science, technology, popular culture and philosophy.
In FY2016-17, under my leadership Pro Arts spun off East Bay Open Studios into its own, successful organization.
In 2017, the Great Wall of Oakland became a program of Pro Arts, moving its outdoor architectural projection site, dedicated to the public presentation of film, video, and moving image arts, to Pro Arts/Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. This program continues to engage the Oakland and Bay Area community in ongoing public projections, using cutting-edge technology to bring art of the highest caliber to the community.
In May of 2018, I collaborated with FoundSF on the “Imagining Post-Capitalism Festival,” – a festival, which brought together activists, artists, and the general public to explore a future without capitalism, with scheduled activities including lectures, community gatherings, discussions, presentations, performances, screenings, and art actions and interventions.