For the Culture

She walked down 7th St. towards her rehearsal at the West Oakland Cultural Arts Center. On the way, she popped into the cafe for a tea. She stopped to chat with her buddy J sitting at one of the tables. J was prepping for a meeting about the design of an outdoor exhibition on the history of the Blues in West Oakland. J showed her the draft drawings and asked her opinion on one of the design elements. She offered a few quick thoughts, grabbed her tea, and headed down the block. On the way, she passed the cooperative bike shop, the cooperative grocery store, the cooperative preschool, the coop shop selling local, handmade clothing, jewelry and household items, and the coop art gallery. 

When she got to the Cultural Arts center, she paused at the entrance to look at the display showing events happening at all the Cultural Space Coop venues around town that weekend. There were about 50 public events that weekend in the 10 anchor venues, plus about 150 smaller workshops and events at the 30 or so smaller satellite venues. Her eye quickly gravitated to a few events she was interested in attending: an African drumming and dance workshop for parents and kids (she would go with her 5-year-old kid who loved drumming & dancing) and an avant-garde piece of multi-media dance theater that a friend of hers was performing in. That would make a great date night with her husband. He loved that kind of show. She also noted a couple other events that some friends of hers would love and made a mental note to hop on the Cultural Space Coop app after her rehearsal and message her friends about these events.

As she walked down the hall, she saw a few different rehearsals going on in the various studios, and with the main theater door propped open, she could hear sound cues from the tech rehearsal in process for that weekend’s show. She ran into her friend Z who lived upstairs in one of the artist residences. Z stopped her and asked her to sign a petition that was going around. The petition was to get an initiative on the ballot that would remove the barriers for financing affordable housing to be applied to cooperative housing with shared ownership. This would allow the model that had worked for the housing upstairs in the Cultural Arts Center to be applied to much larger projects. This move would allow many of their community members that had been displaced to return to Oakland and own their homes. Z was all fired up about it and she signed the petition immediately.

She found her rehearsal room and entered (a few minutes late) to find her company’s co-leaders discussing an issue that had just come up. They agreed to spend 10 minutes discussing it and to use their consensus decision-making process to make a decision about it before they began their rehearsal. They had a good discussion and surfaced some important points, but they did not reach consensus within the 10 minutes, so they all agreed to table it for later, collect some more information, and turn their attention to rehearsal. They turned on some music, walked out on to the floor and began to stretch.

6 thoughts on “For the Culture

  1. Anna I’m happy that you found the time to write! My very limited observation of your passion and engagement suggests to me that you want all the things, now. That patience is not your strong suit. That saying “no” is your least favorite thing, because you really DO want to do everything, it’s all important! You want to learn and understand and be whole and knowledgeable as of yesterday. And that leaves you feeling pulled in many directions and trying to juggle a dozen plates at once. That’s what strikes me about this piece – it feels crammed full of everything at once. So my question for you is about prioritizing. What is the one thing that comes first? What is the next step on the journey? What is the one goal that you can use to give you focus for the next few years of your life? You do not lack for great ideas or energy. I think what you’re searching for is focus. My $.02 🙂


    1. Thanks for this Sharon.
      I have definitely fallen into the habit many times in my life of trying to do everything all at once. I guess I should clarify that this vision is about the manifestation of a vision held by many people and institutions, not just me. I am one small part of a larger system. I guess my most important goal in the near future is to support the manifestation of the visions of Black cultural leaders in my community. My new mantra is:
      Listen deeply
      Connect the dots
      Get out of the way


  2. Anna I’m with you in this Artistic New World! I love how coops are about so much more than a new economic “system” but a way to weave relationships not only among internal stakeholders but external ones as well. Even if one didn’t have preschool kids, the other coops were an important part of her life. I appreciated details you shared about the implicit consensus decision making process with company co-leaders and the willingness to run ideas by J and visa versa. Having done some econ research on red-lining, I”m happy to see Z getting financing reform for coop housing on the ballot. I have a question that I find I am asking myself (especially in light of the upcoming Republican NC–and it may be irrelevant: what happened to all the conservatives, traditionalists? what work did we coop-ers do to find common ground to include them or help them benefit from what we did?


    1. Jon – Sorry to say it, but in my world, the conservatives/traditionalists are kind of irrelevant. Not that they are excluded in any way, but it is hard enough to get people to work cooperatively who already share basic values. I imagine going beyond that would be gradual, over time. First we would just need to show the world that it is possible to work and live this way, and that everyone benefits. Slowly, slowly, they would see the success and join in. But honestly, I’ve got to start building with folks that at least share some common values.


  3. Anna, I love how your vision is rooted in community. You’ve mentioned on our calls that you’ve encountered some conflict in the past, and I like that your vision builds in consensus decision-making to proactively address conflicts when they arise in the future. What lessons from your previous arts space inform this new vision? What worked well from that space that you’d like to keep? I’d like to hear more about the networked cultural space co-op thats mentioned in the second paragraph. It sounds really interesting – have you done a deeper dive yet into how it may be structured? I love the direction you’re going in with this.


  4. Love this vision. I would second Sharon’s question regarding, what is the most important priority. One thing that struck and I would want to learn more about, is what would a conflict resolution methodology look like? What happened in those 10 minutes before you went back to doing art stuff. Why were people able to go back to work even without a resolution?


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