Oakland culture and history buffs now have a new way to explore the city’s historic center. The Swan Market with a new self-guided tour launched last month.
The new free digital audio tour is easily accessible online or by strolling through the historic Oakland Marketplace using a smartphone app. The oral history of the market and the accompanying map and zine, “Oakland Belonging: The Voices of Swan’s Market”, were created by a group of seven young people participating in a program of the same name which is a project of Chapter 510.
The project was co-led by teaching artists Elena Botkin-Levywho identifies as queer and lesbian, and Vernon “Trey” Keeve IIIwhich is not binary, as well as the producer, editor and sound engineer Alicia Crawford, who refused to declare his sexual orientation. Keeve was unavailable to comment on this story.
The tour includes a market history overview that “explored the idea of community and how Swan’s told the story of community,” said Botkin-Levy, a 39-year-old oral storytelling expert.
The Oakland Belonging tour also includes a market poem, Friday information Old Oakland Farmer’s Market, and a conclusion. The zine is currently on sale at the Chapter 510 store, Make/Believe’s department, at 546 Ninth Street.
Chapter 510 is a writing, bookmaking, and publishing center for black, brown, and gay youth in Oakland on the “bright side of the bay.”
Swan’s Market, which takes up an entire city block, opened in Old Oakland in 1917, according to the market’s website. It closed in 1983 after decades of serving generations of Oaklanders. In 1998, the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation purchased the building, restored the market, and added residential community living space above. The market reopened in 2000. The market was further revitalized by the Old Oakland Farmers Market which attracted shoppers visiting food vendors and arts and crafts stalls for over 25 years.
In 2021, the $1.3 million award-winning Chapter 510 organization opened its new writing center in historic Swan’s Market at the corner of Ninth and Clay streets in the heart of Old Oakland. Since 2013, the organization has offered free writing workshops to more than 4,000 young people, including New York Times bestselling author Leila Mottley, who wrote “Nightcrawling,” and the former Oakland Poet Laureate Tova Ricardo.
Chapter 510 Program Director Jahan Khalighi and Program Director Marabet Morales wanted to learn about the new space, the neighbors and the neighborhood, and find a way to belong in his new home. The only way to do that was to create a project for young people to tell the hidden stories of the market, Botkin-Levy said.
“It’s truly been an incredible journey,” Botkin-Levy said of the project, which launched in January. “Swan’s is a special landmark with a special story in a special part of town that sits at the intersection of many different neighborhoods. So that makes it ripe with history and history.”
Botkin-Levy and Keeve, who led the project’s writing classes, and Crawford helped young people who took part in the project bring market stories to life for nine months.
The next phase for Oakland Belonging is to market the tour and zine, and for Chapter 510 to identify any other storytelling opportunities that have been included in the second phase of grant funding, Khalighi said.
The students were introduced to historians, urban planners, writers and community activists who were guest speakers on the project and were supported by six mentors.
Oakland Belonging was the first project Botkin-Levy worked on with Chapter 510. It was also the first time the organization ventured into audio storytelling.
“It was just beautiful to watch the young people” through the process of developing the stories, she said, “and also to reflect on these ideas of belonging and the past, present and future of this particular space” which is “a place full of tales and steeped in history.”
It was especially special, Botkin-Levy noted, because the project took place when Chapter 510 moved into its new location in the market. Many young people who grew up in Oakland had never been to the market.
Botkin-Levy explained to BAR that the project happened while Chapter 510 was building the space when it moved into Swan’s Market, “so that was a fun part of it, too.”
A queer youth who participated in the project responded anonymously (to protect his privacy) to questions from the Bay Area Reporter and said he joined the group to continue developing his writing. Although they grew up in Oakland, they had never been to the market before going to Chapter 510.
“I loved the Swan’s community and working on this project made me a part of it,” the youngster said.
The project was broken down into three “chapters” and launched virtually in January due to COVID. In the first chapter, young people came together in person in February to start learning about story-centric design, how to collect stories and interview people, and use the tools to put stories together by exploring the question “What does it mean to belong?” The young people met and listened to several guest speakers.
During the second chapter, which Botkin-Levy dubbed the “summer jam,” the young people identified the stories they wanted to focus on, interviewed people, and wrote and recorded narration for the audio stories.
A student wrote a poem about what she observed at the corner of Eighth and Clay streets, at the entrance to the Farmers Market and Swan Market.
Botkin-Levy said during one of the writing exercises, Keeve led the group to a corner of the market to write.
“We just stood in a corner,” she said, then wrote. “Just this idea of observing and learning about [the] place and then identify with that place, I think it’s so precious.”
In the third chapter, called the “exposure phase”, Crawford worked with the youngsters to produce the audio tour and zine that were revealed at a listening party on October 1.
A week later, Chapter 510 released the tour and zine to the public.
Botkin-Levy hopes the tour and zine will inspire website and marketplace visitors to think about some of the same questions the youngsters explored in the program. What it means to belong to “the environment around us, both the built environment and the people in place,” she said, adding that she hopes people will think about “how stories inform big city processes?”
Oakland Belonging is part of a larger project, “Story Centered Design: Moving from a Sense of Place to a Sense of Belonging,” in collaboration with the San Francisco-based company SITELAB Urban Studiowhose urban planners Lauren Wong and Ashutosh Singhal serve as project advisors and are guest speakers at Oakland Belonging.
Laura Crescimano, co-founder and leader of SITELAB, wrote in a statement to BAR that the students’ work and “the most important outcomes of this course – how students experienced and reflected on belonging, and how we can having a voice and shaping place as a model for bridging the gap between lived experience and the often alienating process of urban planning and development.
“We see profound implications for how this can influence real estate, development and design,” she said.
California Humanities’ outgoing president and CEO, Julie Fry, told BAR: ‘Our goal is to speak about the human experience and all human experience,’ to be able to ‘raise voices that are not often made To hear”.
“It’s a really important thing to be able to really appreciate and share the wealth of the people who call California home,” she explained why Chapter 510’s Oakland Belonging Project received a grant.
Oakland Belonging was not an LGBTQ-focused project, but has queer leadership and participants. The California Humanities also funded two projects specific to homosexuals this year, the one in San Diego Queer Mvmt Festand bring the “Strange Sons” exhibition in San Jose Quilts and Textiles Museum in the spring of 2023.
The key thing Fry and her team are looking for in grants are unusual stories that have never been heard before or are presented in a different format, she said.
This year’s grant recipients are “truly the cream of the crop”, she added.
At the end of the Oakland Belonging project, the youngsters said, “Swan’s is physically very beautiful and well cared for, but it has also been through many difficult times. Swan’s withstood all of this. I hope people can see the inner beauty of Swan’s Market.”
To listen to or download the “Oakland Belonging: The Voices of Swan’s Market” tour, Click here or visit chapter 510 and the market and scan the QR code to take a tour of the market.
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