The outpouring of love for Ara Christina Jo on social media and in gatherings across the country since the Oakland warehouse fire has been abundant enough to fill an ocean. But it doesn’t even begin to match the amount of love that Jo, my personal friend, brought to her work and those around her throughout her lifetime. Her presence was so immensely magnetic — her exuberance so bright — that she deeply touched even those who knew her only in passing.
Jo, 29, was a visual and tattoo artist, musician, curator, and community builder. Originally from Los Angeles, she moved to Oakland about a decade ago, and became a member of local DIY art hub Rock Paper Scissors Collective in 2009. There, she served many roles, including gallery manager. She also played a major part in supporting the First Friday Street Fair when it was just getting off the ground.
Best friend Peter Pendergrass recalled Jo’s incredible talent for genuine encouragement. “If you shared an idea with Ara, she would ask you all about it, brainstorm it with you, and co-imagine how amazing it would be,” Pendergrass says. “And in any way she could, she would support you in making it come to fruition.”
Another friend recalled that Jo would allow bands to practice in her living room at any hour of the day without hesitation, often dancing along as she cooked or worked.
Slightly more than a year ago, Jo founded a DIY venue in Emeryville called Sgraffito, which quickly became one of the art scene’s most popular gathering places. There, she would spiritedly host and help organize small music shows, art exhibitions, zine readings, and flea markets, often with multiple events happening in the same week. For many years, she was also a key organizer of the East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest, which annually features the work of over 60 self-publishing individuals and collectives.