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The next Culture Makers will take place on Thursday, Mar. 23 at 7 p.m. at the New Parkway Theater. Guest and ticket info coming soon!
Since launching in June 2020, The Oaklandside has been telling stories about the many people — muralists and musicians, activists and entrepreneurs, dancers and filmmakers, poets and educators — who keep our city on the cutting edge and make life in the Town so interesting and enjoyable. Now, we’re bringing these stories to life with “Culture Makers,” a quarterly in-person event series featuring live performances and rich discussions with Oakland creatives—some well-known, and others making waves just beneath the surface—who are putting a unique stamp on our city.
More about Culture Makers
Our recent Culture Makers panelists answer more of your questions from our live event.
We’ll be joined on Sept. 22 by Oakland Tech athletic director and former WNBA player Alexis Gray-Lawson, Oakland Roots co-founder Edreece Arghandiwal, and journalist Marcus Thompson. Plus: musical guest Mara Hruby
Our recent Culture Makers panelists answer more of your questions from our live event.
Dec. 15, 2023
Our fourth and final event of 2022 put the focus on filmmaking in Oakland. Joining us were award-winning local filmmakers Benjamin Mulholland, Laura Wagner, and Peter Nicks. Due to a massive power outage downtown, the show was held almost entirely in the dark—with mood lighting powered by a generator that was kindly supplied by an audience member! Oakland-born singer Satya performed live, providing the perfect soundtrack for what turned out to be a thoughtful, entertaining, and unforgettable evening.
Benjamin Mulholland is an Oakland-based writer and director. His celebrated works include the short film M.O.A.B. and the action/satire web series Pennies for the Juggernaut, which has garnered fans around the world. His films—which span the genres of adventure and sci-fi and explore themes of politics, mysticism, and mythology—have appeared in numerous festivals, including the Oakland International Film Festival and Cinequest. He’s currently hard at work on a feature-length version of his short film, The Lake Merritt Monster, and a new film, 1000 Demons.
Laura Wagner is a celebrated filmmaker and the co-founder of Bay Bridge Productions and the Oakland Film Center. Her feature documentaries include The Scale of Hope, Artifishal, and Art 21’s San Francisco Bay Area. Her docs have premiered at Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW, as well as the Seattle, Rotterdam, and Melbourne film festivals.
Peter Nicks is an Emmy Award-winning documentary film director, producer, and cinematographer whose most well-known works include a trilogy set in Oakland exploring the interconnecting narratives of health care, policing, and education. The Waiting Room, an immersive depiction of Highland Hospital’s emergency room, won an Independent Spirit Award and was shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2012. The Force, a look inside the troubled Oakland Police Department, won the 2017 Sundance Directing Prize. Homeroom, the final film in the trilogy, won the inaugural Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
Singer-songwriter Satya is an Oakland School for the Arts alumna. Last December, she made her hometown debut at the New Parish as the opening act for Mara HRuby (our last Culture Makers musical guest.) Satya first got on people’s radar with her 2019 debut EP, Flourish Against Fracture. Her new EP, Deep Blue, tackles themes of love, heartbreak, and healing with striking vulnerability.
Sept. 22, 2022
Our third event in the series took place on Sept. 22 at the New Parkway Theater and featured a discussion about Oakland sports and how it intersects with culture, race, and politics. Our guests were former WNBA player and current Oakland Tech athletic director Alexis Gray-Lawson, sports columnist Marcus Thompson, and Oakland Roots co-founder Edreece Arghandiwal. Live music was provided by Mara Hruby.
Alexis Gray-Lawson was born in Oakland. She attended Oakland Technical High School where she helped lead Tech to its second state basketball title. Gray-Lawson earned a scholarship to play basketball at UC Berkeley, where she holds the Golden Bears’ all-time record for three-pointers made, with a total of 148. She signed with the Phoenix Mercury of the Women’s National Basketball Association in 2011. In the WNBA offseason, she also played professionally in Turkey and Israel. Earlier this year she received her doctorate in educational leadership and curriculum. Gray-Lawson is currently the community school manager, teacher, and athletic director at Oakland Tech.
Marcus Thompson II is a lead columnist at the national online sports news publication The Athletic, known for writing on Bay Area pro sports, especially the Golden State Warriors and the NBA at large. He is the author of the national bestseller Golden: The Miraculous Rise of Steph Curry, KD: Kevin Durant’s Relentless Pursuit to Be the Greatest, and DYNASTIES: The Ten G.O.A.T. Teams that Changed the NBA Forever. The Clark Atlanta University product lives with his wife, Dawn, and daughter, Sharon, in Oakland.
