April 15 Youth Creative Expo Will Showcase Artwork By Students From OUSD and Peralta Colleges.
By Jindi Zhang, Staff Writer
April 11, 2023
Whether it’s an art exhibition in Brooklyn Basin, a sprawling mural on 9th street, a three-story dragon mural in Chinatown, or one of the metal cutouts from 14th St to Fruitvale Ave – those who live in Oakland will likely have walked by a public art piece that Civic Design Studio has brought into fruition by bringing community members together for collaborative creation.
On Saturday, April 15, Civic Design Studio will co-produce the Youth Creative Expo, an annual block party that will showcase Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) arts programs and the creativity of many teachers and students from the Peralta Colleges and OUSD. The event is open to the public and will feature some of the projects that Civic Design Studio has been working on.
Civic Design Studio
Civic Design Studio is an organization focused on utilizing art and design to meet community needs in architectural and neighborhood spaces. Through utilizing partnerships with school districts, local colleges, and community organizations, Civic Design Studio creates pathways for students in under-resourced schools to increase access to creative fields such as art, design, fashion, carpentry, digital computer design, and urban agroecology.
As a public school art teacher and programs director for over a decade in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), Thomas Wong, founder of Civic Design Studio, was frustrated with how student art was utilized. Wong was disappointed with the fact that the creativity and talent of the students never left the campus.
“The projects that we would do, they’d be displayed or left in the cafeteria,” Wong said.
Wong wanted more for his students’ art and their futures and thus, marked the conception of Civic Design Studio.
Currently, Civic Design Studio has partnerships with over 10 OUSD schools, as well as Laney College and various local universities. The high schools include Oakland Tech’s Fashion Academy, Skyline High School’s Illustration class, Oakland High Visual Arts Academy (ceramics, digital art, photography, mixed media etc), Fremont Art and Architecture, Castlemont’s Sustainable Urban Design Academy, Rudsdale Newcomer Academy, and Oakland International High School.
Civic Design Studio has a variety of past and ongoing projects based in different community and cultural spaces.
Brooklyn Basin | Foon Lok East and Foon Lok West buildings, Oakland, CA 2021-Present
Brooklyn Basin is a housing complex that has 465 affordable housing units located near the Oakland Marina. Civic Design Studio collaborated with OUSD art programs with the idea of bringing life and color to the complex. Student work from 9 schools now hangs in various parts of the building, all responding to the question: “What is the Future of Oakland?”
Civic Design Studio also has an ongoing partnership with Laney Professor Mary Catherine Bassett’s 2D and 3D art classes, as well as artist Frederick Alvarado’s summer mural class at Laney College to collaborate on the Brooklyn Basin project. The organization is working with 60 of Bassett and Alvarado’s students to come up with a small-scale concept responding to this prompt as well. The prior phase produced over 100 pieces of permanent student artwork, including kinetic wind sculptures as well as a two-story mural. Bassett asked Laney’s photography department to take pictures of her students’ artwork as well.
“What’s beautiful about the situation is that every building needs a lot of art,” Wong said.
Despite all the money and effort that goes into creating these affordable housing complexes, Wong explained that residents, unfortunately, end up only seeing barren walls along corridors and in big community rooms.
“By infusing students who care about history, the past, present, and future into these developments, the residents are overjoyed,” Wong explained. “We utilize artwork for our communities to be represented, not just represented but to hold power in certain spaces.”
As the artwork was being installed throughout the building, Lauryn Marshall, lead artist and project manager at Civic Design Studio, recalled how incredible it was for residents to interact with artists and ask questions as they worked.
“Some of the youth, little kids, would watch us paint on these ladders. I love interacting with the community,” Marshall said.
Marshall has always been invested in the ways that art and community collaboration can be a catalyst for healing. Through projects in community spaces working with youth, Marshall is able to “form a relationship with them where youth can ask questions about what they want to do for their future and how I can help.”
Garden in Vacant Lot behind Affordable Housing Complex, Oakland, CA, Spring 2022
Civic Design Studio’s partnership with Matthew Wolpe, a faculty member in Laney’s carpentry department, has resulted in a garden built in the Eastmont neighborhood of Oakland, in what was once a vacant lot behind an affordable housing development.
Wolpe has worked with Civic Design Studio on multiple projects, but regarded the collaboration with his carpentry class on the garden in East Oakland as the most notable one.
“Civic Design Studio drew up designs to transform an unused area into a garden/place to gather and came to the carpentry department for help building the projects. They were a set of raised beds, a picnic table and a cool corner bench. All built by Laney students,” Wolpe explained in an email to The Citizen.
The Potential of Community Partnerships
Projects like the garden behind the affordable housing complex in East Oakland or the artwork hanging throughout Brooklyn Basin fulfill Civic Design Studio’s mission of “bridging communities and [creating] efforts for disempowered members of the community to have a pathway into creative and urban ecological fields.”
Marshall expressed that she is always hoping to “do more partner/community organization collaborations.” Such partnerships allow for “more resources” to be brought to schools, OUSD and Peralta colleges included. Civic Design Studio is committed to exploring ways for Laney to be a central partner in future neighborhood developments.
Youth Creative Expo 2023
On Saturday April 15th, community members will have the opportunity to come in-person and see some of the work that Civic Design Studio and its partners have been working on. Student artwork from OUSD schools and Peralta Colleges will be on display as part of the Youth Creative Expo, an annual block party that takes place throughout Old Oakland. In addition to student artwork and multimedia installations, the expo will also collaborate with several local vendors, merchants, restaurants, and businesses.
Located on 9th and Broadway, the event will start at noon and end at 6pm. Civic Design Studio has partnered with E14 Gallery, the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE), Old Oakland merchants, and OUSD’s Arts Media & Entertainment Pathways. The MADE will have outdoor video games as well as programmers that will provide children with lessons about programming through playing and fixing video games. The MADE will also partner with Chapter 510 on a virtual “Old Oakland Stories” scavenger hunt.
Wong explained that for him, the expo is a way to publicly uplift and highlight the great work Civic Design Studio gets to witness daily.
“The event itself is a celebration of the process. Literally, we have over a dozen teachers in their classrooms working with hundreds and hundreds of students on this project. Really, it’s about celebrating the effort on that day,” Wong said.