Oakland's 21 Grand is certainly among the most resilient of Bay Area volunteer-run DIY arts spaces. It has survived 10 years and three locations, starting out at its namesake address 21 Grand Avenue (now part of Era Art Bar), moving two blocks up to 23rd Street near Broadway (demolished to make room for the new high-rise condo containing Picán and Ozumo restaurants), and finally to its current location at 416 25th St. near Broadway.
Over the past decade, 21 Grand, a nonprofit founded by Oakland artists Darren Jenkins and Sarah Lockhart, established a name for itself as a center for groundbreaking arts. Emerging local talent like Luther Thie, Tara Daly, Sarah Wagner, and John Colle Rogers have shown their work in the gallery. As a venue, it's hosted everything from fringe theater and performance art to experimental poetry readings, but it's most known for wildly diverse, cutting-edge live music. 21 Grand has become something of a home for the East Bay's improvisational new music scene, where internationally acclaimed composers like Fred Frith and Phillip Greenlief play regularly, and at the same time, it hosts a wide range of uber-hip shows featuring punk, noise, art rock, post no-wave, and knob-twiddling electronic music.
Whatever was going on at 21 Grand, you knew it was worth seeing. It might have been Gregg Gillis of Girl Talk dancing on donuts, Moe! Staiano tossing pipes down the stairs, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth playing a "secret show," Lil B of The Pack throwing down his kooky rhymes, or Jorge Boehringer as Core of the Coalman strumming an amplified viola like an electric guitar.
"From the beginning, I took a big tent approach, and said 'Let's just draw from the broad spectrum of all the weird, innovative, and non-mainstream music that's going on in the Bay Area,'" says Lockhart, 21 Grand's co-founder and long-term programming director who resigned in September. "We tried to have a place where it wasn't just a clubhouse for one particular aesthetic or one particular scene."
Now, 21 Grand faces a real threat. As reported in Oakland North, Jenkins, the space's director, received a "cease and desist cabaret activity" notice from the City of Oakland in September. For the venue to receive a cabaret permit, the landlord would have to agree to renovations costing upwards of $100,000 so the space meets building and fire codes. The live music performances were what paid the rent, with attendees usually paying $5-$10 admittance on a sliding scale.