Alameda Makes Its First Public Art Fund Distributions

The West End Arts and Entertainment District, Rhythmix Cultural Works, and Sacred & Profane are the recipients of $67,500 in cultural arts grants.


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Photo by David DeSilva

Where does inspiration come from? For many artists who live in Alameda, the city itself is a muse. Bay Farm dance artist Tara Pilbrow, for instance, was immediately intrigued by what she describes as the “crazy, huge, falling-down military base” that is Alameda Point. Where some might see former airplane hangars and empty naval warehouses, she envisions the setting of a major dance festival.

“On my first visit, I was immediately struck by the dramatic spaces of Alameda Point, its vast buildings, the eerie feeling of a hub of activity suddenly emptied. It made me want to create, to dance, to animate this space and to allow people to explore it in a new way,” Pilbrow said.

Pilbrow saw a celebration of dance in all its forms, enabling both dance enthusiasts and novices from around the Bay Area to showcase their moves in these unique open spaces, while attendees of every age and background learned about the art of dance and the talent of the local dance community. She presented the seed of her idea to Rachel de Campos, who was working with Alameda Point Partners, and De Campos encouraged Pilbrow to make her notion of a community dance festival happen. Pilbrow convinced the West End Arts and Entertainment District — De Campos now serves on its board — to provide production sponsorship and applied for funds from Alameda’s Public Arts Fund, securing a $25,000 grant that the city council approved in April. The Animate Dance Festival is scheduled for October.

“Without Rachel, I think that Animate would probably have stayed as a wild and crazy dream in my head, but she gave me the push I needed to start building something more concrete,” Pilbrow said. “Now that the grant has given us the funds to initiate the project, we are in a much more solid position to seek out further funding to help the festival grow in the future.”

Animate is on schedule to bring a distinctively new energy to Alameda Point via a wide range of performances by professional dance companies and local youth groups, as well as free trial classes, a dance fair, a children’s play area, and food and beverage trucks.

Like Pilbrow, Janet Koike is inspired by the makeup of Alameda. In Koike’s case, the attraction is the island’s waterfront areas and how Alameda was shaped by the water surrounding it. She is the founder and creative director of Rhythmix Cultural Works’ Island City Waterways and received the largest Public Art Fund grant, $35,000, for May’s ICW. The outdoor performance art show debuted in 2016 and consisted of live art, dance, music, and storytelling along the estuary waterfront between the Fruitvale and Park Street bridges, acting out the arrival of Alameda’s early immigrants to these locations for a walking audience. The second iteration, also featuring theater, dance, and a musical show, spotlighted the history of Crab Cove in roving May performances along Crown Beach. 

“Island City Waterways deepened local civic pride and introduced other Bay Area residents to Alameda as a hidden gem with a colorful past and inviting present,” Koike said. “The tremendous response to ICW 2016 from participants and Bay Area media set a precedent for establishing it as a biennial public art event.”

Community feedback was encouraging and, Koike said, showed how an interactive, location-based event can share the history of the city, create lasting memories for kids and adults alike, and invoke delight in being an Alamedan.

Daniel Hoy, chairman of Alameda’s Public Arts Commission, which selected the awardees for Public Art Fund money toward the cultural arts, said projects such as Pilgrow and Koike’s give people a chance to experience and respond to what is sometimes simmering below the surface, speaking to what makes a community work and how it can improve, and bringing a community’s character and stories to light. The third grant distribution was $7,500 for Sacred & Profane’s The American Landscape, a multidisciplinary choral event set for March 19, 2019; the location and other details will be determined later.

To receive cultural arts grants, the applicants had to meet certain criteria related to technical aspects, experience, clarity of purpose, and other factors, Hoy said. In Hoy’s estimation, the commission thought this current crop of grant recipients had the clearest vision for how they would use the funds to tell their stories and share their experiences. The city council had final say and approved the commission’s recipient recommendations. The grants represent the first distribution from the art fund.

“It’s important to Alameda specifically because we have a strong art community, and they add a unique layer of conversation to our place in the region,” Hoy said.

Hoy noted that 2016 marked the first time the Public Art Fund had a substantial amount of funds to distribute. That is primarily because developers of commercial, industrial, and municipal projects in Alameda with building development costs of $250,000 or greater, and residential projects with more than five units and building development costs of $250,000 or greater, are subject to the city’s public art requirement to install public art on site as part of their project or contribute equivalent funds of 1 percent of building development costs to the Public Art Fund. However, since the establishment of the fund in 2003, most developers have chosen to install art on site, so the fund has had a low balance.

Within one year of receiving two large contributions totaling $300,000, the commission released RFPs. A quarter of that money, or $87,500, was allotted to the cultural arts, and three quarters to physical arts. RFPs for physical arts projects will go out in June and an additional RFP for the remaining monies for additional cultural arts projects is in the works.

As more development occurs throughout Alameda, Hoy said he believes more funding will come in for the arts and that opportunities for other artists to apply for funding are already in the pipeline.

While art can strengthen Alameda’s economic vitality and interest, for the likes of artists like Pilgrow, Koike, and singers of Sacred & Profane, it’s about expression and interaction, valuing the place they call home, facilitating community and dialogue, and looking more deeply into what it means to live on the island of Alameda.

 

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