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Indybay Feature
Rock Paper Scissors Being Displaced After More Than Ten Years on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland
by RPS Collective
Tuesday Jul 14th, 2015 12:33 PM
As of August 31st, RPS community arts space will be without a home. Our lease is being terminated after ten years at the same location.
Rock Paper Scissors Collective is Moving

Eleven years ago, downtown Oakland was home to mom and pop shops, socio-economically diverse, occasionally dangerous; a sometimes eccentric, sometimes wonderful, and always dynamic community. A group of artists, crafters, organizers and makers found a vacant little storefront among a sea of vacancies. With a little volunteer elbow-grease and fundraising effort, the Rock Paper Scissors Collective (RPSC) was born — a destination where the community could come together, organize, share skills, knowledge and create. ALL were welcome in the space.

In the following years, a group of underground and outsider galleries, including Rock Paper Scissors Collective, created the First Friday Oakland Art Murmur. Artists could showcase their work to an organized audience and share promotional materials, local crafters could sell their work, experimental performers could establish and gain recognition for work with little bureaucracy. Payment was on a sliding scale so no one was left behind because they were unable to pay. These types of intentional and inclusive actions drew international attention as First Friday grew to be one of the best-attended arts events in the country, drawing upwards of 20,000 visitors to the area every month who spend tens of thousands of dollars on art, music, and food supporting Oakland businesses and artists.

Oakland became a city known to foster creativity thanks to the work of so many collaborating individuals and groups. The Downtown, Uptown, and KONO districts became more attractive for tourists, restaurants, and independent shops. While the original spaces that created the artistic explosion in Oakland have closed down, RPSC continues to foster the spirit of building community through the celebration of art, skillshare and performance.

Now, after more than a decade in the same location, we are being forced out of our space on Telegraph and 23rd to make way for a new vision of the transforming neighborhood. The Collective’s long time landlord plans to charge market value for the space, well beyond what we can afford as an all-volunteer run nonprofit. Eleven years ago we could afford market value for the space, but thanks to our success in building a vibrant community in downtown, market rate is now far out of reach. The increase will more than triple our current rate.

Building an exciting, creative, and challenging neighborhood has been a long term project. Telegraph Avenue is rapidly transforming, and enjoys its current attractiveness due in large part to the events started by Rock Paper Scissors Collective. We are the only founding gallery that remains in business despite First Friday’s massive success, and we receive no money from the event beyond what sales we make. First Friday is a locus of Do It Yourself (DIY) and Do It Together (DIT) art, but we are one of the few galleries in the area that fully embraces emerging and outsider artists. We provide a space for everyone to feel comfortable and invited.

This space has become attractive to wealthier tenants BECAUSE of the years of hard work we have put in building a community of engaged artists, musicians, and performers, and as a reward we are being kicked out to make way for a wealthier class of renters. Will they share RPSC’s dedication to making art accessible for everyone? Will they be as community focused? Will they stand in solidarity with the people of Oakland, as we have?

We have been a reliable, consistent tenant for over ten tumultuous years, as businesses opened and closed, as the country went through war and recession, as Oakland and the Bay Area went from boom to bust and back again. We have hosted thousands of shows, concerts, and classes, on everything from Street Art to programming, from activism to zines, featuring artists and musicians from around the East Bay. We are being priced out of our space not because of anything we have done, but simply due to the cold calculus of gentrification. There is more money to be made in this space from something other than community-driven art, and that is enough and more than enough to push us out the door.

Rock Paper Scissors Collective will continue, despite this. We remain committed to fostering an inclusive artistic community accessible to everyone regardless of their income level, perceived ability, or socio-economic status. We will find a new space here in Oakland, and continue to build and support a diverse community of artists, crafters, performers and makers. We will continue to provide space, materials and time to all residents of Oakland, and to forge connections and solidarity between movements, people, and organizations. The only way to push back against the rising tide of inequality and injustice is TOGETHER.

Please contact us, community [at], with any suggestions or ideas about our current circumstances. Only with the help and support of the community can we continue to ensure a safe and open space for everyone.

—Rock Paper Scissors Collective

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by ATeam
Wednesday Jul 15th, 2015 6:30 PM
"We're responsible for making the area hip and desirable for development... Oh no we can't afford it any more, who could have seen that coming?"

Comrades in Hamilton discussed this phenomena at length recently at in "Now That It's Undeniable: Gentrification in Hamilton"

RPS should maybe take some responsibility for spurring the influx of "creative capital" that pushed out countless people and other businesses long before it came back to push out RPS too. You played an active role in making Oakland the city it is today, and that's sure as fuck not a good thing.

