When Binta Ayofemi looks at a abandoned architecture in city Oakland, she doesn’t aloof apprehension its bankrupt windows and graffitied walls. She sees what isn’t there.
She thinks about how that architecture could accommodate a comatose amplitude for Oakland’s abbreviating atramentous community. She thinks about how bodies ability like to sip tea on advanced board steps, maybe while alert to a actuality choir spontaneously accomplish as a BART alternation rumbles underneath.
In East Oakland, the atramentous artisan walks by a abandoned lot that locals alarm the “living room.” Dozens accumulate there daily, sitting on abandoned milk crates, announcement hip-hop and watching trucks apathetic bottomward to dump old mattresses. But Ayofemi sees abeyant for a adjacency bend abundance with a huge accessible garden and weekend farmers’ markets.
Ayofemi bursts with such account — and she’s authoritative them happen.
In a gentrifying Oakland, Ayofemi is reimagining burghal development through the lens of a beheld artisan and association organizer. After years of abstraction out plans, negotiating leases and fundraising, she’ll admission three projects this abatement — anniversary advised to accommodate amplitude for the atramentous association and to actualize opportunities for atramentous craft. They’re all radically imaginative.
“Oakland has an ecosystem so impacted by displacement, whether it be the bodies or the mix of cultures,” she said. “It shouldn’t alone be startup bros who get to ancestor ideas. It should additionally be atramentous and amber bodies who get to say ‘Why not?’”
Ayofemi grew up in an old farmhouse in a close allotment of Brooklyn, N.Y., with the acutely amaranthine greenery of battleground Prospect Park beyond the street. Her ancestors was low-income but cared about amoebic aftermath — a aggregate she after abstruse was unusual.
She accustomed in Berkeley in 2002, attractive to commence on her career as an artist. A few years later, armed with a master’s of accomplished arts from Stanford University, she explored photography, video and sculpture, with assignment eventually presented at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Asian Art Museum, Kadist San Francisco and added acclaimed institutions.
But she consistently knew she capital to use the burghal mural as a actual in her art — a absoluteness that started to booty authority in 2011. She capital to accommodate opportunities for underprivileged atramentous adolescence to acquaintance abundant aftermath and alleviation accessible space. Inspired by the Atramentous Panthers, the Shakers and added abstract movements, Ayofemi acquainted that small, accustomed gestures — a chargeless breakfast, a alive armchair — can authority a lot of power.
The catechism was how to tie aggregate together.
Before affective forward, Ayofemi accomplished she still had a lot to learn. She bartered her rent, alms her proposal-writing talents to her freeholder so she could save hire money for business leases. She entered hackathons as an artist, apprenticed at a appliance company, took business classes and abutting La Cocina’s restaurant incubator program. She formed with farms and becoming grants to accompany a aliment affairs to the East Oakland Adolescence Development Center, acquirements about and from the association she wants to serve.
All the while, she connected alive as an artisan in the added accepted sense, too. Her accepted exhibition “Black Matter,” a accord with a Stanford physics professor, runs at the Contemporary Jewish Museum on Mission Artery until January. She’s additionally creating sculptural works at her Minnesota Artery Activity flat and a affiche alternation accompanying to the Atramentous Panthers.
Two years ago, Ayofemi’s chase for spaces went into aerial gear. In East Oakland, she acquainted fatigued to an abandoned lot at 80th Avenue and International Boulevard for Soul, her bazaar and garden activity abounding of greens. In West Oakland, she landed in acclaimed woodworker Paul Discoe’s comminute at O2 Artisans Aggregate that she accounted absolute for Guild, her copse appliance aggregation with a focus on apprenticeship. In Uptown, amidst by growing high-rises and agleam condos, she noticed a long-vacant architecture absolute for Commons, a accretion amplitude congenital for alive performances alongside a cafe.
Ayofemi drafted business plans, account how the accumulation — alleged Ground — would be profitable. She begin a brace of acceptable donors, anchored grants and started a nonprofit arm.
She aloof had to argue the landlords to let her do it.
Inititally, she encountered some friction. She’d apprehend comments like, “Why should I advice you?” or “Don’t you apperceive the market?” She pushed adjoin a bank of expectations: How can Ground be a nonprofit and an LLC (limited accountability company)? How can she be a business owner, a association organizer and an artist? But her chain wore them down, and she absolved abroad with 10-year leases, in some cases with the advantage to purchase.
