Posts in Oakland
Street Art + Synergy: a conversation with Sage from Dragon School

Plan some extra time in Oakland’s Chinatown because walking through Downtown Oakland’s streets inevitably means stopping to look at exquisite street art. If you look closely, you’ll notice most of the murals in this areas are signed, “Dragon School 99.”


We were curious what this meant, so reached out to their executive director, Sage. We were lucky enough meet with him during a Sunday afternoon session of Dragon School.

Dragon School is a nonprofit that, in their words, “provides youth and artists a unique place to experiment with street-art and show civic pride. Dragon School's method re-imagines the neighborhood as a shared culture of art, where unity is strengthened by diversity. We are a multi-cultural, independently operated non-profit. Dragon School is community engagement on the purest level.”


Sage says that Dragon School celebrates “Oakland’s rebellious spirit” while at the same time “creates a sense of joy when people walk by and see whimsical art on their buildings.”

Creating sense of place: at its heart, Dragon School is a beautiful, synergistic collaboration between businesses, youth, artists, and community. Sage told us that this culture of synergy is Dragon Schools’s secret sauce—truly celebrating and uplifting an authentic spirit of Oakland’s Downtown/Chinatown community. They’ve recently expanded beyond Chinatown to West Oakland and East Oakland.

In creating these murals in collaboration with the community, they’re also drawing more people to areas of Oakland they might not otherwise explore. Sharing art in this way creates new opportunities to create opportunities to inspire resident and visitors of the area alike.

Retail in Oakland: a conversation with Viscera's founder Ari Takata-Vasquez

Meet Ari: artist, designer, creative director and founder of Viscera

Viscera: A brick and mortar in Downtown Oakland

I opened the shop in 2014 with the idea that a store would be an interesting way to explore all the different creative avenues I am interested in. This idea that I could start a shop where the visual pieces are done in house—from graphics, photography, a lot of the product, and the store design.

While I was in grad school, I studied city planning and focused on urban planning I did my thesis on downtown’s open space. In one class, I looked at affordable care acts on downtown Oakland’s economy. One thing that struck me is we lose so much retail money. We have the biggest retail leakage. People who live in Oakland aren’t spending their money in Oakland—they’re spending it in San Francisco, in Walnut Creek, Emeryville and that’s bonkers to me. We lose 2 billion dollars—that’s 2 billion dollars that could be circulating in our economy, helping to create jobs. 

Why Oakland?

Oakland has a mix of people who are really excited about what they’re doing and sort of going to do it for themselves even if there aren’t the systems in place for that. Art Murmur is a good example of that idea that we’re going to make it happen for ourselves and not wait for the city to do this for us. The scrappiness is what draws me to downtown.

Stores act as pseudo public spaces. When you got to a new city, you stroll around and if you have a nice person in the shop you say where do you go and explore, what do you like and they’re your tour guides. 

Downtown Oakland's Creative Future.

People need to realize small business isn’t a given, you have to choose to support. We’re typically not as convenient, and more expensive but we’re more expensive in just dollars, no in external costs. If you’re a creative person who ever wants to make money off of your work, you have to support the places that share that work and craft. 

Yes, we could be an e Commerce, but the physical location is so important to Downtown Oakland. If I close, it’s not going to be another indie retailer it’s going to be a national chain. We have something like 4-5 cranes with ground floor retail, but none of them are suited for small business, so that’s one-way design and physical space impact what happens downtown. We have to hold onto what we have now because it’s not going to come back. But it’s hopeful, Downtown Oakland makes things happen for itself. Historically we’re a place that doesn’t give up. Local resilience is kind of a motto.


I basically just walk everywhere. I don't leave downtown which forces you to get a really intimate knowledge of a place. I can literally see a picture of anywhere downtown and know what street that’s one. So having that tactile memory of being somewhere with a visual is really inspiring. It’s people though, that are the most inspiring. Being in the shop, and having people ask to buy a card, and then you talk to them and you find out they have all these interests and it a humanizing process of meeting the real person with a storyline and that’s really interesting.


I collaborate a lot in the shop. I work with a lot of small makers who are independent who care about what they’re doing. I also host pop-ups in the shop, so that smaller brands who need one on one, maybe they’re e-commerce but based in Oakland and need more one on one time with their customers.

Before I opened the store, I threw a business owner brunch and said “let’s all pull together” so we all know each other now so we message through out the day sometimes and stay in touch. And we send each other clients. We choose to be collaborative, rather than competitive


So some of the clothes I made here in the shop, and the rest of the stuff, I live in a live/work unit near Preservation Park. So I’ve been trying to separate the art and making as work and making for fun. Because that can get stressful when I think “this is dollars” while painting. So I do my paintings and sculptures at home. It’s new that I bring them here to share because it’s so vulnerable. So I have a little desk with all my different mediums.


I have a piece up at The Heart is Oakland at Classic Cars West which was a collaboration. It’s nice to put it out there when you know it’s for a good cause. Digitally too - sometimes you get doubtful and sometimes it’s nice to snap a picture and share on Instagram to see if people like it.

