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Fit For Life

ISSUES | Arts

Robots and Life

Progress, Arts. and Sustainability

Robot ArtA proposed arts complex in Richmond that combines progress and sustainability took a big step forward. Forty people  heard A Vision for Progress, the Arts, and Sustainability in Richmond and participated in discussion  sponsored by the RPA Arts committee on June 12.

The presentation by Frank Garvey, director of San Francisco's OmniCircus project, started with a short review of Richmond's history with the Homefront and Rosie the Riveter efforts. After World War II Richmond fell into decades of neglect and injustices. He went on to focus on our youth today and how we need to synergize with their creative efforts and capture their imagination in helping us move to a more just, creative, and sustainable Richmond.

Garvey initially discussed the role of the arts throughout history in bringing forward critical social change. He explained that art has been a systemic laboratory for developing the codes or languages we need for carrying on practical society.

Garvey then gave a brief survey of the history of robotic theater. He explained that myths of mechanical men and fantastic machines appear in many cultures in the Middle Ages (and even before) and provided many fascinating examples. According to Garvey, the history of theater has a parallel history of mechanical performance, because the fundamental contradiction of civilization, which is that technological and economic progress has been built on the economic back of various forms of slave labor, including the exploitation of the labor class today. 

Next Garvey laid out a program which he called "gentrification for the working class", which would be spearheaded by a new arts-based economic plan. This plan has several parts, including a (tourist magnet) museum, an educational effort providing job training in the arts, and an arts-based effort to recharge the economy in several other ways. 

The economic benefit from the tourist-based component of this project will be exhibited and implemented by way of a world-class hi-tech art museum and the new OmniCircus installation.  Imagine the benefit to our local businesses from such a tourist draw.

Garvey is interested in spearheading the creation of:

  1. A museum, gallery, and theatrical performance space, which will be a credit to Richmond.

  2. A permanent collection of hi-tech Bay Area art including robotics, computer animation and video, virtual reality, and other innovative media that expresses the cross-pollination of technology and the arts.

  3. An educational facility where youth can learn about robots, computers, and other new media, enabling the development of an alternative life path involving the arts.

  4. A unique performance program allowing people with physical disabilities to interface with these new robotic and synthetic technologies.

  5. An integration of green technology and the natural environment within the composition and development of the project. 

MeetingGarvey said that OmniCircus would be ‘anchor tenants’ in an effort to create an historic arts complex in Richmond, bringing in other Bay Area tech arts, and utilizing historic structures in the city.  Most importantly, OmniCircus intends to re-locate and enlarge its unique surreal robotic installation, which will draw tourists from all over the world to Richmond for many years to come.

We should be entering the 21st Century with a hi-tech, multi-media arts project for Richmond.  Our working class community needs to be engaged in the creative process of the technology of our times. Such a project will be a win-win situation for all our residents. It will provide image-building for Richmond in which we all benefit and it will provide opportunities for our youth to be involved in creative endeavors that both challenge their skills and engage their thinking.

We are collectively demonstrating a great purpose in Richmond, as we work to transform and reverse the neglect and injustices of the past.  Frank Garvey wants to design and construct a 40-ft tall kinetic light sculpture as a defining symbol for the city, an invigorating metaphor of our ongoing potential to overcome adversity and give birth to a new paradigm of an epoch where civilization is built on a democratically-owned technology rather than exploited labor.  Our city needs a visionary symbol to match our political direction;  Garvey wants to provide it. It also needs a new economy – we can point the way to a tech-art based economy.

OmniCircus will help Richmond make history as it merges with our progressive political journey.  It will truly help us build a Richmond Renaissance from the bottom up.

Stay tuned as this project takes shape and moves forward!

For more information, contact Frank Garvey, OmniCircus Director
omnicircus@gmail.com   415.701-0686    www.omnicircus.com

--Paul Kilkenny

The Gompers Mural: Victory for youth artists and freedom of expression

After intense organizing led by youth and their adult allies, thGompers Murale Richmond City Council voted unanimously on April 19, 2011 to protect the right of Gompers High School students to re-paint their mural adjacent to the new Gompers community garden on the Richmond Greenway at 8th Street.   Thus the unfortunate outcome of a big misunderstanding last fall was able to be reversed and repaired.

Last October, the students, under the guidance of their art teacher Gretchen Borg and youth mentor David Meza, had designed and painted a vibrant mural done in graffiti art style that expressed their pride in their school and community.  They had obtained permission from the property owner and attempted to get permission from the City of Richmond, only to discover that there is no process available for doing so.  After the mural was complete, the City's Code Enforcement Division, which is part of the Police Department, determined that the mural constituted "unauthorized graffiti" and ordered it painted over.  In a few moments their work of the previous several weeks was gone. 

The City's graffiti ordinance defines illegal graffiti as "unauthorized" markings on a structure.  There are different interpretations about whether the property owner or the City need to give authorization, and as the students had already discovered, there is no mechanism for getting authorization from the City.  If you look around Richmond, you'll notice lots of murals of various types and styles on private buildings that have not been authorized by the City.  These are different and distinct from the “tagging” that represents acts of vandalism and warrants abatement.

PaintoverThe Gompers mural is the third instance of Code Enforcement ordering the destruction of a mural on private property.  All three happened to be done in the graffiti art style, and all three were authorized by the property owners. The artists and property owners in the other two instances (Mario's Deli at 23rd and Maricopa, and Paul's Paint near McBryde and San Pablo) have not pursued a remedy to date, but the Gompers students didn't give up.

The students filed a complaint with the Police Department and asked Mayor McLaughlin to give them an opportunity to voice their dismay in front of the City Council.  On March 22, there was a City Council study session at which the youth appeared with signs and spoke about how devastating it was for them to have their artwork destroyed, after they had followed all the rules and made every attempt to do things the right way.  The City Manager and Police Chief apologized to the students and noted that the City's Arts Manager and other staff are currently working on a new ordinance to address this type of situation, and that a few months from now, once that ordinance is in place, the students could seek permission to re-paint the mural.

Following the March 22 Council meeting  Mayor McLaughlin spoke with the students and it became clear that they preferred to re-paint their mural now, since school will soon be out, and some will be graduating.  The Mayor put this item on the April 19 City Council agenda, with Councilmembers Booze and Ritterman as co-sponsors.

With the support of allies at the RYSE Center, the ACLU and many other community members, the students succeeded in making the case that they should be allowed to re-paint their mural now, without any censorship of the content.  The Richmond Arts and Culture Commission had added a recommendation to protect all existing murals in Richmond, as long as the property owner has given permission, and this was also passed by the Council. 

Mayor McLaughlin is now working with the Arts Manager, other staff and community members to clarify the graffiti ordinance for addressing illegal vandalism and to create an ordinance for community-based art on private property that will encourage artistic expression and respect first amendment rights.

Meanwhile, watch out for the new Gompers mural on the Greenway, coming soon!

Marilyn Langlois