Betti Ono Gallery Secures Long-Term Lease With City of Oakland

Betti Ono founder and director Anyka Barber outside of her downtown Oakland gallery space.  (Jean Melesaine)

Oakland’s Betti Ono gallery, an eight-year-old mainstay of the downtown art scene, has secured a long-term lease for their nearly 2,600-square-foot gallery space in a property owned by the City of Oakland.

“We WON!” the gallery’s Instagram account proclaimed on Wednesday. “After 7+ years of operations and advocacy we finally got our long-term lease signed today. Betti Ono is here to stay!!!!”

The seven-year lease, which stabilizes the gallery’s rent with incremental increases, gives Betti Ono the security to make both immediate changes and long-term plans.

Being month-to-month affected every decision made, says gallery director and founder Anyka Barber. That included how often Betti Ono presented exhibitions and programs, and which funders it was eligible to partner with. (Many granting organizations view long-term leases as a sign of fiscal health and won’t provide support without one.) Even planning an operating budget a few years ahead was impossible, Barber says, since she never knew when the city might increase their rent.

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Now, Barber says, they can “grow in the space and dig deep” without “clouds of uncertainty” plaguing future plans. The gallery plans to apply for nonprofit status; they currently have fiscal sponsorship through fellow City of Oakland tenant Pro Arts.

The announcement comes as a welcome and rare bit of good news at a time when nonprofit arts spaces on both sides of the Bay struggle with landlord rent increases. San Francisco’s 48-year-old Galería de la Raza moved out of their 24th Street gallery space and into an interim spot on Valencia Street at the end of 2018. And Aggregate Space Gallery expects to have to leave their Oakland warehouse space at the beginning of August.

Barber hopes her successful lease negotiation will help Oakland forge real estate partnerships with other arts and culture organizations. “To be here now means that this should create more opportunity,” she says. “We recognized that a precedent had to be set. I’m hopeful we can help advance this as a model and even refine it.”

But for now, Barber and her team are simply thrilled.

“We are ecstatic!” she says. “I can’t even say it’s surreal because we worked so hard for it, but it feels like we really accomplished something—and that we did it arm-in-arm with our public... This is a win for the whole town, for Oakland and for black women in leadership in the arts.”

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