Arts and CultureSF Bay Area

Immersive Arts & Artists in Urban Life, Oakland CA

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Unseen to Seen. Art by @kimberleekm 

Though COVID-19 shelter-in-place is a thing of the past, most of us still feel professional and personal consequences of the isolation that came with it. Artists, entertainers, and those who enjoy their work were impacted pretty heavily by the pandemic. Returning to concerts, museums, and festivals gives us the chance to revisit our relationship with art and also, our communities. One such event took place last month: the Oakland Festival for Immersive Arts, which featured free public exhibitions designed by local artists. 

Oakstop Gallery.  Photo:  C. Suprynowicz

“It is really special to do something in Downtown Oakland,” said Kimberlee Koym-Murteira, who designed one of the festival’s exhibits, Unseen to Seen. “And it was really great to engage with the community.” Because the festival was scattered in buildings around Downtown Oakland, many visitors randomly found the public art installations. It was enjoyable talking to both intentional and unintentional visitors about my work, Koym-Murteira recalled, telling a story about two women who wandered in and left the exhibition hall inspired. 

Connecting with the community with this work was important to Koym-Murteira. She wanted a large part of the exhibition to be submissions from the community. A portion of her exhibit, called Gestures Toward Touch, invited participants to contribute plaster casts of their hands. Hands are one of the most expressive parts of the body, she explained, and we use them in many important things we do. Before participants made their casts, Koym-Murteira asked them to reflect on how the pandemic impacted their feelings of isolation and community. 

“We are in that time of wanting re-connection,” the artist explained, “and it was a nice being a hub for opportunities and community.” Personally, Koym-Murteira was excited to rehash old collaborations and build new relationships. She worked with four other artists to create Unseen to Seen: Allison Pasquesi, Daniel Alexander Jones, Sylvie Minot, and Laura Inserra. 

Unseen to Seen was one of eight exhibitions featured in Oakland’s Festival of Immersive Arts. The festival was put on by the Immersive Artists Alliance (IAA), a Bay-Area nonprofit supporting and exhibiting public art. IAA’s installations are partnerships with local artists. They take a variety of mediums, from murals and light shows to videography and soundscapes. 

In addition to facilitating community collaboration and showcasing local art, IAA increases the accessibility of technological tools for their creative partner’s artists. Accessibility of art for the community was also a cornerstone of the Oakland festival. Visiting shows at one’s leisure, without worrying about admission fees or huge time commitments, makes a big difference when engaging with art.

“As a person who has worked in gallery spaces my entire career,” explained IAA board member Elena Gross, “I know they can be really intimidating to some folks.” She mentions that the openness of an event like the Oakland festival is a way for art to meet people where they’re at—whether they intentionally sought out new works and experiences, or if they’re just hanging out Downtown and came across the festival. Spread across a few blocks and buildings, attendees could explore familiar spots and discover new areas. Gross explained that there were people who had lived in Oakland for decades and had never been to some of the festival venues, like Oakstop

“A really big part of what we’re doing is engaging people who had no idea we were gonna be here,” said Gross. “In doing so, we’re trying to make public art more relatable and engage urban life in a different kind of way.”

IAA was founded at the beginning of 2020, just a few months before the pandemic hit the US. For the Oakland festival, the staff, board, and artists involved really wanted to double down on bringing people back together after the community shutdown.

“We were all really thinking about how to reactivate downtown Oakland after years of Covid,” explained Gross, “and people feeling isolated during lockdown and shelter in place.” IAA hopes to build upon this momentum with their next event, Franchise Freedom, an aerial installation created by the artists behind DRIFT. While that won’t be open until early 2023, Gross emphasized that there’s always ways to support diversity and accessibility of art in your community.

Though the Immersive Arts Festival is over for this year, venues like Oakstop have opportunities year-round to see what the artists in your neighborhood have been up to. The past few years have been especially difficult for artists, and each day there are new opportunities to engage with the creatives in your community. 

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1 Comment

  1. Pamela Center
    August 25, 2022 at 11:54 pm — Reply

    I am interested, however I am not a published author I do enjoy writing and would love to be a part of this adventure
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