Visit Oakland, the nonprofit tasked with attracting tourism, is turning to murals to market the city's unique culture.
The Public Mural Grant Program, which launched this May, is helping fund collaborations between artists and business owners looking to beatify the city.
Beatification, however, isn’t the program's only goal.
“The Visit Oakland money is supposed to go towards promoting Oakland," said Frances Wong, Senior PR Manager for Visit Oakland. "We want to market Oakland as a destination, and supporting the arts is one way of doing so.”
In 2016, 3.7 million visitors traveled to The Town, spending $627 million, up 3.4% from 2015, according to Visit Oakland. The nonprofit is trying to keep up this trend by focusing on the city's art scene.
“It’s almost like packaging," said Wong. "We have this cool art scene and a creative community and murals are a way to show that to people. These murals are what Oakland is all about."
The Public Mural Grant program has $25,000 to spend this year with a maximum of $5,000 per project, but amounts will vary based on each project's size.
Before a grant can move forward, application materials require “an acknowledgement from the building owner that the proposed location, design, and funding of the mural have been agreed upon."
Wong said that while they have seen strong interest, only “a handful” of applicants who have a clear agreement between an artist and building owner have applied so far.
This is a common problem in the public art sphere, according to Sage Loring, executive director of Dragon School 99, a nonprofit that builds community engagement through street art.
Loring, who also founded Fuming Guerilla Productions, a company that seeks to bridge the gap between artists and business owners, said the task is easier said than done. He said his goal is to create a “mutually beneficial agreement” between artists and businesses who are open to a mural installation.
“I want to facilitate the art without compromising the design, but also make the client happy," he said, noting that when a balance is struck, both parties can benefit.
“[A mural] is an investment” said Loring, “It’s attracting people to come to your area and to your business. It also looks like the business is investing back in the community.”
Visit Oakland isn't new to the street art scene. Dragon School 99 and Fuming Guerilla Productions collaborated on a mural sponsored by Visit Oakland that was was created partially through a spray-paint class taught by street artist Vogue with Dragon School artists Anderson Gin and Steven Anderson, said Loring.
The organization also commissioned a “Visit Oakland” mural on the side of the Oakland Marriot that has become a popular selfie destination in Oakland.
Public art makes "Oaklanders feel proud and visitors feel they are experiencing the genuine culture of the city” said Wong. “Murals are a symbol of the authenticity of Oakland.”
The grant program will help fund a minimum of 5 murals before May of 2018— anyone who wants to apply may do so on the Visit Oakland website.
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