For the past 45 years of operation, Pro Arts has reflected the world through the prism of art. As an alternative art space, we have always operated on the margins of the official art world. However, starting early 2019, we are moving into the light as the leader of a local movement, towards the first art and culture commons in Oakland, CA.
Inspired by the P2P Foundation, platform cooperativism, and the Occupy movement, Pro Arts will begin experimenting with new forms of ideas, action-based governance and collaborative presentation methods with the idea to ultimately reframe the value of art and art labor in the context of a social and solidarity economy.
Pro Arts Gallery & COMMONS is a space for art, debate, experimentation, and collaboration. We are a multi-use space in downtown Oakland that houses exhibitions, symposiums, debates, music events, film screenings, literary events, and residencies. We are also a global networked community that shares values, as well as material and immaterial resources in the co-creation of ideas and critical engagements with the world. Both on local and global level, we are communizing the practice, production and presentation of art.
In the spirit of the commons, we do not curate. We reject the inherently problematic power dynamics between artist and curator, artist and institution, artist and audience and institution and audience. Instead we collaborate with artists, cultural organizers and activists, and art commoners to co-create long-form, thematic engagements — modules and nodes — that reflect, critique, expose, and introduce issues and concerns that affect our commonwealth. Those engagements may take the familial, more traditional shape of gallery exhibitions, short-term residencies, site-specific and public projects, open discussions, reading groups, newsletters, books, event series, talks, research, and assemblies. However, the process of arriving to this final format of presentation, though seemingly traditional, is intrinsically different as it is commons-oriented – based in mutual reciprocity, cooperation, abundance, radical transparency, and openness. Participation in these critical engagement modules and nodes is never coerced, contracted, monitored, managed, or evaluated by Pro Arts Gallery & COMMONS. All participants in any idea, reflection, and/or inquiry thus remain autonomous. Yet together, we are working towards the common good, so as to begin dismantling the status quo.
Both on local and global level, we are building a rhizomatic network, decentralized in its form, governance and funding mechanisms, each local connection playing a part in the reproduction of the global commons. Artists, cultural activists, and art commoners collaborate together on continually perpetuating the commons via working in groups on specific topics, co-authoring of books and publications, self-organizing around common-centric topics and themes, co-producing exhibitions and events, and more.
Here are some of the current critical engagements modules and nodes that we explore through collaboration and cooperation on local and global level:
Pro Arts Gallery: Module
We collaborate with artists, cultural organizers, activists and art commoners on the co-creation of critical discourse and deep reflections of the world we live in, through the traditional format of exhibitions, site-specific projects and presentations, and related event series (such as discussions, music series, conferences, screenings, talks, research-based projects, short-term residencies, published work, etc.) We use the platforms of our blog and print newsletter to expand the conversation beyond the constrains of the independent art scene. Our goal with this module is to reach those populations that are victimized and disposed by the institutions of this society.
Pro Arts @ the commons: Module
This engagement module consists of a series of site-specific projects, public interventions, outdoor film and new media screenings, and transient experiences that take place in the immediate vicinity of Pro Arts Gallery – Oscar Grant Plaza. The plaza is the seat of government and thus a site for political rallies, civic unrest, and protests. In the Fall of 2011, the plaza attracted national attention as the site for Occupy Oakland.
In order to reclaim our urban commons, we need to occupy and activate them through artistic and critical engagements. We call the space created thereafter, the in-between space. The in-between space is a space that is not mediated by Pro Arts Gallery and has thus the potentiality to remain autonomous. The in-between space promotes a rhizomatic structure of engagement with art, in which there are multiple, non-hierarchical access points to ideas that bring attention to the power dynamics between private and public, official and unofficial, and artist and audience.
The Hybrid Series: Module
This node blurs the traditional boundaries between artistic disciplines such as visual and performance art, music and literary arts, video, new media, and film. It also, on occasion, presents works that are a cross-breed between art and other disciplines, such as natural and physical science, technology, popular culture, and philosophy. The series aims to serve as a departure from the more conventional mode of presentation in the arts. This node is co-created, co-produced and co-presented by RATSKIN Records imprint, Kalahati Project, and Pro Arts Gallery.
Studio Lab: Module
Studio Lab short-term residency program serves as a platform for research-based projects that are based in open exchange, knowledge and resource sharing, and the common good. Some of the visiting artist, cultural organizers, activists, authors, architects, public intellectuals, critical theorists, and commoners may decided to participate in one of our other nodes or modules, co-creating programs and projects together with Pro Arts Gallery & COMMONS.
slow tech MAKER SPACE: Module
Through the newly established slow tech MAKER SPACE, we share sustainable practices. This module’s focus is on disruptive technologies, sustainability, the commons, skill sharing, d.i.y. culture, cooperation, and co-production. Director of the slow tech MAKER SPACE is multi-disciplinary artist, technologist, and maker Praba Pilar.
Fiscal Sponsorship: Module
Pro Arts Gallery & COMMONS serves as a fiscal sponsor to individual artists, collectives and emergent organizations that lack tax exempt status, 501 (c) (3), in order to receive grants and solicit tax-deductible donations. Our fiscal clients include those who align with the commons-oriented values and models of operation. Current fiscal clients include: Betti Ono Gallery; Dream Farm Commons; Bump Town Commons; FILF ; Kalahati Project, Ratskin Records and others. We collaborate on new ideas, critical engagements and events through the sharing of material and immaterial resources. The fiscal sponsorship works on the basis of percentage fee that Pro Arts Gallery & COMMONS charges for the usages of its 501 (c) (3) tax status. However, proceeds are invested back into the COMMONS, through the co-creation and co-production of collaborative ideas, critical engagements, fair wages, and further research in the aesthetic strategy of the commons.
We gather bi-monthly with community members and fellow commoners, to exchange new ideas, share news of funding opportunities, share travel impressions, and discuss the commons.
Reading Groups: Note
David Bollier, Silvia Federici, David Graeber, Deleuze & Guattari, Antonio Gramsci, Hannah Arendt, Marx, Georges Bataille, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, and more. We gather to read together, discuss, debate, question, and critically examine the ways our past, present and future connect, merge and evolve to define our work and the commons.
Discourse & Debate: Node
We believe that exchange is crucial for reframing the value of art in the context of a social and solidarity economy. To that end, we collaborate with local and global fellow art commoners on cross-disciplinary debates, ambitious festivals, conferences and talks, such as the “Imagining Post-Capitalism” Festival, May 1-6, 2018, produced in collaboration with FoundSF.
Working Groups: Node
Engage in the research and development of commons-centric models for art organizing, production, and exhibition; Engage with specific issues, emergent from Pro Arts Gallery & COMMONS, such as: alternative currency; alternative art market and economy; the future of art labor; historical movements that inform our present struggle; access and transparency in art organizing practices; systematic racism; infrastructural resources and new funding streams for the art and culture commons.
The class structure supports artists and cultural organizers through collaborations in shared space, through shared resources and audiences. Ongoing currently: Adult classes in Chinese Calligraphy, led by Grace Xu and slow TECH, led by Praba Pilar.
Pro Arts is a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization. All donations to Pro Arts are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law. Our EIN # is 94-2259269.