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Catherine Nguyen, gallery manager for the Creative Growth Art Center, prepares the center's new exhibit with Stephanie Schnugg. Creative Growth is one of the Oakland galleries participating in Art Gallery Week, which runs through October 13.

Oakland art galleries step into spotlight

on October 4, 2012

Looking over a white, red and blue Art Gallery Week event guide, Jennifer O’Neal seemed impressed, and a little surprised, that blue-chip San Francisco galleries are sharing page space with some of Oakland’s young galleries.

O’Neal, the public relations and projects manager for the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, said that being invited to participate in the ten-day event, meant to focus attention on Bay Area art galleries, is an important acknowledgement for Oakland showrooms. “Just to be brought in, to see the quality of the galleries that are participating,” she said, is “a step in the right direction for Oakland, for sure.”

This year’s inaugural Art Gallery Week, which runs from October 3 to 13, was organized primarily by San Francisco gallery owner Karen Jenkins-Johnson. In addition to showcasing galleries through events like artists’ panels and curator-led tours, organizers will collect art supplies for donation to the San Francisco Arts Education Project, a youth arts organization, and O’Neal’s Creative Growth Art Center, an Oakland organization that works with adult artists with disabilities. A benefit party on opening night at Foreign Cinema restaurant in the Mission also raised funds for the groups.

The third day of the event, which falls on Saturday, October 6, is focused on Oakland galleries, and Berkeley’s two participating venues. On Saturday, 11 Oakland gallery owners will invite the public in for talks by exhibiting artists, gallery walk-throughs and mixers. For instance, at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary gallery in Oakland, Jessica Brier, the assistant curator of photography at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, will moderate a conversation with currently exhibited artists Donna Anderson Kam and Holly Williams. Their work is drawing and painting, respectively, but is influenced by photography, gallery owner Chandra Cerrito said.

There are also two Oakland gallery tours on Saturday. At 11:00 a.m. Marianna Stark, founder of the Stark Guide, an online handbook to the Bay Area art world, will walk participants through the Oakland galleries of her choice. At 3:30 p.m. UC Berkeley Art Museum assistant curator Dena Beard will do the same.

Jenkins-Johnson planted the seed for Art Gallery Week in the summer of 2010, when she first organized a San Francisco art walk. For that event, and two subsequent art walks, she brought together 15 galleries located near Union Square. The art walks were her testing ground for a more ambitious gallery collaboration, Jenkins-Johnson said.

Jenkins-Johnson brought in more San Francisco galleries for this year’s event, and extended its reach to include Oakland galleries because, she said, she is excited about the city’s art scene. “You got diamonds in your own backyard,” she said, “and we want people in the Bay Area to know this.”

While San Francisco’s more established showrooms usually exhibit mid-career and mature artists, Oakland galleries tend to work with emerging artists, she said. “They’re exciting,” Jenkins-Johnson said of Oakland galleries, “They come in and find young artists.” The art world needs emerging artists to advance new ideas, she said. “There has to be someone pushing up, coming forward,” she said. “That’s what sets Oakland apart.”

Jenkins-Johnson also wants to introduce San Francisco collectors to the arts programming across the bay. Collectors don’t have to go to New York City to buy art, she said. “Don’t go outside the Bay Area. Come and talk with us, build relationships,” she said. “We have something substantive to say.”

Art Murmur director Danielle Fox said she hopes the event draws new eyes to Oakland’s galleries, and that bringing in potential customers is one of the challenges owners face. Once people discover the city’s showrooms they are likely to return, she said, but getting new visitors is tough. “When people come on First Friday or Saturday Stroll their response is usually ‘Wow! I didn’t know all this is here,’” Fox said. “Getting them here the first time is the challenge.”

A complete Art Gallery Week schedule, including maps of gallery locations and more information about their programs, is available at

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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