At a time when sports teams are leaving Oakland, Edreece Arghandiwal is swimming against the tide. A first-generation Afghan-American born in Oakland, Arghandiwal is a co-founder and the chief marketing officer of the Oakland Roots Sports Club. This community-oriented professional soccer team made its debut in 2018 and plays its home games at the Laney College Football Stadium to a growing contingent of adoring fans, often drawing capacity crowds. In May, the club announced it would also be fielding a women’s professional soccer club, the Oakland Soul, beginning in 2023. Arghandiwal is a graduate of Babson College and the University of California, Davis.
Mara Hruby doesn’t just play music—she lives it. Since the onset of her career, the Oakland native has poured her soul into her velvet confections, drawing inspiration from lessons that she’s gleaned in her personal life and funneling them into rich, organic compositions. In just a few years, the singer-songwriter—whose musical influences range from Patsy Cline to Curtis Mayfield—has become one of acoustic soul’s fastest-rising up-and-comers, gaining a loyal following. Hruby’s 2014 album Archaic Rapture reached the coveted #1 spot on iTunes Jazz charts within a week. Her work was described as “bridging the gap between cabaret-era jazz-pop and alternative soul” by NBC Bay Area, and the Huffington Post said Hruby’s effortless music “evokes a nostalgia for the sounds of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.”
June 23, 2022
Our second event in the series took place on June 23 at the New Parkway Theater and explored themes of food and social justice. Our guests were local chef Tu David Phu, restaurant owner Reyna Maldonado, and community organizer César Cruz. Live music was provided by Los Bahianatos.
Tu David Phu
“Top Chef” alumnus, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and Oaklander Tu David Phu cut his culinary teeth in the kitchens of some of the nation’s top restaurants, including Daniel, Acquerello, and Chez Panisse. He has cooked across a wide range of cooking cultures—but it was what he calls “the memory of taste” that pulled him back to his roots: the practices, ingredients, techniques, and flavors of Vietnamese cuisines.
Reyna Maldonado’s mother, Ofelia Barajas, spent 16 years selling tamales as a street vendor in the Mission District where she raised her family. Maldonado, a Dreamer and DACA recipient, was still a full-time college student when she and Barajas joined La Cocina’s incubator program, which helped them to start La Guerrera’s Kitchen, now located in Oakland’s Swan’s Market. The pair’s delicious tamales, pozole, and barbacoa are rooted in traditional family recipes from Guerrero, Mexico.
César A. Cruz runs Homies Empowerment in East Oakland, which serves 400 meals to community members every week through its FREEdom store. The program grew out of Homies Dinners, where local youth crossed gang lines to break bread and participate in civic engagement programs. Raised in Compton, Cruz was the first in his family to graduate from high school. He went on to study at UC Berkeley and earn a doctorate in educational leadership from Harvard. But as Cruz likes to say, none of his accolades are his alone—it took a barrio.
Los Bahianatos, led by Oakland native Jose Rivera, spread their love of Colombian dance music at performances throughout the Bay Area. The band features the sound of the button accordion and traverses musical styles ranging from cumbia to vallenato to Colombian salsa.
March 24, 2022
Our first event in the series took place on March 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the New Parkway Theater and featured a terrific slate of Oakland culture makers: Kev Choice, Niema Jordan, and Akintunde “Tunde” Ahmad. The evening was emceed by The Oaklandside’s arts and community reporter, Azucena Rasilla.
Akintunde “Tunde” Ahmad
Akintunde “Tunde” Ahmad’s clothing designs have been turning heads. His journey into fashion began in 2016 after a trip to Ghana. Inspired by the fabrics and custom clothing, he launched his brand, Ade Dehye, using custom textiles sourced directly from West Africa. Ahmad adheres to an ethical business model that supports, rather than exploits, African labor and culture.
The multi-talented Kev Choice is no stranger to lots of folks in the Bay Area and he’ll be familiar to many of our readers—he performed and spoke with us last June for The Oaklandside’s one-year anniversary Live-ish special. But Kev is about a lot more than just the music: He’s an educator and a champion of the arts in our city, as the vice-chair of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Commission.
In addition to her own directed works (like the 2020 short film Labor), journalist and filmmaker Niema Jordan has worked on HBO’s Eyes on the Prize, Apple TV’s The Me You Can’t See, the Pete Nicks-directed documentary The Force, a most recently, Dawn Porter’s Bree Wayy: Promise Witness Remembrance. She also serves on the board of directors at the youth leadership nonprofit, Oakland Kids First.
Azucena Rasilla, host and moderator
Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture, and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora, and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was the associate editor for the East Bay Express.