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Friday, June 10, 2016

National Conference Focuses on Oakland Artists

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 at 12:52 PM

  • Courtesy of NAMAC

The National Alliance for Media Arts & Culture's conference, ALLIANCE, is in Oakland this weekend, and heavy hitters are coming along for it.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who the Rockefeller Foundation calls one of the country's greatest living artists, will give the keynote performance; artist and organizer Favianna Rodriguez, will be part of a panel on media artists impacting policy; and filmmaker Pete Nicks, who made The Waiting Room about Highland Hospital, will share some footage from his upcoming documentary on the Oakland Police Department.

For NAMAC Executive Director Wendy Levy, having the conference of media makers and funders in her adopted hometown — she moved to Oakland from Brooklyn more than 20 years ago, well ahead of the trend — is a big thrill.

Although Oakland struggles with gentrification, unemployment and taking care of people in need like many cities, it has something special in its artists, she says.

“People throw around the word ‘community’ loosely, but there really is a community here,” she says. “There are people who live and work here and make art who aren’t just focused on the product, but the process. People are so aligned with a sense of place- whether they come from East Oakland or West – but they all come together around Oakland. When I was in New York, you couldn’t do anything- there was always something in your way. Here it’s really open — you can jump into projects and nothing gets in your way.”

click to enlarge Wendy Levy - COURTESY OF NAMAC
  • Courtesy of NAMAC
  • Wendy Levy
Levy says being at the conference, making connections and hearing about what others are doing in the field can make a real difference to artists – and to those who fund them who are looking for new ideas.

The quality of the participants is one thing that shows the value of ALLIANCE, she thinks. Levy wasn’t sure if she’d be able to get Jax Deluca, the new director of Media Arts for the National Endowment for the Arts, as keynote speaker – but she gave it a shot.

“I cold emailed her and got an email back in, like, five minutes saying yes,” Levy says. “She said she was at a NAMAC conference years ago and it was so empowering and inspiring that it changed her life. So she’s coming here as her first public address since she started at the NEA.”

The excitement generated by the conference should carry over into day-to-day work afterwards, Levy says. To that end, they have created an app for people she describes as a sort of Lonely Planet for artists, allowing them to upload what they’re working on so their colleagues can go check out fellow ALLIANCE artists’ projects, living up to the name of the conference and creating a network.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a buzz off a conference like this and then going back to business as usual,” Levy said. “We’re doing the work to connect people after and facilitate new projects and keep the magic going.” 

The ALLIANCE conference kicks off  June 10 and goes through Sunday, June 13 at various locations in Oakland.

To register, go here. 
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Emily Wilson


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