At Lake Merritt, a new collective offers an inviting space for LGBTQ+ vendors

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Last Saturday started with rain, but the clouds quickly lifted, giving way to sunshine and good vibes at Lake Merritt. Gulls circled around the pergola, landing gracefully at the water’s edge. A Zumba class has started under the arch, playing pop music in Eastshore Park. In front of the synchronized dancers, on the catwalk, tables of all shapes and sizes were draped in colorful patterned tablecloths, in anticipation of the monthly Quartz Party.

Artists and artisans from across East Bay have been coming to Quartz Party since January to sell their handmade wares – clothing, jewelry, patches, prints and magic candles are just a few of the many offerings. Others provide services such as oracle card readings, haircuts and dental gems. Together by the lake, they create a tableau of creativity and joy.

“It’s a good time! That’s why I called it a party, not a market, not a fair,” said Rizza, a dental jewelry artist and one of the event’s founders. “It’s not just for you to come and spend money.”

At the table next to Rizza (every member we spoke to asked that we use only their first names), two salespeople kissed, finalizing a trade: a dye for a t-shirt. Beside them, two dogs sniffed each other cautiously as their owners swapped phones, connecting online. Around them, people laughed and congratulated each other while asking questions about the pieces or craft techniques and sharing their art.

Ofelia and Alexa pose with their art. 1 credit

For Rizza and the other Quartz Party founders – the name is a portmanteau of “queer” and “art” – organizing the event was a labor of love, driven by a shared desire to reimagine what can look like safe public spaces for queer-identifying artists in a belated and post-pandemic world.

It all started quite simply on January 12, when a local jewelry artist, Al, asked a question – HELP ME SELL MY ART? — on the queer social media app Lex. Seventeen days and many collective actions later, the first Quartz Party took place on January 29 at the Pergola, a gathering of ten queer, trans and BIPOC artists. Most were new to sales, but the support of a collective gave them the confidence to take on the challenge.

A big hurdle the group identified early on was obtaining city permits, which are legally required to sell lakeside. For people navigating the process for the first time, the rules can seem murky and the bureaucracy and fees can seem daunting – something Al knew all too well, which is why they asked for help first. place.

Members of the burgeoning collective quickly decided that they would not require their vendors to obtain permits, to avoid excluding those who did not have the time, money or resources.

Asha and their little one pose with colorful jewelry. 1 credit

Al and other organizers of The Quartz Party cited previous efforts by black and brown vendors to conserve space at Lake Merritt as a big reason they may have considered doing the same.

“It’s the work of the vendors who have been here before that have made this space possible,” said Tiana, a leather worker and one of The Quartz Party organizers.

Selling at Lake Merritt has become controversial during the pandemic, with more vendors setting up shop along Lakeshore Avenue — not all of them permitted — and drawing large weekend crowds. Some residents have complained about the resulting increase in traffic, noise and litter along this strip of the lake, while vendors, many of them people of color, have defended their right to be in the public park and earn income there during a historically difficult economic period. weather.

The City of Oakland responded in the spring of 2021 by launching a pilot initiative intended to address everyone’s concerns. The plan, spearheaded by District 2 Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas with input from vendors, residents and city staff, allowed distributors to continue at the lakeshore, but intensified efforts to control the traffic and parking, especially on weekends, and called for the installation of more public restrooms and handwashing stations, among others. This initiative officially ended in the fall of 2021.

Since then, enforcement of sales permits at Lake Merritt has appeared light, although technically they are still required. It is unclear whether authorities will introduce a similar initiative in 2022 as the weather warms and the lake attracts more visitors.

Many of the roughly 15 vendors who were at the Quartz Party on Saturday said it was their first time selling their art, and they cited the collective’s low barrier to entry and a sense of community and safety. in numbers as reasons to participate.

Kota’s table is adorned with their pearl earrings, second-hand clothes, art from their friend Mar, and wire-wrapped necklaces. 1 credit

Kota, a pearl artist, was among the first sellers of Quartz. They heard about it from a friend, Mar, who sold wire wrapped stones at a previous Quartz Party. On Saturday, the two shared a table adorned with colorful earrings, thick cord necklaces and mixed prints.

“We sell our art for our survival,” Kota said. “I really like this place because we didn’t have to pay. It was literally first come, first served. We can just be here.

For Tiana, the relative freedom of being able to participate in something like the Quartz Party is part of what makes Oakland so special. “Not every city would allow that,” they said. “A lot of cities are really cracking down on selling without a permit. Oakland is a little more open and that’s something we really appreciate.

The state has also sought in recent years to make street vending less restrictive. In 2018, California passed SB 946 which decriminalizes selling in public spaces. The law has made it less risky for street vendors – a workforce that includes many black and brown, immigrants and low-income people – to sell their wares. But for many, the overall experience of starting a vending machine business can still be daunting.

“As a group, our voices are stronger,” Rizza said. “So if something happens to one person, we have the power of the group around.”

Spooky Haus Queer Art Collective sells patches, prints, pins, jewelry, and even a collection of cursed items. 1 credit

Al and Tiana talked about officially registering the Quartz Party as a vendor collective in the future, which would provide more protection for group members and relieve pressure from individual vendors for permits. Until then, however, the collective is offering resources to help people seeking permits and will continue to host the Quartz Party monthly so that small business owners and LGBTQ+ artists can continue to have a safe space and low risk to share. their property with the community.

For Al, that social media post in January opened up other opportunities. “I’ve put my jewelry in a few retail stores and using it as a springboard to hopefully get into some stores in Napa or Walnut Creek,” they said. They hope the market can help others break free financially in the same way.

Al’s earrings, some of which feature blocky alphabet beads reminiscent of college friendship bracelets, swayed in the wind. Zumba class ended and a drum circle formed in its place. People strolling by instinctively danced to the beat, stopping here and there to admire the art or greet friends from the Quartz Parties past.

The next Quartz Party will take place on Saturday May 21. To find out how to join the event or more details on how to join, follow the organizers on Instagram @quartzoakland.

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