My point is, why should we feel sympathy—much less feel driven to action—for the displacement of a group that helped drive the process of displacement in the first place?
by and by
Wednesday Jul 15th, 2015 10:57 PM
On one level that's a fair critique. Anyone who lives in Oakland and contributes to making it an interesting place is guilty of the same. Forces of capitalism always try to co-opt and profit from anything grassroots that gathers a following, in this case art, on what was a relatively run-down stretch of Telegraph Avenue.

But know that RPS is an anarchist collective. Their making good use of an empty storefront did not displace anyone. RPS is a different creature than Oaklandish or any of the for-profit galleries that popped up in the area.

And 2005 was a long time ago. That was before the great recession created by the greed of big banks, before the subsequent foreclosure crisis that city officials did absolutely nothing to prevent or mitigate or even compensate for after the fact, because they apparently wanted massive gentrification in Oakland. The city gave away land, and pulled eminent domain on a few long-time businesses, to pave the way for the nearby Uptown apartments. Predatory banks and property speculators moved in to swoop up everything they could in the area and almost no one did anything of consequence to resist it. That makes most of us guilty in a sense.

The forces of gentrification and displacement are far greater than a small collective of volunteers making art. If your argument is that people shouldn't make art in poor neighborhoods because it's their fault when capitalist predators displace low income residents, more so than the capitalists themselves or the politicians or the police, then I'm not buying that grossly over-simplistic, blame-the-victim narrative. Are we to blame everyone who is displaced for not fighting a better fight against the powerful joint forces of politicians and profiteers around them? I think not.
by and by
Wednesday Jul 15th, 2015 11:16 PM
I have to add that you do not sound too familiar with RPS or what's happened in the area.

First, they clearly do own their role in what's happening on that strip of Telegraph Avenue and the surrounding area, if you bother to actually read the post.

Secondly, RPS hosted numerous events in support of the Oscar Grant movement and other victims of police/prison injustices and violence. The collective, largely comprised of women, offered support to all sorts of oppressed peoples and their causes. Whomever replaces RPS in the space most certainly will not do the same. And that's WHY the loss of RPS should be mourned, if not actively resisted, and why the collective deserves our support. We need more long-term volunteer collectives like RPS in the city, not less.

Being smug and snotty and passive about such losses is certainly a larger contributor to the forces of displacement than community-focused collectives making and supporting art and artists for no personal profit whatsoever.
by Ateam
Thursday Jul 16th, 2015 11:47 PM
"but thanks to our success in building a vibrant community in downtown, market rate is now far out of reach."

This is the key problem. This transformation of Oakland is viewed as a success up until it affected them. This "vibrant community" is they take pride in building is an integral part of the gentrification process. RPS will move somewhere it can afford rent and continue to build their "vibrant community" to attract more creative capital at the expense of those who already lived there.

I have more to say but it feels useless to say it.
by UC Santa Cruz not UC Silicon Valley!
Friday Jul 17th, 2015 10:15 AM
Santa Cruz is also experiencing rapid gentrification. UCSC and the City of Santa Cruz have rolled out the red carpet to technology corporations. To the powers that be, it's great that these corporations are deeply involved in policing (PredPol & First Alarm), big data (Looker), drones, AgTech, BioTech, etc.

Santa Cruz also has a growing community of artists and crafters.

I like reading the points and opinions of both Ateam as well as by and by.
by yr not a team
(please [at] move.home) Tuesday Jul 21st, 2015 10:22 PM
The anarchist police do not support RPS because RPS doesn't sell UC graduate degrees and north face jackets.

RPS is the obviously at fault for the hyper-gentrification of Oakland because they have serviced the community. In doing so they failed to adopt the one true anarchist way of life, never contributing to the flow of capital, being a nihilistic window warrior, and writing articles quoting Mac dre, and referencing hyphy.

On another note

Conintelpro makes me angry and the continued attacks and displacement on @ spaces in the bay area, seems very calculated and intentional.
by ateam
Wednesday Jul 22nd, 2015 12:40 PM
if you view any critique as "divide and conquer" coming from the state infiltrators via cointelpro, then RPS is going to keep going from location to location to location, each further from the metropolis than the last, making it trendy, and scratching their heads like "why does this keep happening?!"

if you think that it's a stretch to claim that RPS was integral to the process of gentrification, then you should scroll up and read the damn statement where they take credit for it multiple times.
by and by
Friday Jul 24th, 2015 2:31 PM
And what productive solutions does ateam offer? Thus far all there is is glib finger pointing and ivory-tower-anarchist bullshit. Smash capitalism? Destroy the state? Really, what practical answers does ateam have to offer?

Someone posted the intro to that Hamilton piece ateam mentioned: The entire piece is over 5000 words long, with not one concrete solution. Drop out of art?!? Graffiti and propaganda? A clearer understanding of gentrification? Thanks for the lesson on urban capital movements, Captain Obvious, but how the fuck does that help anyone? The piece is essentially a lot of babble intended to make the writer(s) feel better about themselves as they “drop out”, without actually doing anything real to resist the changing world around them.

