With simply situated booths set along the walkway of Lake Merritt, this past weekend’s OMCA event brought together a wonderful slice of Oakland’s creative community.
A collaboration between the Oakland Museum, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Mobile Arts Platform, this weekend's community engagement experience centered around the concept of community and surveillance in Oakland. With over 565 cameras owned and operated by the Oakland Police Department, the role of surveillance and its effect on our lives is more salient than ever.
With the goal of promoting art making, while also educating the community about the prevalent issues regarding police surveillance, the collaborative art making project known as Eyes on Oakland aimed to engage participants by attracting them to join the conversation on police surveillance.
The brainchild of Chris Treggiari and Peter Foucualt, the Eyes on Oakland project is based within the narrow walls of a 1963 Ford Falcon, serving as an on the move hub for community engagement. Creating autonomous exhibition spaces wherever they go, the activities aims to facilitate dialogue, knowledge, and critical thinking. From video screenings and art installations to live music, and interactive art works, the van functions as a mechanism to entertain and educate.
For Eyes on Oakland specifically, the van is used as a beacon for community engagement. Collecting a wide range of stories, ideas and anecdotes, the van records participants responses to questions on surveillance. Documenting and then sharing this information with a larger community, the initiative has found a home at the Oakland Museum in the form of its own exhibition.
In efforts to learn a bit more about the Eyes on Oakland initiative, we spoke with project founder and visual artist Peter Foucualt, to gain some insight around the purpose and goals of his work.
Why does this type of project resonate with you?
For me, it’s really exciting to see the two fields of journalism and art making merge into one project. The work is coming from two different perspectives, but in a sense we’re working together to obtain a single goal for this project.
What would you say that goal is?
It’s to get people thinking. Thinking about the impact surveillance has (or doesn’t have in their lives). There are a lot of people that are hyper aware of it, and there are others that are more or less oblivious.
We’re just interested in starting that conversation, and building a dialogue by creating multiple points of engagement. Some people are drawn to it because they see these live screen prints being made in front of a van, and it peaks their interest. It sort of hooks them in visually, and then by actually showing the visitors how to screen print (and letting them tackle that themselves) we are teaching them as well.
But also, through the addition of the quiz that we’ve been working with, the exercise sort of tests people’s knowledge about what they know now and what they want to learn.
How did this exhibit come to be? What were some of the ideas that led to its creation?
We’d been talking about doing a project with the Mobile News Van for a while now, but we wanted to do something that could represent not just a single area but multiple neighborhoods. We thought a mobile recording station would be unique in that sense because we could take the project out into all these different neighborhoods and environments and invite people to actually participate with the structure.
So [along with the Center for Investigative Reporting] we created the news van concept, and use it as a collection tool to go out into these different communities and bring that content back into the museum.
Have you received different responses or types of engagement from people depending on the area of Oakland that you’re working in?
Yeah definitely. We actually did two back to back visits. One on the far end of Lake Merritt and then a week later we actually set up outside the Fruitvale bart station. And there were some very different opinions on how surveillance is utilized in these different communities.
What do you think are the most pressing facts about surveillance in Oakland that people should know about?
It’s interesting because there’s different levels of information that people come to the project with. We have some people that are just finding out for the first time that there are devices like the the shot spotter and license plate readers, and they’re like “Wow, I didn’t even know that technology existed!”
And there are those that know that those technologies are out there, but don’t know the amount of money that is being invested in these concepts to make them part of the city’s infrastructure.
What do you want people to walk away from this project with?
Ultimately more awareness. More information. A project can be participatory but also a learning tool that hopefully makes people more aware of their environment and surrounding community.
Photos by Max Gibson.
—by Max Gibson, OMCA Community Storyteller