“Throughout all my life, I’ve been drawn to the symbol of a tree. When I was 18, I actually the tree of life tattooed on my back. It feels like I was meant to be here, in Oakland, the city represented by an oak tree.”
Cydney: I started drawing back in high school. I took a few college-level art classes and dove into different mediums of art. I also studied art history; that experience made me really excited and want to somehow integrate art into my career. As I went through college, I fell in love with digital marketing, which allowed me to be creative and think outside of the box. When I moved out to Oakland, I felt like I had taken a pause on art and decided I wanted to take any opportunity possible to be creative, collaborate, and get to know the people around me. The OakTown Half Marathon experience was a great way to do exactly that.
Cydney: I personally don’t like running, but if you need an art piece for it, I’m totally down! I have some kind of obsession when it comes to trees. Throughout all my life, I’ve been drawn to the symbol of a tree. When I was 18, I actually got the tree of life tattooed on my back. It feels like I was meant to be here, in Oakland, the city represented by this symbol of an oak tree. Creating the mile marker was my first time using acrylic. I picked out the colors and painted the tree right in the middle of the canvas. I created the rest of the piece outwards from the center, doing whatever the paintbrush told me to.
Cydney: I first found out about Dragon School just walking around in Oakland with that eye for art. As I noticed gradually that so many murals were created by Dragon School, especially in Chinatown, I began looking for a new piece each time and posted it on Instagram. I started tagging the artists and eventually, Dragon School messaged me, inviting me to take part in one of the mural painting activities.
Cydney: To me, community means collaboration. When people come together and create something, it becomes art -- it becomes a masterpiece. In Philly, where I come from, there are community gardens everywhere; I’ve seen how they’re a great way to gather people and create something impactful together. I feel like oftentimes, there are lots of people that live on the same block who don’t even know their neighbors, or live in really segregated environments. We live with so many different types of people in Oakland, and community is about taking advantage of that.
"It’s definitely a bond that we share through art. Art impacts those around you and draws people in, making people want to be around it. There’s a true feeling of community. Right now it’s lunch time but we have a room full of students chilling in the art studio, wanting to be around art, choosing to be in this space."
Miguel: I was born and raised here in Oakland. As a kid, I loved drawing cartoons. I started out just copying them, and then ended up creating my own. People used to ask me to draw this or that for them, and I was always up for the challenge. My love for art followed me as I moved around to different schools, and eventually met this amazing art teacher at Aspire. We always came up with ideas for art projects to display around the school -- different themes and events -- and collaborated together. We’re hoping to do another mural this year.
Michael: I came to teach at this school several years ago. Miguel was one of my first students in advisory class. I noticed he was naturally into art -- and it just spiraled from there. I started an art club after-school, which he joined, and it eventually led to activities sometimes on the weekends. We would work on a collective painting or travel to an art gallery with a crew. Miguel was always down to show up. He’s one of my go-to students in terms of leading and creating new projects.
Miguel: One of our first projects together was a mural at the school -- to this day, we’re still thinking of ways to improve it. We’ve worked on all kinds of things together -- from posters and flyers for heritage month to artwork for school dances. One year we designed a line of shirts and hoodies for a school project. We also collaborated with other students to put on an art gallery at a local coffee shop; the theme of the show was “dreams and dreamscapes".
Miguel: I was thinking about the people who would be running and decided I wanted to create a hand with the insides exposed -- bones, muscles, blood pumping. Each day Michael and I just added on new ideas through the creative process. We met up to work for three or four hours at a time for a few days. It was a big, fun project to do together through the summertime.
Michael: I first found out about Dragon School through Instagram. I’d been seeing the dragons and artwork throughout Chinatown and Fruitvale, and was also looking for people to collaborate with at the time -- to get connected with art not only in the classroom but also out in the community. I saw one of Dragon School’s posts on Instagram looking for youth to come to a mural project. Since then I’ve brought students to attend different Dragon School projects and most recently the Mile Marker gig. We always have that mutual respect -- I dig what you’re doing.