RPS clearly owns their role in the “improving” neighborhood, but it’s ridiculous to assert that RPS is “integral” to the current wave of gentrification and displacement. Such over-simplistic and victim-blaming thinking suggests that the area would not be gentrifying now if RPS had never existed. The SAME EXACT THING would be happening now with or without RPS. Or, if RPS had only thrown molotovs at every passing cop or politician or real estate speculator, they’d not be in the difficult circumstances they are now. The rest of us are off the hook and it’s all RPS’s fault.

It bears repeating that RPS is not even close to the same as the other for-profit galleries that have popped up in the area (and can continue to afford their spaces), or the yuppy bars that keep creeping in. It’s not one of the “hip cafes” that team Hamilton opposes in the above-mentioned academic tripe. RPS is an all-volunteer, anarchist collective that never made a penny off of anyone but raised funds for all sorts of worthy causes. The RPS community art space displaced no one. They merely rented an affordable long-empty storefront. They welcomed everyone who came through their doors, those often looked at sideways by other galleries and businesses in the area. As a largely women-run operation, RPS was consistently supportive of oppressed peoples and movements, hosting numerous events by anti-police groups. Whomever replaces RPS in the space most certainly will not do the same. If RPS on Telegraph Avenue was integral to anything, it was holding down a people-centered sense of integrity in the area as it gentrified over the last decade. Now, that is lost, and all ateam has to offer is sneering condescension.

Is RPS in and of itself a primary engine for revolution? Probably not. But, if we are to ever have a chance at effectively pushing back against the ongoing onslaught of capital, we will need far more volunteer art collectives, more worker-owned bakeries, more anarchist publishers, more non-hierarchical NoBAWC-type organizations, not less.

Declaring without shame or humility that somehow they deserve it when places like RPS are displaced is most certainly not a solution. When someone discourages others from supporting such organizations in a moment of need, those comments should be viewed with suspicion, especially when all that's offered as an alternative is a disingenuous "clearer understanding" that leads nowhere productive.

Ateam is not a team player, be the words left here deliberate covert disruption from enemies of the people or misguided, self-righteous dismissiveness from someone with little sense of connection to broader radical communities. Either way, the result is the same, ateam has insistently tried to make a case that RPS deserves no support now. Such a position should be firmly rejected. RPS and other similar organizations deserve the support of everyone who cares about making a positive difference in the real world.
by East Bay Faye
Friday Jul 24th, 2015 2:33 PM
It really can't all be blamed on just one institution, but RPS is certainly part of gentrification, which at least they are willing to own up to.

I came up with a name for this awhile back: "gentrinarchy".

Here's how it works:

1. White anarchists and artists move to an economically depressed area to take advantage of cheap rents that allow them the time to be politically active, artistic, and create local institutions.

2. They build "alternative" institutions that are improvements on the area. Out go the pawnshops, liquor stores, abandoned lots, thriftshops... in come hipster art galleries, anarchist coffee shops, bike repair collectives, FreeSkools, used vinyl record stores, etc.

3. While they think they are becoming "one with the people" (mostly non-white) and "fighting the corporate power"), real estate agents and landlords are looking at it very differently. "Look over there, that used to be where a gang sold drugs two years, ago now it's a vegan juice bar... adorbs!" Or "that was a vacant lot.... now there is a building that hosts underground theater! SOOO cute." Those agents may not be racist and aren't going to come out and say it, but the undertone is "fewer black people... more harmless white activists types".

4. People notice. Rents go up. Non-white people move out. The non-white radicals blame the white anarchists for desegregating the neighborhood. (remember when all-black, segregated neighborhoods was considered a BAD thing?)

5. The white anarchists THEN deflect the blame for gentrinarchy onto... Google! Facebook! "greedy landlords"!

Rinse. Cycle. Repeat. Gentrinarchy. It's coming to town.

I don't really blame anybody, these are large economic forces, it's just fascinating to watch!
by anon2
Monday Jul 27th, 2015 2:59 PM
There's a trend in so called 'arts administration' called creative placemaking that's popular among non-profits and some socially-oriented artists and groups. It's essentially about using creativity and the arts to vamp up a locality, creating activity and excitement within a given area, giving it an identity and personality. Presumably the intention is for the benefit of the locals and participants. What these arts administrators don't understand, usually being well-off and not from the community, is the reality people face everyday and the effects that their well intentioned efforts have on a community and its inhabitants. Often times they're working for the city and developers, and are funded by wealthy philanthropists and people with conflicting financial interests. I'm not saying that's the situation or intentions of RPC, but rather drawing attention to the concept of creative placemaking and where anti-gentrification criticism related to the arts is coming from.
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