Some artists in Oakland say the cannabis industry is pushing them.
For painter Arthur Monroe, The Oakland Cannery is where it all began.
“It was nothing here but the open space. No walls, nothing. And I said ‘I’ll take it,’” Monroe said.
It was the 1970s and the Brooklyn native walked into what was then an empty cannery in East Oakland and saw the makings of an artists’ haven.
“We’ve always had artist studios in New York. So why can’t we have them in California?” Monroe said.
He got The Cannery’s owner on board and went to City Hall next, where he lobbied to get the place zoned as Oakland’s first-ever city sanctioned live/work space. His son Alistair Monroe says his father created a legacy.
“It is a place now, a community of the widest range of artists across the board, whether you’re a musician, painter, writer, sculptor, activist, they’re all walks of life, over 30 plus artists now reside here,” Alistair Monroe said.
Artists like Rebecca Firestone a writer, dancer and painter. But her workshop and the sense of community here is suddenly at risk.
Public records show a few months ago a cannabis company in Denver called Green Sage bought The Cannery.
Firestone met one of the owners in the parking lot.
She recounted the conversation: “I said ‘What are your intentions for this building?’ And he said, ‘Well we’re going to convert it to commercial.’”
The plan, the tenants say, is to convert the entire building into a massive marijuana growing facility.
Firestone recounts, “And I said ‘Will the residents be allowed to stay?’ And he said ‘No.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s not going to happen right away. Just eventually.’”
So no answer from Green Sage. We received a text from their managing director whose name is Ken Greer that says “I can’t speak at this time.”
All that Greer has told me so far is that he confirmed there was in fact a purchase. He would not talk about what the plans were for the Cannery.
In fact, he said “I have no comment on any of this” and he said he only answered the phone because he thought I was an investor.
“They’re carpetgrabbers from Colorado that are coming in, swooping up real estate left and right and bulldozing and they just do not care,” Alistair Monroe said.
The purchase has set up unexpected tensions between artists and cannabis entrepreneurs in East Oakland’s green zone, a largely industrial area where marijuana can be cultivated legally. The cannery is right in the middle of it.
But Green Sage isn’t the only cannabis company that has displaced artists.
Former tenant Brett Amery lost his commercial art studio on the ground floor of the cannery last year when he says Harborside bought it fleetingly.
“We were being evicted through Harborside,” Amry said. “So anyone with a commercial lease on the ground floor got served a notice.”
Alistair Monroe says this time The Cannery community is not going without a fight.
“The city of Oakland should step in to help mediate this issue and help us collectively find a solution,” he said.
“I would like for them to be able to find a way to make a profit without displacing people,” said Firestone. “If you have somebody coming in from out of town who just wants to make a killing and leave, there is no community in that. That destroys community.”