Miguel: I first heard about Dragon School through Michael mentioning the kind of dope work they do. I remember we teamed up and had a group of kids from my school helping out with a mural; Dragon School really put us to work out there! It was a fun experience working with the artist -- everybody had good vibes and a good time. I’m looking forward to helping again.
Miguel: When I think about community, I think about people -- their ideas and talents. For example, the group of people brought together through Dragon School for the mile marker art project -- I could talk to any of them and be comfortable. We all joked around. They were hilarious and treated us well. It was cool just being with new people and artists, seeing new faces, spending time with others just collaborating on art.
Michael: Art is such a huge part of Oakland, especially public art. It’s hard to pass down the streets and not find some type of inspiration. Oftentimes, I feel communities are driven apart, but public art and the kinds of things Dragon School does bring communities together. It’s attractive that Dragon School isn’t boasting about egos, because as a creative person, the art scene can be intimidating -- you want to be inspired while not having to worry about trying to get on a certain level. In the Bay Area and Oakland especially, you get a lot of people encouraging you to just do you. That’s a beautiful thing when it comes to art.
"I’ll do anything in the creative field to keep growing. Dragon School gives me the chance to do exactly that. It’s teaching people to be open-minded and reach into our creative sides, while turning something like graffiti, which often has a lot of stigma attached to it, into art that we can all see and share."
When my brother came home from college one summer, he brought back a camera with him. He said he wanted to take pictures of murals, so I joined and became his tour guide. We spent hours many days that summer exploring and taking photos of murals throughout Oakland. Along the way, I realized that more than half of them done were by Dragon School! I thought to myself at the time, I wish I were a part of this, but I didn’t actually think it would be possible. Later that day, I visited Dragon School’s website and wrote an email asking how I might be able to participate. It turns out, that month, they were hosting a community mural project. I showed up and loved my experience tracing, drawing, and filling the wall with bold colors and beautiful art. Since then, I’ve continued attending one event after the next.
Being part of Dragon School has been fun and eye-opening. I’ve never gotten an opportunity like this before, so I definitely want to grasp onto it. I’ve met some amazing people both on Dragon School’s team as well as other kids who are involved. As someone who has been dancing since I was four (I breakdance and do Chinese dance) and who also enjoys drawing, photography, and videography, I feel that any art form helps you become more creative and to improve as an artist.
I’ll do anything in the creative field to keep growing. Dragon School gives me the chance to do exactly that. It’s teaching people to be open-minded and reach into our creative sides, while turning something like graffiti, which often has a lot of stigma attached to it, into art that we can all see and share.
Dragon School has given me community, too. And for me, community is like family. It’s about having a group of people who support you, who you fit in with, where you belong. Often you share the same beliefs and feel like what they do, you should do too. My advice for newcomers to Oakland is not to be afraid or intimidated. We often get the reputation of being “ghetto” or “ratchet” -- but Oakland has lots to offer with people from so many diverse cultures and identities. We all fit in, we all belong, and we welcome everyone.
This summer, Winnie hopes to make her summer as meaningful as possible by studying abroad. She is currently raising funds to attend the Chinese American Student Educational Exchange Program. Read more and support her dream of visiting China.
Providing access to books, technology, and innovative programming
Encouraging social gathering by creating a unique and inviting social space
Fostering enjoyment of reading and library use
Increasing awareness of and engagement with our communities libraries
Dragon School artist Ekke designed one side of the MOVe!
Ekke knew it was important to design her side of the truck to appeal and capture young children’s attention. It’s a critical time for them to make reading a fundamental part of their exploration, and to increase their chances of a more successful and fulfilling life.
Dozens of youth, families, and community members came out to the MOVe kick-off event, which featured speeches (one from Mayor Libby Schaaf), read-a-long time, fun activities, a bike repair clinic, cupcakes, and of course .. lots and lots of BOOKS!
Learn more about the MOVe at oaklandlibrary.org/move.