A silhouette of a man on stage holding a microphone with a string of small banners flying overhead.
A performer onstage during a recent Town Nights event at San Antonio Park. Credit: Florence MIddleton

Leaders from the city and the nonprofit Visit Oakland last Thursday unveiled Activate Oakland, a sponsorship program providing grants of up to $10,000 and marketing assistance for community events to help revitalize neighborhoods, increase foot traffic in commercial districts, and improve public safety.

The application window opened on Sept. 14 for residents, businesses, artists, nonprofit organizations, and “anyone with a connection to the Oakland community that shares our program goals,” according to the Visit Oakland website. Events eligible for funding—such as block parties, musical performances, exercise classes, and movie screenings—must be free to the public, take place in one of Oakland’s business districts, and occur between Oct. 24 and Aug. 31.

“We know that when we have more traffic in our corridors, safety and security go hand in hand,” Visit Oakland President and CEO Peter Gamez said during a press conference at Latham Square announcing the launch. “This grant sponsorship is also going … to develop events that bring vibrancy to our neighborhoods and attract visitors to Oakland.”

The deadline to apply is Oct. 12 at 5 p.m. Applications are available in Spanish and Chinese. Visit Oakland is also working on promotional materials in both languages, which will be “shared throughout the Oakland community” through partner organizations, according to Activate Oakland Grant Administrator Elizabeth Falkner.

The Activate Oakland team will also host in-person and virtual workshops to help community members fill out the application. The dates for those workshops have yet to be announced.

“Oaklanders are incredibly, as we know, creative folks, and we are really excited to hear all of the ideas that we can get from [the] community and get folks engaged in this process,” Sofia Navarro, interim director of the city’s Economic and Workforce Development Department, said at the press conference.

Oakland artist, teacher, and community organizer Telice Summerfield speaks at the Activate Oakland press conference at Latham Square on Sept. 14, 2023. To her right is Sofia Navarro, interim director of the city of Oakland’s Economic and Workforce Development Department. Credit: Roselyn Romero

Grants for approved events will range from $1,000 to $10,000, with average amounts estimated to be between $2,000 and $5,000 per event, according to the program’s website. Funding for the program derives from the city’s Economic and Workforce Development Department budget, which has allocated $400,000 from its general purpose fund to Activate Oakland.

According to a news release from the city of Oakland, Visit Oakland has hired Falkner to oversee the distribution of funds. The private not-for-profit, which aims to increase the economic impact of tourism in the city, is supported by hotel occupancy taxes through Measure C and the Oakland Tourism Business Improvement District.

A “diverse team of panelists” comprised of representatives from the city of Oakland’s Race and Equity Department and Cultural Funding Program, business leaders, and community members will evaluate applications.

Special consideration will be given to businesses, residents, and artists “from high-priority neighborhoods that have been historically redlined and marginalized,” according to Navarro. Those reviewing applications will use an “equitable scoring criteria” based on data from OakDOT’s Geographic Equity Toolbox—which maps out Oakland neighborhoods with disproportionate numbers of people of color, low-income households, people with disabilities, and seniors—to determine where to prioritize funding.

“We’ve been really intentional with making sure that these dollars are going into communities that haven’t received them before,” said Navarro.

Activate Oakland is a partnership between Mayor Sheng Thao, the city of Oakland’s Department of Economic and Workforce Development, and Visit Oakland.

“We want [Oakland] to be clean, we want it to be safe, and the only way we can do this is not only depend on the city but on each other,” Thao said during the press conference.

Community organizer, educator, and artist Telice Summerfield also attended the press event last Thursday and told The Oaklandside she plans to apply for a grant to help sponsor a dance festival at Latham Square—something she has envisioned for the past eight months.

“I’m super excited and grateful for opportunities like Activate Oakland because they allow us to not worry about the money when we dream,” said Summerfield. “And that’s very important to me because I like to dream big.”

Leticia Chavez, the owner of Obelisco Restaurant in the Fruitvale District, spoke in Spanish at the press conference, saying that she’s looking forward to seeing more cultural events in her neighborhood.

“The city of Oakland has so many positive things to offer,” Chavez said. “We will not let criminals dominate us, and all of us need to give our best effort to make sure that happens.”

More information on Activate Oakland, including ideas for eligible events and how applications will be scored, can be found on the program’s website.

This story was updated after publication to include links to the Activate Oakland applications in Chinese and Spanish.

Roselyn Romero covers small businesses for The Oaklandside as a 2023-24 Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellow. Previously, she was an investigative intern at NBC Bay Area and the inaugural intern for the global investigations team of The Associated Press through a partnership with the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. Roselyn graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 2022 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and minors in Spanish, ethnic studies, and women's and gender studies. She is a proud daughter of Filipino immigrants and was born and raised in Oxnard, California.