Fashionable, wearable art by Alex Steele

Meet Alex: Based in Oakland, California, she makes fashionable, wearable art pieces. 

How does your city/place impact your creative process?

I think living in Oakland and the Bay Area impacts my creative process by pushing me to continue making my art and craft for a living. I feel that the area I live in is very supportive of creatives, and I see how people love the idea of owning handmade, artistic things.

I think the fact that there are so many big organizations that foster events for creatives to come together and showcase and sell their work (such as West Coast Craft, Renegade Craft Fair, Urban Air market, etc.), as well as local shops that host workshops, and individuals who put together smaller pop-up events at local venues or their studios. It seems like there is always something to be a part of, or to check out, which creates the creative community. Also, the fact that there are a ton of independent boutiques, women-owned nonetheless, that care about handmade items made by local artists, make for a driven community of artists that are supported to do this full time.

Where are you inspired?

I find that taking walks clears my mind for inspiration, and so I enjoy taking walks often. I also feel super inspired when I participate in craft and design fairs, where I am surrounded by other driven and passionate makers. I actually love just walking around the different neighborhoods and parks near my house in Oakland. I prefer to take walks to do my errands, and I try to take different routes to keep it interesting. It's mainly for the exercise and a breath of fresh air to clear my head. When I am moving and able to daydream, ideas come easier to me.

I feel the most inspired when I am a part of craft and design fairs and am surrounded by so many other artists, makers, and designers. In addition to seeing all the exciting things people are creating, I love observing how everyone sets up their booth spaces with their unique ways to display their work.

Where do you collaborate?

I collaborate in my art studio, or my home studio, or a friend's studio. They are private places to focus and work out ideas.

Where do you create?

I work from my home studio often, because I have a backyard where I can spread out and be messy with my materials (or work with messy materials!) I also have a separate art studio where I go to work out new ideas and do assembly work for my collection.

Where do you share?

I primarily share and promote what I am making and doing through Instagram (@alexsteele). 

Image above from her Instagram account.

Woods Bar and Brewery

Our first Friday night in Oakland, we wandered along Telegraph Avenue, peeking in bars, restaurants, and shops. Gathering on the corner of 17th Street, a raucous brass band played a tune on the street and marched right into Woods Brewery. We couldn’t help but follow.

The band played all night long, and as each hour and beer passed, people of all ages became increasingly energized to get out of their seats and dance with everyone around.

Since that Friday night, we’ve come back countless times and have never been disappointed. Whether it’s a jazz trio, New Orleans style brass band, or 15-person funk group, their music curation has a way of getting people to dance and make friends with complete strangers.

Tired of sitting at the same bar each weekend but don’t feel like paying a cover at a crowded dance club? Shake up the routine and go to Woods Brewery on Telegraph and 17th. The beer is solid, empanadas tasty, and you’re guaranteed to make new friends dancing along to some of the best live music this side of the bay. You won’t regret it.

Octopus Literary Salon

Oakland, CA

A gem in Oakland. Come here for inspiration and to share your work.

Octopus Literary Salon in uptown Oakland has all parts of the creative process covered: come to get inspired, to collaborate, create, and to share your latest creative endeavor. 

It's both easy and difficult to describe this place. Octopus Literary Salon is part cafe, part gallery, part music venue, part new/used bookstore, and more.

Oakland First Friday

Every first Friday of the month, a joyous celebration of Art, Music, Food, Fun, and Community takes place on the streets of Telegraph Avenue, Oakland. Open galleries, dance parties, live music, and delicious food trucks abound at this open-air bash.

The Alley

Part karaoke bar, part dive, and part cocktail lounge, The Alley is an Oakland watering hole like none other. Writer Kimberly Chun described it as being designed by “a drunken Walt Disney”, and we can’t say we disagree.

Order a martini (best deal in town), take a seat close to the piano, and prepare to be transported to the 1920s. Feel free to request a song, but you better not ask for the latest pop hit. You’ll want to sing a tune from the Great American Songbook, with something by the likes of Cole Porter or George Gershwin.

If you come on the right night, you might just find a favorite Alley regular leaning against the piano. Close your eyes and his voice will make you think Frank Sinatra has come back from the dead.

Temescal Brewery

Amongst the wave of new breweries popping up in the East Bay, Oakland’s Temescal Brewing stands a cut above the rest. Mouth watering IPAs and Pale Ales are one reason they are a local favorite, but it’s their focus on fostering a sense of community and collaboration that caught the eye of Place Makes. Whether it’s providing space for local Oakland businesses during their “Shops Sale”, providing space for fundraisers during Queer First Fridays, or hosting a recent launch party for Undertone Mag (a new magazine for women of color), or the whimsical ambiance (an outdoor patio complete with a colorful @slowcoolassault mural, and indoor steeting with @merylpataky “no jerks” neon piece, and paper shaped by @bboowwsss), Temescal Brewing is the ideal place for a creative meeting of the minds.

Our Favorite Beers:

  • Guava Boat: Pale Ale with Pink Guavas (5%)

  • Through the Fog: Scotch Ale (5.6%)