Oakland is an exceptional city because it is still as culturally relevant today as it was during the 60's, 70's and 80's. The city's cultural richness is undeniably the greatest draw for visitors and current residents. Last year, Oakland was named the Most Diverse City in America by Priceonomics, according to East Bay Express (December, 2014). However, unlike other diverse cities, often segregated by ethnicity, Oakland neighborhoods are largely defined by what's important to the people who live in them. Whether your interest lies in art, architectural preservation, community advocacy, or environmental stewardship, Oakland is a city where anyone who appreciates a sense of belonging can set roots. It's a city where small businesses, farmer's markets, hiking trails, and even "knock-off" emporiums are woven together to create the colorful roadmap of Oakland's hoods.
Today's featured gallery, Athen B. Gallery, definitely has the makings of Oakland's next beacon. Located in the heart of Downtown Oakland's thriving art scene, Athen B. is the brainchild of former LeQuiVive Gallery owner Sorell (Athen) Raino-Tsui and former White Walls Gallery curator Brock (B) Brake. I sat down with Brock and Sorrell only days before their grand opening and caught a glimpse of how these two artists evolved into art professionals and how they've created an inspiring and welcoming space for the community and emerging and established artists alike. Get ready to take notes!
Born in Canada, Bred in the Bay
Sorrell Raino-Tsui was born in Canada but he is truly a local. A Berkeley High graduate and Oakland resident, Sorrell embraces communal creativity and is no stranger to the art-adorned streets of the Bay Area. Although a fairly young gallerist, Sorrell is anything but a novice when it comes to putting art in motion. As an entrepreneur, art enthusiast and curator he not only welcomes but makes possible the notion of "Art Everywhere". Working with the likes of Xio Ziegler, Lauren Napoliatano, and Cannon Dill, Sorrell uses his gallery space and long-standing relationships with local building owners and grant makers to help showcase the works of some of the brightest street-art stars the world has to offer.
A "B Boy" by Way of Chicago
With a name like Brock Brake, you can make a lasting impression by simply handing out a business card. But Brock of Athen B. Gallery has set his sights much higher and is already making an impression as a curator and all around public relations guru. His personable demeanor and background as a photo journalist help guide his footsteps into a place where art and media intersect. In his 1.5 years stint with White Walls Gallery, Brock built a network of artist contacts including Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, Katherine Rutter, and Ian Johnson, all of which are included in Athen B. Gallery's House Warming Exhibition.
A Beacon in the Making
So the "million dollar question" is, "What do you get when you pair a seasoned art professional/community steward with an up and coming mover and a shaker?". The answer is...you get a gallery named Athen B. that as Sorrell puts it "Is more about promoting art that sparks dialogue and less about showcasing art that generates commissions." You get a space where Oakland high school students are given internship opportunities, local coffee roasters pour coffee, and resident artists participate in proposal and resume writing workshops. You get a space where all are welcomed and you walk out feeling cooler and hipper than you did when you walked in. See for yourself.
Source: 1, 3, 5 (Owner, Sorrell Raino-Tsui with wife, Kriselle Caparas and dog, Georgia, and Co-owner, Brock Brake), 7, 9 (Art Is Luv), 2, 4, 6, 8 (Athen. B. Gallery)