Organizers aim for a shorter, smaller First Friday with a new focus

First Friday events have drawn as many as 20,00 people to Uptown Oakland. Photo by Charles Berkowitz.

First Friday events have drawn as many as 20,00 people to Uptown Oakland. Photo by Charles Berkowitz.

City leaders met with First Friday stakeholders again Tuesday night to discuss the future of the city’s most popular art festival, which could lead to several changes to next month’s event.

Although reporters were not allowed to attend the meeting, participants said afterward that they voted to adopt a number of recommendations for next month’s festival. The March 1 event will be a toned-down version of First Friday, dedicated to peace, unity, healing—and there will be neon green t-shirts to symbolize combating violence.

“It’s not going to be a street party in the way they normally are,” said Sean Maher, mayor Jean Quan’s communications manager, after the Tuesday meeting. “It’s going to be a smaller and more low-key event.”

The art festival, which brings thousands to Uptown Oakland each month for gallery openings, street vendors and live music, has been under scrutiny since the February 1 shooting that left 18-year-old Kiante Campbell dead and wounded 3 others.

After lengthy closed-door negotiations, city leaders and event organizers have articulated a plan for next month: Festival goers can expect art and music focused on peace and healing, strict regulation of public alcohol consumption and an event-wide moment of silence in memory of Campbell. Fewer city blocks will be closed to traffic and the event will be shut down at 9:30 p.m. instead of going until 10 p.m. as usual.

The working group that met Tuesday included city leaders and staff, Oakland First Fridays organizers, Art Murmur organizers, local business owners and residents. This coalition brings together more stakeholders than have previously worked together, Maher said. Tuesday’s meeting was the third in a series of invite-only sessions. The first took place last Thursday and another happened Monday. The recommendations the group approved Tuesday will be made to the body that handles programming for the event, Oakland First Fridays.

The working group also approved several security recommendations, which Maher declined to outline. “The city is essentially at its limit in terms of security it can provide,” he said. “It means as a group—the city, First Friday, Art Murmur—we have to figure out how to better use the resources we have and where to find more resources.”

While security measures remain unclear, one local apparel merchant has teamed up with First Friday organizers to stem violence with the help of a positive message.

In response to Oakland resident Lukas Brekke-Miefner’s blog post on 38th Notes, where he wrote that T-shirts should be used to help promote peace in the city, Oakland-based clothing store Oaklandish has created glow-in-the-dark neon-colored shirts that read “Respect Our City” which will make their debut at the March 1 event.

Half of the 100 shirts will be sold at the Oaklandish store and half will be given away to young people in Oakland. But with each sale or gift, the wearer will have to sign a peace pledge to help reduce crime in the city.

The blog post “was kind of a call for action, we all need to take ownership and do something if we want to see change,” said Natalie Nadimi, community engagement manager for Oaklandish. “A lot of folks read that and were like, ‘You are right, we need to do something like right now, we can’t wait.’ Because that was a tragedy what happened, but it is happening everyday. It just happens to be in the spotlight because First Friday is going on. But we are not talking about it when its happening in East Oakland or West Oakland.”

Eric Arnold, who works with Oakland First Fridays, praised the idea of the shirt. “Everyone agreed that the ‘Respect our city’ meme is something people could really rally behind,” he said.

“I am an Oakland supporter, to the bone, to the core, so I would not mind,” said N’gala McCoy, Oakland resident who has performed in past First Fridays events. “If there is anything I could do to participate, to help the violence cease … I would totally be a part of that, no doubt. And I know other Oakland residents would also.”

 

This story has been updated to show Oaklandish has 200 “Respect Our City” Shirts.

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