“I’m animated I’m from alfresco the field. I ability advance article that sounds impossible, and that’s OK,” she said. “We charge to accretion means to accomplish altered economies possible. Bazaar armament don’t charge to be inevitable.”
At the aforementioned time, she’s abutting every aspect of architecture these businesses as her art practice, including commonly banal tasks like applying for permits at City Hall and researching sprinkler systems. Arts metaphors discharge from her mouth: how Ground will disentangle in three acts this fall; how anniversary activity is a movement and now it’s time to cord them calm into a dance; how added account are agreeable addendum — how do we accomplish more, so we can apprehend a song?
She explains her move abroad from aesthetic pop-ups and banausic works in a agnate fashion: “I absolutely appetite added continuance for black-led projects,” she said. “I appetite us to accept a adventitious to accept acquisition, to accept equity. This is a call for a best achievement of how we access property.”
At the approaching armpit of performance-space Commons, Ayofemi walks about in azure jeans and a gray clue anorak ambiguous all the way to the top. It’s her archetypal alive accouterments that goes from business affairs to her art flat to the mill. She’s generally coated in sawdust. Her continued braids animation about as she presents airy glasses of vividly blooming tea to architecture workers.
The workers assume abundantly amused, animadversion the tea aback like shots of vodka afore abiding to architecture matters. Whether with landlords, contractors, a abandoned woman walking by or accommodation dancers aboard a BART train, Ayofemi aloof interacts with bodies differently.
“I had an antecedent gut acknowledgment that there’s article activity on with Binta for sure, and that’s accurate to be true,” said Anand Sheth, an artist with Flat BBA alive on Commons. “She’s such a dynamic, activated person. A absolutely ablaze and adept artistic thinker. A powerhouse.”
Unlike best business owners Sheth has formed with, Ayofemi does not try to clasp her account into a architecture that ability not logically accommodate them. Instead, she finds afflatus in the architecture itself.
Blake Kutner, comestible administrator at La Cocina, sees similarities in Ayofemi’s access to food.
“She leaps advanced of anybody abroad as far as ambience up a amplitude for a association and seeing what that association would appetite to eat as against to cerebration about what she’d appetite to serve,” he said. “To me, she’s a visionary.”
At Commons, for example, she’s accommodating with bounded breweries and distilleries to actualize beverages for the bar — and so atramentous workers can apprentice those abilities in the aforementioned way they’ll apprentice how to body benches at Guild. There will additionally be coffee, tea, kombucha, cartilage broths and casual association dinners, all in a 10,000-square-foot amplitude emphasizing wood, bean and steel.
At Soul, affable and agronomical classes will accomplish abutting to an alfresco playground. Raw greens, adapted greens and bashed greens will band shelves. Ayofemi is still alive out amount points, but affairs to accord some items abroad for free. The centerpiece will be a affliction amalgamation abounding of melancholia greens, fruit, nuts, a adapted access and abstract to booty home and augment the ancestors for about $15. Agnate boxes will be accessible at Commons for a college amount — the wealthier city army subsidizing those in East Oakland.
Guild will accommodate accoutrement for Commons and Soul, but will additionally accomplish its own pop-up tea allowance alfresco adjoining restaurant Soba Ichi.
Meanwhile, the achievement aspect at Commons will see Ayofemi accompany calm artistic bodies from all over the Bay Area. She estimates 70 percent of the bodies in her association accept larboard the Bay Area in contempo years due to the aerial amount of living; in a sense, Ground is acceptance her to body a new one.
It’s article Sheth has noticed and admired. Instead of watching cities change and complaining, Ayofemi is demography action.
“She’s captivation us answerable to be the best anxious and artistic we can be here,” he said.
Commons: 1716 Broadway, Oakland.
Soul: 8000 International Blvd., Oakland.
Guild: 2311 Magnolia St., Oakland.
Ayofemi wants to actualize a way for atramentous makers to not alone survive in Oakland but to thrive. She has added businesses in the works to become allotment of Ground — some about formalized, others allotment of an amaranthine bubbler of account — and in the future, she hopes to reimagine apartment as well. In a sense, it’s her anatomy of resistance.
“Protests appear in abrupt forms sometimes,” she said, “like joy.”
Janelle Bitker is a San Francisco Chronicle agents writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @janellebitker
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