In the Bay Area, when we hear the word "culture," we hide our checkbooks. We're the "second city" in a state that has gone from one of the best-funded to one of the worst-funded in the nation for the arts, and it shows. We're permitted pragmatism -- arts-in-education, arts as salvation for at-risk youth -- and we're permitted entertainment, as long as we pay for it ourselves. But cultural traditions, community building, the echo chamber of aesthetic conversations ... none of these is of any value during a war, or a recession.
There is no money for space rental or improvement, no money for staff salaries, no money for materials, expert consulting, or artist fees. I won't ride this hobbyhorse too far. Suffice it to write that the crazy local real estate market and the loss of much of California's operational funding for small arts nonprofits since 2001 have made our public community arts infrastructure a fantasy.
However, the Bay Area arts scene has a couple things going for it: 1) we won't admit we're provincial, and 2) individuals continually?contiguously waste non-existent resources on unsustainable and short-lived private arts infrastructure. This phenomenon is known as the community storefront gallery, and thank god for it, too. If it weren't for our overeducated local Quixotes and Rosinantes, that vast grey area between art school and museum collections would be an empty field in the Bay right about now.
That's one way to look at the newest exemplar, the MG Gallery in Oakland's Temescal district. M and G stand for Kari Marboe and Adam Green, life and project partners who found a house to live in on the Oakland end of Shattuck that also possessed a strange wannabe barbershop space sticking out onto the sidewalk in front. The space is an add-on: two tiny, low-ceilinged rooms with no back or storage areas, and a large picture window to each room bearing on the street.
It's more of a diorama than a gallery, a fact Marboe says they're ready to exploit. The gallery entity is still in transition: intended for a nonprofit, MG has no fiscal sponsorship or tax exempt status yet. Marboe has no camera-ready soundbite of a mission statement, either; the impetus is strong but the ideas are still fuzzy. There will be something about local artists, something about site-specific installations, something about audience engagement and drawing the community together. Something.