Free Oakland Up’s Jocelyn Meggait Gives Away Stuff to Change the Perception of Stuff
An art studio in the Dimond District melds economics, social studies, and art in a space where everything is given away.
Jocelyn Meggait of Free Oakland Up
Photo by Pat Mazzera
Everyone loves a bargain. But in the world of thrifters, recyclers, and garage-sale mavens, Jocelyn Meggait has trumped them all: Everything in her store is free. And it’s good stuff.
Meggait’s shop, Free Oakland Up, is part economic study, part social experiment, and part art project. Located in a storefront next to Loard’s Ice Cream at Coolidge Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard in the Dimond District, Free Oakland Up offers a tidy and semi-organized panoply of offbeat items, everything from Lionel Ritchie LPs to New York Times microfiche from the 1960s to Egyptian pharaoh figurines.
At first glance, the array resembles a thrift shop, but nothing in Free Oakland Up is haphazard or accidental. Meggait has high standards. Every item, she said, must inspire shoppers to say, “Ooh, this is cool.”
“I want people to look at ‘stuff’ differently,” she said. “But I also want people to think about economics and art. I want to challenge the way people think about what an art gallery is, what art is, what things are worth. … Here, conversations are started.”
Meggait, an artist who lives in the Eastmont Hills neighborhood, opened the store in May 2014. One side is an art gallery, with works by a variety of artists using materials found in the store. The other side is the stuff, arranged neatly on tables and shelves.
To prevent consumerist chaos, Meggait has a few rules: one item per customer per day. Books are unlimited. She takes a snapshot of each shopper with the item that they have selected and posts it online.
Donations are welcome, but potential donors should know that Meggait does not accept clothes, shoes, or junk. Goodwill donation station, this isn’t.
Most of the items are donated estate-sale leftovers. But sometimes Meggait gets first dibs, before the higher-quality stuff is picked over. And sometimes, people skip the estate sale altogether and go directly to Free Oakland Up, just because they like it.
Jolie Bales of Montclair is one of those people. Her kids have moved out and she decided to cull her belongings. Among the treasures were crates of unopened Papyrus notecards, some so beautiful they inspired several shoppers to temporarily forego email and resurrect the art of the handwritten note.
“That just makes me so happy,” Bales said. “I love the idea of giving things to people who really appreciate them. Some of this stuff has so many memories for me; it’s hard to give to strangers. This makes it so much easier.”
Monetary donations and fundraisers cover Meggait’s expenses, and so far, it has worked. Occasionally she feels customers take advantage of the egalitarian nature of the place, but mostly, she said, she has been awed by people’s generosity and openness.
Although everything in Free Oakland Up is eclectic and interesting, some items attract more intrigue than others. Namely, old cameras, manual typewriters, vinyl records, live tree frogs in a terrarium, craft scissors, and, the mother of all finds: vintage Sunset magazines from the 1960s and ’70s.
That’s what hooked Tom Vandemark of Maxwell Park. He swings by the shop regularly just to browse and chat, but the Sunset issues he found irresistible.
“It’s like the past, present, and future suddenly come together,” he said. “She has this wonderful stuff from the past, but the whole concept is very much the future. We have to start looking at our stuff differently, and she gets that.”
Free Oakland Up is at 2809 MacArthur Blvd. and open noon-4 p.m. Thursday to Sunday.