What makes art successful?
By “successful,” I don’t mean it is just aesthetically pleasing. I don’t mean it brings in a crowd, or pushes the edge of what’s posssible, or moves people to action. I mean ALL OF THAT. And more.
There isn’t much art that achieves that type of success these days. Which is why I was so juiced to be part of the Life is Living festival that took over DeFremery Park in West Oakland last Sunday. Yes, with music and thousands of people in a park, in logistical terms it was a festival — but a more accurate description for Life is Living would be a mega-art installation. And a beautifully successful one at that.
Now in its third year, Life is Living (LIL) is a national initiative by my man Marc Bamuthi Joseph, our Youth Speaks fam, and dozens of community partners to find and celebrate the answer to the question: what sustains life in your community? Originally conceived as a “green hip-hop” event, we now frame it as one of sustainability — human and environmental. Just as Van Jones and others have redefined human rights to include the right to a good job that is good for the environment,Â we’re broadening the sustainability movement’s scope from just the icecaps and the redwoods, to West Oakland and the Mission.
So what sustains life in Oakland? In addition to live performances by local legends The Coup, Los Rakas, and The Getback, in addition to the face-painting and the hip-hop petting zoo (no lie), in addition to thousands of people from across the Bay Area diaspora enjoying a beautiful day at the park, here’s some photos I got that highlight some of the answers we find here in The Town:
Officially, it’s DeFremery Park, but to those who know — it’s Little Bobby Hutton Park, named after the first recruit to join the Black Panthers back in 1966. Hutton was killed by the police in a shoot-out, at the age of 17. This mural was part of a series of local grassroots heroes created by the brilliant artist Brett Cook. He created the images, then allowed festival participants to learn about the subject and color the mural in. Others in the series (all pictured when they were 17) were Nicole Lee, John Santos, Chinaka Hodge, and more.
Speaking of John Santos, there he is on the left rocking out with Latin jazz sextet on the main stage, with some help from the Boricua emcee, Rico Pabon.
One of the highlights is always the graffiti battle run by the legendary Estria. Every year 20 of the country’s best writers are given a word to paint during the day, with the winner chosen at the end. The first year was ‘WORD’, last year was ‘GROW,’ and this year was ‘HEAL.’ Definitely something we all could use. I love watching the pieces develop throughout the day.
The dance stage (seen here without dancing) was powered by Rock the Bike. When my students were up there, I kept yelling at them, “Pedal harder! The dancers need sound…those bikes aren’t going to pedal themselves!” Four hours straight, I made them work. Until they collapsed. I know…weak 3rd graders.
The Hood Games skate park, run by educator and half-pipe king K-Dub. I stood there watching these kids skate for 30 minutes, and I decided: Fuck poetry, I’m gonna be the next Tony Hawk. So I tried to get on a skateboard and just go a couple feet. Let me tell you: there’s a reason they make helmets.
I was honored that all these famous graffiti writers paid tribute to me like this. They spelled my name wrong, but it’s cool — after they finished, I went and painted an “EY” on the end of each piece.
This was actually where I spent the whole day BEFORE the festival, setting up this aquaponic garden with the amazing Keba Konte. I know you’re thinking…What the fuck do you know about gardening, Healey? And you were right — until last week, that is. An aquaponic garden basically recycles water between a gigantic fish tank and the garden (based in rocks, not dirt). It’s efficient, it’s organic, and it’s the shit (literally — the fish waste is the plant fertilizer.) The best part of my LIL day was presenting the finished garden to the West Oakland Senior Center across the street (members pictured above with Keba), who were so thankful they gave us all these home-cooked, fresh-out-the-oven cinnamon buns. That’s when I was like, “Yes, life IS living.” Delicious.
The next generation can shovel for themselves. I love these kids. And their parents.
The winning graffiti panel, by VYAL of Los Angeles. The best part? He was also the first one done painting, hours ahead of most the writers. Inspiration + efficiency = Life is Living.
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So there it is. Life is Living 2010 in Oakland. But hey, the fun continues. If you’re in Texas, make sure to check out Life is Living – Houston on November 6. Damn, that’s just a few weeks away. Looks like they’re gonna do it big down south: