Oakland Culture Curator Besame Seeks Balance Between Art and Prosperity

Behind every extraordinary party is usually found at least one uniquely gifted “creative,” someone who understands the special alchemy that makes for an unusually good time. For some, this unique sensibility can become a calling and a cause, a mission not only to celebrate but to inspire and unify people on a grander scale. East Bay visual artist-turned-curator Besame is one such person, and Oakland’s creative culture is her cause.

Since moving from San Diego to attend UC Berkeley, Besame, a.k.a. Vanessa Nguyen, has mixed media and art into her own brand of entertainment and inspiration. Though she's produced many smaller events, the Oakland Music Festival -- for three years an annual celebration of local music and art attended by thousands -- is her best-known co-creation. “Oakland is an amazing, growing collection of diverse cultures and communities,” she says. “I see my purpose as helping to preserve this beautiful creative scene that is so unique to our city.”

As one Besame fan explains it, “You come across a beautiful, delicately hand-painted watercolor image, and you come to realize that it's a flyer for an upcoming party. It’s from Besame, so you don’t know not exactly what kind of party to expect, but you know for certain that it will be fresh, fun, and diverse -- full of the emerging artists and creatives that make Oakland Oakland.”

Besame recognizes that building and preserving Oakland’s powerful cultural identity could well attract outsiders and thus fuel the gentrification of the city, becoming a double-edged sword for many of the city’s communities. She views this tension in a Taoist light, where the challenge is to seek equilibrium between good and bad. If, through art and creativity, “we can find a balance,” she explains, “then as people and as diverse communities we will prosper, and Oakland will prosper.”

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