When Andre Jones (AKA Natty Rebel) does a mural in Oakland’s Hoover-Foster neighborhood, he doesn’t just paint whatever he feels like. Andre meets with longtime residents, shop owners, and other local artists to dig into the area’s rich history. He’ll study old family photos to make sure the vibrant images that cover the walls along San Pablo Ave. reflect the people who walked these streets in the decades before he got here. Explaining this collaborative process, Jones said, “As a public artist, you become an art anthropologist, because you have to do the research so that you can add a little bit of background imagery to the [mural] that adds to the overall narration.”
For the second volume of this Hoover-Foster Stories mini-series, I wanted to interview Jones because one of the most striking things that participants of the Black Liberation Walking Tour will notice in this neighborhood is the proliferation of street art. The organization that Jones founded, Bay Area Mural Program, has collaborated with crews and artists like Refa One (Aerosoul), Del Phresh, Dead Eyes, Kiss My Black Arts, and others*, on an ever-evolving outdoor gallery full of tributes to the Black Panther Party, deceased community members, and other symbols celebrating Hoover-Foster’s cultural legacy.
Long before Bay Area Mural Program moved into its current headquarters in the iconic California Hotel, this building hosted Expressions Art Gallery, which served not only as a place to showcase art, but also an informal gathering space for unhoused folks living in the area. This episode also features an interview with Oakland native Alan Laird, who ran Expressions in the early 2000s, and had previously experienced housing insecurity himself. In our conversation, Laird recalls the mid-century heyday of the California Hotel, when a ground floor nightclub called the Zanzibar hosted musicians like Pete Escovedo, Ray Charles, and Billie Holliday. He also recalls some of the more disturbing elements of this era, such as how Oakland police enforced segregation by stopping Black people who ventured “above Broadway.”
This episode is co-hosted by 3rd generation Hoover-Foster resident David Peters, one of the main organizers of the Black Liberation Walking Tour**. Peters shares what visitors can expect at the Tour’s launch party this weekend, his thoughts on how street art can be used to challenge displacement, and much more. Listen to the full show on your preferred podcast app or through any of these links: Apple / SoundCloud / Spotify.
*If I have failed to give a shoutout to any other artists whose work is included in the images of murals on this page, please let me know and I’ll be happy to update with your credit and links.
**This is a self-guided walking tour. Here is a link to the historic sites currently featured on the tour. Each site includes a text summary and audio clip, so you may want to bring headphones or a portable speaker. Over the coming months, the tour will be expanded to include more sites and oral histories.