Where Fashion and Art Installations Collide

By Sam Levin | East Bay Express

August 27, 2014

In recent years, skyrocketing rents in San Francisco have forced many art galleries to shut down — and have also made it very difficult for working artists to stay in the city. “I felt like I blinked my eyes and everything changed. It happened so fast,” said visual artist Bunnie Reiss, who moved from San Francisco to Oakland about six years ago. “We all lived in the Mission, but everybody left. And all these galleries closed.”

Like Reiss, many artists have migrated to the East Bay, where there is now a huge demand for spaces and events for artists to showcase their work. And particularly in Oakland, there’s been a surge in venues that host art openings — but they aren’t traditional galleries.

Tilde, Oakland Surf Club, Field Day and Friends, Crown Nine, Rare Bird, Oak Common, Show and Tell, Blue Door Beads, and SoleSpace are all examples of independent retailers that incorporate art into their missions and business models. Some of these clothing and vintage shops feature a rotating selection of artwork inside the store, while others include a separate gallery section — or convert the main retail space for art openings and other community events.

Retail sales generally pay the bills, allowing the stores to host artists and art events without some of the typical financial challenges that traditional galleries face.

“There’s so much pressure on galleries,” said Trinity Cross, owner of Field Day and Friends, a boutique that opened June 2013 in uptown Oakland (329 19th St.). “If they just have art on the walls … they have to sell it. And if collectors aren’t interested in their stuff, that’s really hard for artists.”

At Field Day — where Cross sells her own sustainable fashion line, which includes dresses made from recycled sheets — she said she doesn’t select artists based on the marketability of their work. “It’s taking a chance on someone who isn’t established,” she said. “That inspires people to create more and get themselves out there.”

In this way, these boutiques complement the Oakland Art Murmur galleries, which are for the most part exclusively dedicated to art, and host openings during the massive First Fridays street festival in uptown and downtown. Some of those gallery owners have lamented the fact that these monthly street events bring large crowds to Oakland, but generally don’t help boost art sales.

For artists, one of the draws of doing a show at a boutique is the fact that retail shoppers see their work — and may be more inclined to make an art purchase than a First Friday attendee wandering into a gallery. “Someone coming to buy a dress may fall in love with the art,” said Cross, who said she has featured more than thirty artists since opening last year and is booked through mid-2015. Field Day features new fashion designers and artists each month, with kickoff events each first Friday.

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