Forging Artists Into Entrepreneurs

M0xy arts center aims to create social change through an artist guild and incubator.


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Branly Cadet.

Photo by D. Ross Cameron

The tragedy of the Ghost Ship fire brought heightened attention to the need for safe, affordable, artists’ spaces in the Bay Area. Venues for creative expression and connectivity to other artists are as vital as ever in keeping the arts alive in communities where artists are leaving in search of places where the cost of living is cheaper.

The folks at m0xy, a community-based arts center in East Oakland, understand that such art space is critical, but so are the skills to turn arts into income. Give an artist a studio space, and that person will make art. But teach an artist to be an entrepreneur, and that artist will make a living.

More than a collection of artist studios, m0xy—with a zero, not an o—is a burgeoning community with a vision for helping artists and makers become creative entrepreneurs with thriving businesses. Housed in the former Eandi Metal Works warehouse on the edge of Oakland’s Jingletown, the 18,000-square-foot open-air industrial hub is home to 34 visual artists and makers—sculptors, painters, metal fabricators, woodworkers, and more—in various stages of turning their craft into economic sustenance.

“We got tired of talking about the problems of gentrification in the Bay Area and how it’s affecting artists,” explained Atticus Wolf, m0xy’s executive director and one of its chief architects. “Affordable studio space for artists is part of the solution. But it’s not enough if you can’t afford to actually live here and do your art full time.”

Photo By Catherine Brozena

Jason Webster.

Wolf, a passionate advocate of industrial arts and former business consultant to the automotive industry, saw that what artists need is not just space, but the skills and savvy to market their art and run more efficient businesses. So he teamed up with business and marketing experts to create an artists incubator to fuel learning, mentorship, and collaboration. At its peak, the plan for m0xy is to build an artists-in-residence program and develop an artists’ guild that provides classes in professional development, grant writing, marketing, and project management.

“If we’re going to address the challenges of gentrification and sustain social change, we cannot be limited to the confines of these walls,” said Wolf. “We need to raise artists up, give them skills, and send them back out to the community. Otherwise, we are limiting the scale of impact.”

Jason Webster was an early adopter of the m0xy vision. His metal sculpting studio shows signs of his genius, with whimsical animal, human, and abstract sculptures meticulously forged from strands of metal that he folds and braids like woven reeds of a basket in a manner that defies imagination. Having recently completed a 12-foot public art installation at Hunters Point and now with a steady gig crafting mounts and displays for museum art, Webster is all about making art his livelihood.

“The people who run m0xy have a good attitude about being supportive of artists,” said Webster. “They aren’t just collecting the rent. They are trying to build something that will facilitate a more dynamic interaction among the artists here.”

Cole 45, a graffiti artist with a background in painting and anthropology, said it’s that same dynamic interaction that shapes his artistic process and how it gets expressed in his canvas of the surrounding environment.

“I like to take my time with my art. I enjoy having people in the community interact with me as I paint, because it changes the context that I create in,” he explained. “But I’m not the best at managing other aspects of my career, like grant writing, managing a website, and sourcing opportunities. By utilizing the resources at m0xy, my skills and opportunities are amplified. I’m able to focus more on what I love and do best.”

Amplify. Force. Energy. Audacity. This is the essence of what it means to have moxy. And it’s easy to see these same traits underscored in the quality of character and intent that the artists and visionaries at m0xy bring to the table. When asked why the name m0xy is spelled with a zero in it, Atticus Wolf leaned in and answered with a glint in his eye: “Well, if you ain’t got ‘moxy,’ you got nothin’.”

 

Published online on Feb. 6, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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