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As a former Oakland resident, I’m quick to defend the city from its detractors. But with Oakland’s vibrant arts and maker community, the city is attracting more boosters than bashers.

With nationally recognized artist communities and workspaces like 275,000-square-foot American Steel and The Crucible, West Oakland in particular has emerged as a hub for artists and tinkerers. (Check out our visit to The Crucible in last week’s Maker Camp). Artists and makers have been creating things in West Oakland for years largely outside the limelight. Indeed, West Oakland has grown into the workshop for scores of outlandish and fantastic Burning Man projects. (Oakland’s East Bay Mini Maker Faire Oct. 20 will showcase many of those makers.) Now, city officials are taking notice and trying to steer resources to the community. But in true DIY fashion it’s the makers themselves who are responsible for improving the neighborhood’s visibility and infrastructure.

The current issue of Metropolis magazine has an excellent feature story on gritty West Oakland’s post-industrial rebirth as a mecca for making. Author Sarah Rich writes:

Given who’s here, the most obvious retail opportunity is in manufactured goods: products that are designed and fabricated nearby, and whose sale directly supports local people. West Oakland is a perfect candidate to become a hub for small-scale, custom manufacturing, with the infrastructure and potential workforce already in place. To push this vision forward, the artist community has organized Oakland Makers, a new entity with a three-fold mission: to increase the visibility of the city’s manufacturing and industrial arts; to sustain the ability of these sectors to thrive; and to grow a diverse local creative economy.

MAKE founder and CEO Dale Dougherty was at the organization’s launch event in May along with a host of local makers and city officials. Dale pointed to a Los Angeles Times article that called maker culture the Bay Area’s most important export. Just as Silicon Valley draws tech talent from around the world, Rich wrote, Oakland can attract artists, designers, and engineers to its unique setting.

“Think of the city as a magnet,” Dale told the Oakland Makers.

What could you do to make your city a magnet for making? We’d love to hear your ideas and comments.

Stett Holbrook

Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.


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