June 8th 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- After almost 13 years of hosting art openings, concerts, benefits, performances, and meeting spaces, a bedrock of the West Oakland arts community may now have its doors shut forever. LoBot Gallery (named after the Lower Bottoms neighborhood it calls home), is one of the oldest and largest spaces of its kind surviving in the Bay Area and has just been given until July 31st to vacate the property. The notice asks over 20 working artists to dismantle decades worth of work while scrambling for studio space and some semblance of the support network and opportunities for creative collaboration that LoBot’s collective members have fostered.
The building’s owner, Piedmont resident Katie Harmon, has indicated she is no longer interested in renting to this arts group, who first became tenants in 2003. LoBot’s founders spent four years transforming the former carpet factory and construction warehouse into a thriving arts space, and a rotating cast of individuals have worked to sustain and evolve the space since then. Along with providing low-cost work studios, a print shop, wood shop, and rehearsal space for local artists, the all-volunteer collective currently runs an independent, ADA-accessible venue offering an eclectic selection of mostly all-ages and free or sliding-scale shows and community events.
In the last two years alone, Harmon has increased the rent just over 90%, from $5,250/mo to $10,000/mo. On May 18th, after a series of steep rent increases, LoBot artists received a notice to vacate the building. Given the cultural resource LoBot Gallery has been to the community of Oakland for over a decade, collective members and are feeling a deep heartache pending this loss. In an effort to protect LoBot Gallery, the Oakland Community Land Trust is currently approaching Harmon to discuss the possibility of taking the property off the indiscriminate market and preserving it as a permanent arts space. If she were to decide to take this route, she would be able to sell the building at a reasonable rate to a community institution.
The loss of LoBot Gallery would be just one more hit to Bay Area residents who have long been defending both the arts and the preservation of local community spaces and networks.
Mayor Libby Schaff recently launched the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Artist Housing and Work Spaces, specifically calling attention to the effect of Oakland’s housing crisis on the artists that have made the city such a cultural hub. In her invitation to the Task Force, she wrote, “Local artist communities have contributed to making Oakland a dynamic and vibrant city that is now attracting new interest and investment. We need to ensure that they are able to remain in Oakland as the City continues to grow and change.” This is an opportunity for the Task Force to prevent further artist displacement, and to help preserve a neighborhood already seeing great losses in its residential and artistic community landscape-- not to invite further development which displaces more low-income people from their livelihoods.
The future of LoBot Gallery remains uncertain, but a group of tenants, activists, and artists intent on preserving the space has already formed and is steadily growing.This group aims to work towards an agreement that would protect the artist community that has called LoBot home for over a decade and give Harmon and the City of Oakland the opportunity to push back against the displacement of Oakland artists. The future of Oakland’s art community hangs in the balance.
*Lobot's landowner, Katie Harmon, raised our rent in April, and then two months later, gave us 60 days notice. We've attempted communications and negotiations; all have been rebutted. So we're scrambling to both resist this pushout and also to deal with the fact that we are being forced to archive and/or auction 13 years worth of West Oakland art history. In addition, this move displaces almost thirty artists from affordable spaces -- many of whom are queer/trans, and/or people of color-- where they are making their living through their work. To lose Lobot means a loss of Oakland history. We've been working with the Oakland Community Land Trust, who have been trying to reach out to the landowners on our behalf. To sell the property to a land trust who pledges to keep this as affordable art space in perpetuity -- which will both give the landowners a great buyout and help them with tax breaks, etc., is our goal. But nothing can happen if the owners refuse to come to the table. We have less than two months to figure this out and potentially clear the building. This is a magical space, with an important place in the broader West Oakland community. We just want to have a civil conversation with the owners and the Land Trust about helping keep Oakland a place for arts, a safe haven.*