Some of the best news to come out of Oakland lately has been the city's emergence – especially in the Uptown and Koreatown/Northgate (KONO) districts - as the hub of the East Bay art scene. And the hallmark of that emergence has been the monthly Oakland First Fridays street festival that drew over 150,000 people last year.
But First Fridays has hit hard times after recent rainouts. So to save money, KONO Community Benefit District, which owns the festival, told the Oakland Tribune that it has ended its contract with the woman who ran the show for the past year, professional event producer Sarah Kidder, and will go back to using volunteers.
This is causing consternation among First Fridays' participants, who say Kidder was the key factor who made the whole thing work.
"We got our start at First Fridays, and I've been a big fan of the event for years," says James Whitehead, owner of Fist Of Flour Pizza Co, a mobile pizza kitchen. "But there were too many people who didn't know how to manage trying to manage it, and it was getting crazy. So we bailed out on it.
"Then, in March of 2014, I got a call from another former vendor who said, 'Hey man, you should come back. There's somebody organizing it who really knows what she's doing.' So we did. Sarah spent a lot of effort organizing something that really didn't have much structure, and we're all wondering what's going to happen now."
Painter Erin Crawford adds, "Before Sarah, you had to get there as early as possible and claim your spot, and then fight to keep it. But she set up a system where I can go online, pay for my spot, know exactly where it's going to be, and I won't have to fight for it when I get there.
"But the biggest difference is that I didn't feel safe before. As a vendor, you feel very vulnerable, especially at night when the festival is over. After Sarah took over there was much more security present, and security actually came by throughout the evening. Sarah herself would walk up and down the street checking in with us, asking how we were doing and what could be improved upon. I felt like I had a voice with her."
"Before every event we would meet and discuss any issues that were anticipated," says Lieutenant Christopher Bolton, Oakland Police Department commander at First Fridays. "Even more importantly, after every event we had a discussion about how things could be better. It's a good example of what community policing should be."
"We didn't go to her; she came to us," adds Captain Howard Holt of the Oakland Fire Department. "And she came with a detailed plan and made it work for all of us. She showed a lot of leadership out there."
I'm not worried about Kidder. With many events to her credit, including working on Mayor Libby Schaaf's inauguration festival, I'm sure she'll land on her feet.
I wish the same thing for First Fridays, too, but artist Tony B. Conscious – aka The Ghetto Van Gogh – is skeptical.
"It was chaos before Sarah," he says. "She organized the structure and created the environment for us to really succeed. I don't know anyone else who can do that."