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Art Battle

On your mark. Get set. Paint!

on October 4, 2022

The Queer Healing Art Center buzzed with excitement on Saturday as artists prepared their bright white canvases, paintbrushes, and acrylic paint for an Art Battle.  

This was the Queer Healing Art Center’s one year anniversary of hosting Art Battles — live competitions where artists paint blank canvases while surrounded by an audience.

“As soon as the paintbrush hits the canvas, everyone is electrified,” said Kin Folkz né Monica Anderson, the center’s co-founder and executive director of the Queer Healing Art Center.

Art Battle
Artists compete in an Art Battle fundraiser at the Queer Healing Art Center in Oakland. (Florence Middleton)

There were three 20-minute rounds, with an audience of about 100 people watching. Six artists competed in the first round, followed by another six in the second. Guests used their phones after each round to vote, and five artists advanced to the final round. 

Juliette Leong immediately stood out, in part because of her big yellow bow and light-up shoes that sparkled as she approached her canvas. Leong is Art Battle’s youngest-ever competitor at age 6. But she was not nervous, she said. 

Asked what she was going to paint, Leong replied, “You just have to wait and see.”

Juliette painted a cityscape with fireworks in a black sky and people wearing glittery dresses. 

Art Battle
Juliette Leong, 6, the youngest competitor at the Art Battle. (Florence Middleton)

The Art Center opened in 2020 just weeks before people were forced to shelter-in-place because of the COVID-10 pandemic. 

“This pandemic was, for many of us, one of the latest in a long line of various pandemics,” Folkz said. “Everyone was experiencing heartache.”

The center wanted to find ways to support the art community. It started a trans and non-binary caravan of art-adorned vehicles to circle Lake Merritt and bring awareness to COVID experiences. The center also served close to 20,000 meals to unhoused and housed people. And last year, it started Oakland Art Battles. 

Shortly after 8 p.m., the artists dropped their brushes and the audience cast their final votes. 

Art Battle
Rosa Adams (left) and Wendy Trattner compete in the first round. (Florence Middleton)

Diego Gomez, 40, of San Francisco, captivated the audience with two monster-themed masterpieces. Gomez walked away with gold, qualifying for the Art Battle regional competition. 

The evening ended with a silent auction of the freshly painted artwork. 

“None are alike. They’re all beautiful,” said Diane Chan, 72, reflecting on the paintings. “This is my very first event and it will not be my last.”

For Folkz, the competitions are about community, art as healing but also, survival. 

This year, the Queer Healing Art Center struggled to keep its doors open. The revenue from Art Battles helps to pay the rent. Saturday’s competition raised about $2,000 from ticket sales. 

More than anything, the events are like a family gathering, Folkz said. “It’s an environment of collective self-care. We’re all in it together. It’s less about the creation itself and more about the process of [making art] together.”

The Queer Healing Art Center’s upcoming exhibits are “Marsha Marsha Marsha” and “Bejeweled.” The next Art Battle is Dec. 3.

Art Battle
Oakland Art Battle winner Diego Gomez works on his final piece as the audience watches. (Florence Middleton)

The story was published in collaboration with The Oaklandside.

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