Marin City Arts and Culture (MC Arts), a membership collective of Black artists, expanded its offerings in October 2020 with a new gallery space, and celebrated with an outdoor Mardi Gras Masquerade. The organization’s founder, Oshalla Diana Marcus, is a Marin City native and an actress, dancer, entrepreneur, and community leader who believes in the power of community and creativity.
“The humanities really matter. They encourage us to think critically, and we need that so much now,” said Oshalla. “It is part of our mission as an organization and as artists who create and inspire, to uplift humanity and create audiences of the future.”
Luckily, Oshalla also believes life’s challenges can also be opportunities. She used the many months of COVID-19 lockdown to hire local tradespeople, enlist volunteers, and transform the neglected space in the Marin Gateway Center into Marin City’s first fine arts gallery and showcase.
“We got to a point in the renovations when I was scratching my head about the lack of lighting, wondering how, with almost no money, I could complete things,” Oshalla said. “That’s when Marin Open Studios’ Kay Carlson stepped in and helped with those lights, which are a major part of any art gallery. That was our first partnership within the wider arts community.”
On October 17, 2021, MC Arts Gallery hosted a Re-Opening Mardi Gras Masquerade. The masked celebration, which seemed even more appropriate during a pandemic, brought the community out for this high-priority local venture.
“Theater gave me the sense that we hold more power as a collective, in our collective activity, and the intention of MC Arts is bringing artists together from different disciplines,” Oshalla said.
MC Arts, with Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco as their fiscal sponsor, has the opportunity to be a hybrid organization. This model means a portion of MC Arts’s programs (i.e., Prison to Artistic Freedom) is a non-profit, and other parts (i.e., retail sale of artwork) are a business.
The Prison to Artistic Freedom non-profit program is a pipeline that supports the efforts of incarcerated people, artists, and writers of all genres who are creating but need a public representation of their work. When released, the artist can make some income from what they’re doing with their creation. A discussion with the artist Lumumba Edwards, who was released from San Quentin in 2019 after 41 years inside, sparked Oshalla’s idea for the program. They both hope the program allows prisoners to take the experience of incarceration and practice creativity to connect and inspire others with their artwork.
The humanities really matter. They encourage us to think critically, and we need that so much now. It is part of our mission as an organization and as artists who create and inspire, to uplift humanity and create audiences of the future.
– Oshalla Diana Marcus, Founder, Marin City Arts and Culture
MC Arts also offers a free local, easily accessed public program for novice artists of all ages called Art in the Park RX. In collaboration with Marin County Parks, an MC Arts artist sets up an easel and paints, making art available in places people typically hang out. The community has an opportunity to take art classes — drawing models or the landscape — outdoors. Classes are located in public housing areas, lawns, barbecue areas, and locations where families feel safe for their children outside. The program got the attention of houseboats residents who express interest in the program because the park areas are within walking distance. Now, residents are seeing the sign for Art in the Park RX every Friday. The participants see it as a way to get into a healing space of creating and disconnecting from their devices. The MC Arts gallery also offers fee-based, professional three-hour figure drawing classes, with a live model inside of the gallery, every Monday.
Oshalla is an avid fan of audiobooks and recently launched an MC Arts audiobook club. She was inspired by her own experience recording audiobooks for the blind. The club’s mission is listening to books with current, relevant themes to encourage a deeper conversation to engage and reach the community. Their reach is broad since a portion of the club is on Zoom and can welcome national and international participants. Oshalla is looking forward to face-to-face meetings with individuals who have higher comfort being inside with a small group. The process is evolving. They may even have a space to listen to the book together and then talk about it afterward. The three books for the Spring are The Kite Runner, 1984, and The Parable of the Sower.
MC Arts is off to a busy start after the grand re-opening. MC Art’s Holiday Winter Bazaar will take place on December 18 and 19 and will feature some good soul and blues music, apple cider, and some unique holiday shopping. In the fall of 2022, Oshalla is coordinating the first Marin City Fine Arts Festival, so stay tuned.
Kate Fitzsimmons is a freelance writer and fund development professional. Her writing skills were honed as a Contributing Editor to The San Francisco Review of Books where she interviewed John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Bobbie Ann Mason, Alice Walker and others. She works with businesses, nonprofits and entrepreneurs to assist them in raising their visibility through their stories. When she isn’t writing, she is cooking for friends, collecting art or engaged in a good novel.