At the November First Friday event hosted by Art Murmur, during which galleries are open to the public in the evening, a man in a traditional brown wool-and-cotton fedora moved briskly back and forth among the artworks and sculptures. Passing a Statue of Liberty the size of a person on the second floor of the Oakstop art gallery and coworking space, he greeted the guests with a smile and energetically introduced local artists. He has attended well over 40 First Fridays since 2006, back when he was only a visitor. Now he is the owner of a gallery.
This is Trevor Parham, a young Oakland native who wears many hats: artist, educator, entrepreneur and the founder and director of Oakstop. Most of his work since his teens has been focused on leveraging creativity to establish businesses.
Just like its founder, Oakstop is a place with many labels: a shared working environment, an event space and an art gallery. Located in a stylish building in the heart of Uptown Oakland, Oakstop exhibits work from local and emerging artists and is a destination for a diverse community of artists, entrepreneurs and freelancers, including watercolor artist James Gayles, cultural activist Favianna Rodriguez, singer Jennifer Johns and musician and producer Kev Choice. It also houses a life coach; an animation company; and, during the election season, a Democratic party campaign office.
Oakstop has been open since February, 2014. Approximately 80 people currently work there, paying a monthly fee for shared access to a workspace, printers and other office equipment, high-speed Wi-Fi, kitchens and complimentary coffee, tea and snacks. “I started Oakstop as a way to give Oakland’s artists, activists, and entrepreneurs a platform to connect with each other in a professional context,” Parham said. “That’s the main point here, to create a place where Oakland’s people can connect and grow.”
Oakstop’s inhabitants sit side-by-side in the spacious 6,000-square-foot multi-purpose coworking space with brightly-colored walls, among the modern workshop benches, photo shoot backdrops and delicate artworks that are hung on the walls or displayed in the corner. This private yet open office spaces attracts startups, entrepreneurs, and telecommuters who are looking for an alternative to working at home alone or in busy coffee shops.
According to a recent article in Oakland Magazine, there are more than 3,000 coworking spaces around the globe. Oakland has several unique coworking spaces: Tech Liminal is a technology-oriented coworking space, while Impact Lab has an emphasis on social enterprise. Oakstop is one of the newest coworking spaces in the Bay Area.
Watercolor artist Gayles was one of the first tenants at Oakstop. “Trevor is great,” Gayles said. “He is an organized businessman with a focus on the arts and the general well being of the community. Since I have moved my studio into Oakstop, my art business has grown by leaps and bounds. I credit that to Trevor’s vision of networking between the arts, businesses and the community.”
Parham is originally from Oakland but moved away for college. He studied business at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and communications at the Annenberg School of Communication at UPenn. At the age of 19, he found that he wasn’t very inspired or motivated by the culture and values of the business school. “There wasn’t much room for individuality and expressing yourself,” he said. “It is more about case study and best practices, economic models and memorizing graphs. I’ve always found comfort around other people who are creatively inclined, and involved in art.”
Ultimately, Parham received a degree in Fine Arts with a concentration in digital media from the Penn School of Design. Upon graduating, he received the Fine Arts Senior Award for being the highest performing student in his graduating class, which is a testament of how the culture and values of Penn’s Design School motivated him to succeed. “It wasn’t the work I was doing with my hands,” Parham said, “it was the people that were around, the community and culture I was in that really made me feel better.” He felt that he could be himself, and people would appreciate that.
According to Parham, after setting himself on a mission to “enlighten the world around me through creativity and entrepreneurship,” he began his own business while in college. He started his own company, Eklectyk Creative Media, during his last year in college to represent artists’ work online. Using his filmmaking background, Parham made videos for other musicians to help them become more savvy with how they leverage promotional media to develop their business.
Parham moved back to Oakland in 2005, when he finished college on the East Coast. He felt that going back home would provide the most guidance for his next steps. Oakstop represents the combination of his three fields of study. “I always found that having the business, communications and fine art background, allowed me to help other artists’ business,” Parham said.
“Everything we are, do, have, and dream about is influenced by art and design,” said Julia Sievert, the gallery assistant at Oakstop. “Trevor created an amazing spot where art, design and interior merge. We have art hanging on almost every wall at Oakstop and it has such a massive impact. It changes the whole appearance and dynamic of the place. ”
Talking to different artists, entrepreneurs and designers has been a great joy for Parham. There are always new projects and events coming up at Oakstop. At the First Friday event, as Parham was busy greeting the guests, artist Abba Yahudah stood in front of a desk filled with his artwork and newly published book, talking to a group of people who were interested in his art. His exhibit “The Art of a Journey” and his newly-published book A Journey To The Roots of Rastafari were created under the influence of African Diaspora, Ethiopianism, mysticism, and the Rastafarian experience.
“I am working closely with Trevor,” Yahudah said. “I realized what a powerful person he is, and he is someone I definitely want to work with closely in the future. My vision, as an artist, is to see what I can do to push the energy forward.”
For now, Parham is busy preparing an artist talk with Yahudah that will be presented at Oakstop on Friday. “Both art and people maintain a place and create more life to a space,” said Parham. “So when you have those two things together, not only do you have more life, but also you actually have more energy to maintain the space. Art spurs conversation and dialogue, which is a core component of community.”