Public Showcases

Art gives youth a voice through graffiti.


Cameron Thompson

Chris Duffey

If you ask East Oakland artist Cameron Thompson about the key to developing Oakland’s art scene, he will give you a short answer: public walls.

What he means are areas where graffiti artists can display their work—with the city’s permission.

A graffiti artist himself, Thompson began to appreciate the transformative power of graffiti when he traveled through Europe in his 20s. He saw how cities encouraged graffiti artists to turn vacant buildings and blighted neighborhoods into public art showcases.

Oakland could do something similar, he believes, and create public spaces for street artists that could turn the city into a destination.

“San Francisco has way more dope murals that are going up, and they are bringing in artists from around the world,” Thompson says.

The 34-year-old has worked with young artists in after-school programs at Edna Brewer Middle School, Acorn Woodland Elementary School, and MOCHA (Museum of Children’s Arts). Thompson hopes that his students will learn to enjoy the tags and pieces (graffiti murals) they see every day with the help of his classes in fine art calligraphy, brushwork, and color.

With some commercial success of his own, he had his first solo show this past summer and has a mural across from the Cotton Mill Studios in East Oakland.

“I don’t want to be labeled as a graffiti artist because I do so much more,” says Thompson.

He is also busy juggling a position at the Ryse Youth Center in Richmond, DJing world music at clubs in Oakland, creating new work for an upcoming gallery show, and designing a textile line with patterns from his paintings.

Experienced graffiti artists have a lot to teach young artists, Thompson says, notably on how to place their work so that it’s not viewed as vandalism. “You need to have respect for the placement of your art; don’t come up to a really nice building and disrespect it.”

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